Post in our forum for parents, teens - You! - at

Saturday, February 13, 2010

More online freedom for students=lower risk: UK watchdog

Students who are "given a greater degree of freedom to surf the Internet at school are less vulnerable to online dangers in the long-term," the BBC reports, citing a just-released study by Ofsted, the British government's education watchdog found. Ofsted looked at the state of online safety in 37 schools for students aged 5-18, finding that five of the schools had outstanding Net-safety conditions and instruction. The five shared some interesting characteristics: They had a whole-school-community approach to student Net safety, and they had "managed" rather than "locked down" systems for filtering and other safety measures. "'Managed' systems," Ofsted explains, "have fewer inaccessible sites than "locked down" systems and so require pupils to take responsibility themselves for using new technologies safely. Although the 13 schools which used 'locked down' systems kept their pupils safe while in school, such systems were less effective in helping them to learn how to use new technologies safely." The weakest area was Net-safety training for school staff, the report said. "Most training provided was 'one size fits all' and therefore did not always meet needs. There was very little evidence of schools drawing systematically on the views and concerns of pupils, their families or governors in identifying priorities for such training."

What Ofsted seems to be saying is that teaching students the critical thinking skills of media literacy ultimately lowers risk. The schools rated "outstanding" in online safety all had managed systems whereby "pupils were helped, from a very early age, to assess the risk of accessing sites. For example, at the elementary level in one of the top 5 schools, students are taught to ask themselves these questions:

  • "Who wrote the material on this site?"
  • "Is the information on it likely to be accurate or could it be altered by anybody?"
  • "If others click onto the site, can I be sure that they are who they say
    they are?", and
  • "What information about myself should I not give out on the site?"

    We would add a key 5th question for full social-Web safety (or "Online Safety 3.0"): "What impact will the information (photo, video, etc.) I give out on this site (or cellphone) have on my friends and my community?" We at ConnectSafely feel this question is essential because the preceding four excellent questions deal only with the impact of the info uploaded on the student himself/herself and, to move forward, we need all to understand that online well-being and safety in today's social new-media environment is, by definition, a collaboration – ideally starting in elementary school and broadening outward as a child matures. Interestingly, too, based on the research, posting negative or harassing info about others also increases risk to oneself (see this). [A pdf version of the full report can be downloaded from Ofsted's site here.]

    Labels: , , ,

  • Friday, February 12, 2010

    Clicks & cliques: *Really* meaty advice for parents on cyberbullying

    Annie Fox's recent 55-min. interview with fellow educator and author Rosalind Wiseman at is a must-listen for parents, educators – anyone who has anything to do with teens and digital media. It has a lot to say about working through tough situations like sexting or cyberbullying incidents with young people in a candid, respectful way and, in the process, helping them understand the rights and responsibilities of being human beings as well as technology users. It's such great stuff that I felt key points of this podcast should be searchable on the Web as text and got Annie's permission to quote and paraphrase at length (hopefully accurately!). Because it's a long podcast, I'm splitting this into two parts (which are still long – apologies, but they're important!) – this week's focus is parenting; next week's on school, adding more sources.

    Both Fox and Wiseman have new books out which I highly recommend: the third book of Fox's Middle School Confidential series for tweens, this one subtitled "What's Up With My Family?", and the re-release of Wiseman's best-selling Queen Bees & Wannabes with a new chapter on the role of technology in teen life. [Here's Fox's blog post about the interview.]

    Moral compasses needed for navigating cyberspace

    About a quarter of the way through the podcast, Wiseman talks about how she hears what many of us hear from teens: that people have always been mean to each other –cyberbullying isn't anything different from what we've dealt with in the past. So, they ask, what's the big deal?

    "The minute somebody says that," Wiseman says, "that is the minute when critically thinking people stop and say, 'Why?!' Because if it involves the degradation of other people – especially if it's done for the entertainment of other people like bystanders – then that is a problem, and that is a tradition that needs to be challenged immediately."

