02/15/2013 05:52 pm ET Updated Apr 17, 2013

Elmo Teaching Online Safety? That's Cool!

With its lighthearted blend of lovable cheek, quality literacy and numeracy instruction and just the right amount of shrewd and lovable monsters, Sesame Street entices millions of devoted parents and enamored children to their televisions each day. Beyond letters and numbers, the series teaches viewers about sharing, friendship, problem solving and how to show kindness to others. Sesame Street even tackles some of life's most challenging lessons. In a recent video from the "Little Children, Big Challenges" series, Sesame Street aims to teach children about divorce and sharing a life between split homes. Given the way Sesame Street is able to provide entertaining instruction aimed at promoting the wellbeing and heath of young viewers, it has an opportunity to protect children from the growing list of online dangers. The time to address Internet safety is now and we ask Sesame Street to do what it is capable of doing by providing an educational video on this topic. And as parents, we would love it if they did.

Children continue to access the Internet at staggeringly young ages. Eighty one percent of children as young as three years of age use the Internet, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Children are exposed to an unfiltered adult world on the Internet complete with phishing identify theft, data corruption and sexual content. The average age of a young person's first exposure to pornography may even be as young as 11-years-old.

Technology solutions offer parents powerful tools to protect children from online risks, but education remains critical in empowering young users to follow safe practices and gain Internet independence. Parents provide the most important instruction on Internet safety, and Sesame Street offers the perfect forum for providing resources and teaching aids to guide parents on how to address the topic of online safety with their children. For instance, a video of Elmo learning how to use the Internet appropriately on his beloved "computer" could be a powerful educational tool for all viewers, especially for parents who might not consider the importance of this kind of instruction with small children and those starting to use the Internet more independently.

Undoubtedly, Internet safety lessons and Sesame Street go hand in hand. In the mean time, parents may continue to address safety challenges with these steps:
  1. Maintain up-to-date and effective virus protection
  2. Manage safety settings to eliminate hacker tracking risks and ensure history viewing
  3. Implement parent-friendly software to track Internet usage
  4. Engage in ongoing and age-appropriate conversations about Internet usage
  5. Discuss the rules for online use and post these rules next to the computer
  6. Share in all Internet activities with young children

And, parents, keep in mind that teaching Internet safety is much like teaching real world safety -- the technology may have changed but the lessons are still the same.