    Wiseman says to Fox that, when that comes up with teens, she tells them, "If you are going to be someone who has self-agency in the world, if you in your own way believe you have an obligation for yourself and others to live in the world with dignity, and that you have a moral compass, if you want that ability, then you have to be able to challenge the things that are 'normal' but are not right....

    "I think the role of adults," Wiseman adds, "is to pierce this bubble that all of this [mean behavior] is normal now. Children think it's happening so much that [they'll tell you] that they didn't think it was wrong, and it's our role to say, 'No, actually it's not ok, and you're completely in your right to be upset about it." When they say that, teens are reflecting a culture – both online and offline, at home and at school, involving adults as well as kids – in which there has been too much acceptance of flaming, dissing, gossiping about people we know and don't know – too much negative social norming that has got to be addressed (see this about the vital role of positive social norming).

    Wiseman's 'SEAL Strategy'

    So when teenagers are upset about something mean a peer has said or done to them online or offline, we can calmly help them think through what happened, how they feel about it, and what they're going to do about it. One approach, Wiseman's framework for that conversation, is what she calls the "SEAL strategy" – part of the "Owning Up" curriculum she uses to help educators teach students to "own up and take responsibility for unethical behavior." When doing this strategizing, parents and kids of course plug in their own situation and words. [Don't worry if the strategy seems to be about prepping for a confrontation between bully and victim if that's not what you and your child had in mind. The conversation itself is valuable. It's designed to help the child, if not completely take back control of the situation, at least mentally work her way out of victimization mode.]

    Prepping for the conversation

    But before we get to S-E-A-L – around 18 min. into the podcast – Rosalind talks about why it's so important for parents to handle this calmly and respectfully:

    "As a parent, what I want you to say to your child is [something like], 'I'm so sorry this happened to you; thank you SO much for coming and telling me' ... because your kid is taking a risk to tell you about this. Most of the time they think that going to an adult will make it worse [which is why research shows only 10% of teens report cyberbullying to their parents (see this)]. THEN you say, 'and together we're going to work on this, we are going to think through how we can do this so you can feel that you've got some control over a situation where your control has been taken away from you."

    And if we're lucky enough that they do come to us, Wiseman says, a lot of times we'll hear them say, "'I'm going to tell you, but you have to promise not to do or say anything about it.' That might seem to make sense [right then, when you so want to know what she's dealing with], so you may want to agree at first, but if your kid then tells you something you have to do something about, you have to break a promise.... So instead you say, 'I really can't make that promise. I'd love to, but we may have to find somebody who knows more about taking care of the problem than I do.... But what I will promise you is that if we do need to bring someone in, you will never be surprised by their involvement – you won't walk into a room and be surprised. I can promise that. We'll work this through together.' Because," Wiseman says, "you [the parent] taking over robs them of the control they need to have to be able to face the bully."


    As you sit down with your child, "say, 'I'm going to give you a structure that's going to help you think through the really bad feelings in your stomach and put them into words for yourself before you go and talk to someone else,'" Wiseman says, "'because how many times have you had the experience where you're really, really mad at somebody and know exactly what you're going to say to the person, and then you get in front of the person and you totally lose your words? This is going to be a way for you to have a better chance of that not happening, so you can be calm and have as much control as possible in the situation.'"

  • S means you "stop and think when and where, now or later, publicly or privately" you will confront the person face-to-face (usually pretty short in public, longer in private). I think it's important to note, here, that Wiseman's saying the young person is doing this neither to be the bully's best friend nor to destroy somebody. "It's not a zero-sum game."

  • E is about how "you explain exactly what you don't like and exactly what you want." Not something vague like, "you're being mean to me," but "when you stole my password, you know I've had the same one since 6th grade and you used it to send an embarrassing message to my entire contact list making it look as if it was me. I hate that; it was beyond embarrassing to me." Then the teen explains exactly what she wants, regardless of whether or not the kid is likely to do it, something like: "I'm asking you to send a message to all those people saying you sent that other message, that it wasn't me. I'm going to be sending that message to everybody, but I'm asking you to have the courage and integrity to do it yourself." Wiseman explains that, in this confrontation, the targeted child is not asking to be treated with dignity, is not appealing to the bully's sympathy. She is being clear that dignity "is something I deserve because it's what everybody deserves."

  • A is really two As – for "affirm" and "acknowledge or admit ("some kids like 'acknowledge,' some 'admit'"). They're about rights and responsibilities. "The first A is to affirm your right and everybody's right to walk down the school hallway or be in this world without being treated like dirt." As for responsibilities, this parent-child conversation is providing your child some space in which she can ask herself, 'Is it possible that I contributed in some way to the dynamic that I'm now dealing with? What are my responsibilities to other people and have I respected those responsibilities?" Wiseman adds that this is sometimes the hard part for parents – asking their own child about her role in the situation, but it's essential, she says, if we want our kids to have the ability to put on the brakes the next time it happens. She feels this is particularly important with today's technologies because these days it's almost impossible not to have a role, not to be either target, perpetrator or bystander (see this Slate piece by Yale psychology professor Alan Kazdin about the power of the bystander). Cyberbullying situations are very fluid, usually hardwired to the school context, with bullies, victims, and bystanders frequently swapping hats in a 24-7, digitally-enabled school drama that makes it hard to get away and get perspective (see this).

  • L is "You either lock in or lock out the relationship or friendship with the person you confronted – or you take a vacation from it. With peers, you need to be able to go through the process of asking whether you want to be in this relationship or not and how you want to be in it. As a bystander, you can say to the bully I'm coming to you as a friend (lock in); it would've been easier to say nothing, but I'm saying this to you out of loyalty; as a friend I'm coming to you. To a bully, you might say, 'You've changed, you're blowing me off all the time, bossing me around, ridiculing me, whatever, and it's not getting better, so I need to lock out the friendship or I need to take a break.' [Wiseman reminds always to encourage them to put it in their own words. They just need this structure because this is very difficult to do.]

    Perspective-taking good for parents too

    "When your kid comes home and tells you something has happened, don't believe that what the child related is 100% truth and there is no other perspective," Wiseman says. "That is their truth. But it's also true that, in a conflict, human nature focuses on what has been done to it, not what it did to others. Two kids will have very different perspectives on what happened." She asks parents who have more than one child if, when something comes up, the two kids don't usually have a difference of opinion about what happened. Nah. ;-) "It's like that at school too. Each child has his own truth."

    So "if you go in there [into school], guns blazing, you may find out something more happened, and you're going to be very embarrassed. So it's incumbent upon you" to go in knowing there are other perspectives, say what you need to say, and "finish your story [for school administrators] with 'Is that accurate?' [Repeat: Make sure, after sharing what you heard from your child, you ask the school administrator or the other parents there: "Is that accurate?"] Then really listen." This can make the difference between amplifying the problem and helping to resolve it.

    But as important as your behavior is to the outcome for everybody, it's vitally important for your child, who's keenly aware of how you handle the situation. "You're teaching your child how you handle conflict," Wiseman says in the podcast. And Fox points out that "parents are leaders for their kids." She adds that, no matter how much technology is involved in the issue being worked out, "this is not a technology issue; ultimately, it's a parenting issue."

    3,000 text messages a month – hmm, might parents have something to do with it?

    Wiseman told Fox that her teen advisers say texting "is our primary way we communicate with each other. Yes, we use [social network sites], but texting is faster" (the average is 3,146 text messages a month for 13-to-17-year-olds, Nielsen reported this month). They also tell her that parental communication represents a not-insignificant part of those texts. One girl told Wiseman, "My parents are texting me ... from the time I wake up to the time I go to bed." The girl showed her one of those texts: "Honey, I'm going to the airport to pick up Grandma." Daughter texts back, "Mom, you're driving, stop texting me!" And as, Wiseman watches, the mom continues texting. Maybe, Fox suggests, we parents could check and see what behaviors we're modeling for our kids. Another girl told Wiseman: "My mom sends me pictures of people she finds dressed ridiculously," making snide comments about this or that piece of clothing. Calling this pre-adolescent behavior, Wiseman suggested: "We have to look in the mirror about these things.... We are part of this. It's not just teenagers [dissing others].... "

    It'll help, I so agree, "if we really tie [how we deal with their tech use] back to the root issues of how we must be with each other," as Wiseman put it. That, to me, is the core of the cyberbullying solution. "Kids are smart enough to be able to extrapolate, if we teach them the connections ... if we teach them that the way they use technology is just reflective of everything else that we expect of them."

    [Readers, everything above is much more compelling when you hear it coming from its sources, so do yourself a favor and listen to the podcast. Next week: behavior and technology at school.]

    Related links

  • "Bullies: They can be stopped, but it takes a village" at Slate – by Yale professor of psychiatry and child psychology Alan Kazdin and Boston College professor Carlo Rotella
  • Annie Fox's Middle School Confidential: What's Up with My Family? ($9.99, 96 pp.) is comfort food for the mind – a middle-schooler's highly social, overloaded, hormone-challenged, technology-tethered mind. When my 12-year-old saw the pdf review version on my laptop screen when we were sitting on a plane together last fall, it was his idea – not mine – to read through the whole book then and there. That says it all, think! This is solid, respectful, caring advice for kids.
  • Video: CBS News's Katie Couric interviews Wiseman about children's privacy: "If we don't value their privacy, we're sending a message about respect." Ok if we monitor them surreptitiously? "Sure, but what if you find something you need to talk to them about? It's taking a risk that if you get caught, the kid can focus on the "violation of privacy" instead of on the content of their behavior – they go into self-righteous mode when the focus should be on their risky behavior.
  • Couric and Wiseman talk about sexting.
  • Annie Fox's podcast with Rachel Simmons, whose most recent book is The Curse of the Good Girl (here's Simmons's site)
  • "A different sort of back-to-school tip: Kindness"
  • The last time I wrote about Fox and Wiseman: "Sexting: New study & the 'Truth or Dare' scenario"

    Labels: , , , , , ,

  • Thursday, February 11, 2010

    Federal privacy case also about youth safety

    There's an interesting conversation going on over at CNET about cellphones as tracking devices, outdated federal privacy law, and phone owners' privacy rights. Reporter Declan McCullagh looks at this crucial moment in the courts – a case to be argued before the Third Circuit Court of Appeal in Philadelphia tomorrow. As I read, I first thought, "Well, cops used to obtain phone records that located where suspects were when they made calls with fixed phones, as well as where the calls were made to. Now they just find out where the mobile phone was, right?" Yes, but, uh, the tracking of geolocation-enabled cellphones (which most mobiles are now), "comes in two forms," McCullagh writes: "police obtaining retrospective data kept by mobile providers for their own billing purposes that may not be very detailed, or prospective data that reveals the minute-by-minute location of a handset or mobile device." It's the "prospective" part that's new and raises even more concerns. If search-and-seizure laws aren't updated so that police need a search warrant to obtain cellphone location data in realtime (which is what this whole discussion's about), Big Brother really can, potentially, track you minute-by-minute now. Then I thought about youth safety. Is there a downside there? Of course not, if we're talking about tracking a kidnapper or his/her victim. But what if a child is trying to get away from an abusive parent, the police don't know about the abuse, and the parent calls the police saying s/he's desperate to find a lost child? There are many what-if scenarios like that. Minors have privacy rights too. Another consideration I'm not seeing in McCullagh's piece is prepaid "disposable" phones not attached to mobile carriers' billing departments and data-storage servers. Will bad guys be using those a whole lot more if the privacy-rights side of this case loses? To be continued.... [Meanwhile, feel free to weigh in on any of this in comments below, via email, or in our forum at]

    Labels: , , , ,

    YouTube's new tool for kid-safe viewing

    More than 33 billion online videos were watched during December and about a third of the them were on YouTube, according to comScore's latest figures. A 2008 study by Nielsen found that YouTube was 2-to-11-year-olds' No. 1 video viewing site (see this). So parents will probably be happy to know that YouTube now has its own filter for sexually explicit or violent content. "While no filter is 100% perfect, Safety Mode is another step in our ongoing desire to give you greater control over the content you see on the site," says the YouTube blog. As their video demo shows, it's easy to activate: Just go to any YouTube page, scroll to the bottom, and click "Safety Mode is off." After clicking On or Off, you can choose either to "Save" or "Save and lock." With the former, Safety Mode is on whenever anybody's uses that browser on that computer until they change that setting (works with a rule that settings don't get changed and obedient kids). "Save and lock" allows you to log into your Google or YouTube account and lock the setting so that it can't be changed in that browser by anyone who doesn't know your password – just as with Google's SafeSearch lock (see this). [See also "Help with cyberbullying on YouTube."]

    Labels: , , , , ,

    Wednesday, February 10, 2010

    Student free speech to Supreme Court soon?

    It was a big day for student free speech last Thursday, a day that ended with mixed results. One three-judge panel of the Third US Circuit Court decided for a student, and another panel from the same circuit decided against a student, Wired reports. Wired adds that the Supreme Court "has never squarely addressed the parameters of off-campus, online student speech, but might soon. So far, lower courts appear to be guided by a 1969 high court ruling saying student expression may not be suppressed unless school officials reasonably conclude that it will “materially and substantially disrupt the work and discipline of the school.” In one case the judges said that "school officials in Mercer County [Penn.] cannot reach into a family's home and police the Internet. That case also involves a MySpace parody of a principal created by a student at home," the Washington Post reported. In the other case, the judges "upheld the suspension of a Schuylkill County eighth-grader who posted sexually explicit material along with her principal's photograph on a fake MySpace page" – though the dissenting judge "said his colleagues were broadening the school's authority and improperly censoring students." The Post added that "school boards, free-speech advocates and others had been awaiting the rulings for clarity on how far schools can go to control both online speech and offsite behavior," and what they got was the opposite. [See also "Student free speech decision" and my original post on the Avery Doninger case, "Teen name-calling: Federal case" and the ensuing lower-court decision.]

    Labels: , , ,

    Tuesday, February 09, 2010

    Major buzz about Buzz, but not about its safety

    Google's Buzz, which it unveiled today, means to make Gmail much more social – adding updates and photo- and video-sharing; turning emailers into Twitter-like "followers"; and making all of that local to you (and you to it) via your cellphone, according to hundreds of news articles including PCWorld's. That last bit concerning geolocation raises some safety concerns, writes co-director Larry Magid in CNET, where he posted an audio interview with Google co-founder Sergey Brin. Writing also in the Huffington Post, he says "Mobile Buzz, which will work initially on the Apple iPhone and Google Android phones," taking advantage of their GPS tech "so that users will not only be able to update their status but their location as well." Of course Buzz will work with Google maps. Will that social pinpointing capability be something people have to consciously turn on? I hope so, because young people don't always stop for safety or privacy reality checks in the rapid-fire back-'n'-forth of teen texting and socializing. But how much will that help even so? These products like Buzz are all just social convenience tools to teens. Teens don't think as much as we do about separate stand-alone products, services, or devices, each with its own privacy policy, set of terms of service. It's all much more of a means to the much more important end of staying connected and maintaining mindshare with peers. That's a challenge when companies just want to throw these various tasks at the lawyers and be done with it. The good news is, Google's integrating all of its Buzz-related products for fixed and mobile use; maybe they'll have integrated safety and privacy too.

    Labels: , , ,

    Safer Internet Day: Wrong to focus on 5-to-7-year-olds?

    I was surprised by the surprise in the voice of a newspaper reporter interviewing me last week, when he asked me to repeat a point about how a youth police officer I know started talking with 4th-graders about online safety. Well, today – the European Union's Safer Internet Day – the UK's awareness campaign is aimed at 5-to-7-year-olds (see The Guardian's coverage). Wouldn't the reporter be surprised about that?! I actually think new-media literacy and mindfulness about how they (we all) treat one another online and offline should be taught to children from the moment they start playing with digital devices. And I'm certainly not alone – I heard many statements to that effect at the Safer Internet Forum in Luxembourg last October (see this).

    Yet, Ian Douglas at The Telegraph is saying "Safer Internet day is pitching too young" and says parents need to be the primary audience. Absolutely, they're paramount. But I think there is no primary audience. Safety on the fixed and mobile, user-driven social Web is a multi-stakeholder proposition. Just as the only logical solution to bullying/cyberbullying (there is great overlap between the two) is a whole-school-community one, the same goes for youth safety at the societal level. Everybody's teaching and learning in this multi-directional new media environment, everybody has a say in their own, their friends', and their community's well-being, online and offline piece of the solution: user, family, school, caregivers, teachers, industry, government. And yes, Douglas is right that it's not for young children if Net-safety messaging defaults to the old predator-focused, fear-based, research-ignoring fare we've hopefully moved past. He's wrong if online/offline citizenship and mindfulness are the content of safety education. Meanwhile, two-thirds of 14,000 European children surveyed said their parents "do nothing to encourage them to be safe online," according to a new Microsoft survey cited in the Irish Times. [Here's much more Safer Internet Day coverage. See also "Online Safety 3.0: Empowering & Protecting Youth." I'll be blogging more about the school part of the equation soon.]

    Labels: , , ,

    Monday, February 08, 2010

    Fresh social-Web & Net numbers

    If Facebook were a country, it would be the world's third most populous one, after China and India. As for the world's most avid social networkers, Americans are 4th, behind Australians, Britons, and Italians, respectively – The Economist reports in a special report on social networking – followed by users in South Korea, Spain, Brazil, Germany, France, and Japan. The world's most popular social sites are Facebook, Windows Live, MySpace, Chinese portal Baidu, Twitter, Google's social site Orkut (popular in Brazil and India), Hi5, Chinese social site QQ, LinkedIn, and art community site DeviantArt – in that order, based on 10/09 comScore figures and all based in the US unless otherwise indicated. Other big indigenous communities include "Skyrock in France, VKontakte in Russia, and Cyworld in South Korea, as well as numerous smaller social networks that appeal to specific interests such as Muxlim, aimed at the world's Muslims, and ResearchGATE, which connects scientists and researchers." Meanwhile, Nielsen reports that social network sites are the most popular Web destination worldwide, with FB representing 67% of all social site traffic, reports. As for general Internet numbers for 2009, has some: e.g., 90 trillion emails went out last year (247 billion a day, on average); there were 234 million Web sites as of this past December; and 1.73 Net users as of last September (see that page for more).

    Labels: , , , ,

    Facebook's orders of magnitude of change

    In six years Facebook has gone from being a social utility for students of a single northeastern US elite university (a sort of directory+community where Harvard students could find and socialize with each other) to a social utility for nearly 400 million people of multiple ages, languages, and walks of life worldwide (FB passed its sixth birthday last Thursday).

    My theory is, that fairly spare original design as a utility made it less flexible for individual users but more flexible for users as a whole – in other words for the changes that going from mere hundreds to hundreds of millions would entail. A pretty bare-bones social utility (like Twitter, too, as opposed to MySpace, which was always more of a self-expression tool than a social utility) is simply a person's social network visualized. [If this makes no sense, pls let me know or post your own theory in comments below.] "In its latest redesign, Facebook is playing up applications, games and search," USATODAY reports. That makes sense to me, because apps and games are one way users can customize their FB experience, and search becomes paramount simply because of the challenge of finding someone among 400 million users – but also grows the tension between those concerned about privacy and those who want to be found by old friends and long-lost relatives. For those concerned about privacy, by the way, here's a very handy how-to article: "The Three Facebook [privacy] Settings Every User Should Check Now": the ones concerning who can see what you share (updates, photos, etc.), who can see your personal info, and who can search for and find your FB profile with Web search engines.

    Labels: , , , , ,