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Kids accessing Net sex

For some clearheaded thinking on the subject, check out this week's column by's Larry Magid: "Frank approach to adolescents and Internet pornography". For example, "Don't overreact," Larry suggests, citing a child psychologist. "How you respond to the situation can have more of an effect than the exposure itself." Larry goes on to explain how, though viewing sexual material on the Internet is not itself a safety issue, it can become one.

Tell us what you think of the article - or how your family would handle this issue - via

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A winning combination: Profile of a 6th-grader

This week we interviewed Madeline, co-creator of two award-winning Web sites and a 6th-grader in New York City, and her mom, Randi. Separately, we interviewed Madeline's teacher and ThinkQuest coach, Neme Alperstein. ThinkQuest Junior is a remarkable annual contest with a learn-by-doing philosophy that gives 4th-to-6th-graders the opportunity to use the Net to create educational Web sites for their peers. The first site Madeline worked on (in 5th grade) - "Yo, It's Time For Braces" - won TQ Junior's top ("Platinum") award in its category and was later a finalist in a grownup international competition as well: the Global Information Infrastructure Awards. We'll tell you more about her latest site in a minute.

But the real reason why this story's in the newsletter is because it shows what can happen in a child's life when you combine the Internet; a committed group of students, parents, and teachers; and a well-thought-out educational program. Here's what we learned from Madeline:

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When you were in grade school did you…

A. Work after school and on weekends on a project that would be seen around the world?
B. Communicate freely with corporate executives, state senators, and medical professionals?
C. Travel to a distant city to interview an expert on the subject of your project?
D. Find your work competing for an award with projects by the likes of Boston
University and the Mayo Clinic?
E. All of the above.

"E" is the correct answer for Madeline. She thought of the subject for her first Web site - "Yo, It's Time for Braces" - about the time that her family got their first computer and an Internet connection. They all wanted to learn how to use the computer and Madeline had been told she needed braces, so they went out on the Internet together to find out what they could about kids and braces. Everything they found was so clinical that Madeline got the idea of making a Web site with information that kids could actually use. You heard what happened to that site!

This year Madeline collaborated in another by-kids-for-kids ThinkQuest site - "From Pokemon to Picasso: Art Rights & Wrongs" - all about copyrights and plagiarism on the Internet. It's an increasingly important issue for students using the Internet for schoolwork, not to mention kids creating their own home pages just for fun. On the Internet, it's extremely easy - especially for tech-literate kids - to grab other people's artwork, photos, and text and put it in one's Web site or homework, without permission or attribution.

"We thought, the permission is out there to be had - you only need to ask," Madeline's mom, Randi, told us in a mother-daughter interview. "The idea was that, if kids are comfortable with copyrights and getting permission, they'll actually use the Internet more and in a more constructive way." Madeline added, "The site has three [sample] forms that help you keep track of the images you want to get permission for, which ones you do get permission for, and what conditions the owner gives you for using their work."

Two developments got them going on this subject. First, Madeline and her teammates on the braces site wanted to use professional photos and images - of teeth, for example! - and ThinkQuest rules require site builders to obtain and document permission to use any materials in the site not created by the team itself.

Randi told us, "The Braces Web site couldn't have been made without the cooperation and generous permission of the many professionals the team contacted…. A lot of work went into properly acknowledging the sources. After the site was finished, we realized how important the acknowledgments really were: 1) to the people who trusted the team, 2) as a factor in winning the competition, 3) in being featured on many businesses' Web sites, and 4) in learning how important copyrights are on the Internet. We looked at many other kids' Web sites and found that many did not properly acknowledge their material, or they limited the topic they chose to only what they could create themselves. The Braces team had had so much success emailing doctors, organizations, and companies that [as we all thought about the next site's topic], it seemed a shame that kids avoided this aspect of publishing something on the Internet. We thought the subject of how to get permission [to use others' copyrighted material] might be a topic for the following September. The problem was how to make it a 'fun' topic."

That second "shoe" dropped when "Madeline got some birthday money from relatives. She went to a small store that had the most desirable Pokemon cards displayed in a case. She was so excited about them that she came home, got her birthday money and her little brother and his savings and went back to the store. They bought six packs of cards. After conferring with the neighborhood Pokemon experts, they realized they had wasted all of their money on counterfeit cards that couldn't be traded. Madeline and Dennis were devastated, angry, and bent on revenge. The store owner refused to give them their money back, and the city's consumer affairs office sent them a form and no promises. They couldn't believe they had been victims of counterfeit bootleggers. Kids were taking trading cards very seriously at the time. There had been a shooting somewhere involving a card dispute, and kids all over were debating the authenticity of every card they found.

"I told them they had learned a valuable lesson about why companies value their copyrights so much," Randi continued. We asked Madeline if the lesson was worth it, and her quick reply was, "I lost $10 on Pokemon on cards and won $500 in ThinkQuest!" (With a little help from her parents, the $1,500 she's won for both sites mostly went into a mutual fund - guaranteed by Mom and Dad not to decrease in value - with $100 held out for Madeline's spending money.)

Back to the copyright subject: "We realized that trust, authenticity, and the rights of artists were all involved in the topic of copyrights. The new ThinkQuest team members, Kim and Katie, were also interested in the authenticity of collectibles such as sports trading cards and Beanie Babies, etc. They shared an interest in art and making a ThinkQuest Web site. Suddenly we all realized that counterfeit collectibles was a way to make the subject of copyrights more relevant to kids."

That was the beginning of a six-month project that would consume hours of both classroom and family time, often seven days a week. What started out to be a small site ended up to be 280 pages, including:

"We divided the project into three parts," Madeline told us: "licenses, trademarks, and copyrights. "Everybody did a little bit of everything," Randi added, based on each girl's talents. Parents, teacher/coach Neme told us in a separate interview, "ride herd on kids' collaboration - check in, keep it moving along." Madeline's parents, she added, were "a phenomenal force from the vantage point of encouragement, and they kept the team aware of the need to put working on the site on the front burner…. I was sure the kids would complete a project of this scope because of their ongoing support."

Not completing the project was not an option. Randi told us that, out of 1,200 teams that signed up at the beginning of the school year, only 630 finished their sites. So right up front in September, Neme states the rules to anyone considering participating: "If you sign on, you will finish with a product - nobody can back out…. That way there's no sense of disappointment."

Madeline certainly got the message. In a separate interview, she told us, "It's an obligation to your team and yourself to finish and to make it the best it can be…. It's more than just a Web site." We asked Madeline to expand on that. "It's a fun experience that will help you along the way, like when you apply for a job." Does she mean she feels more confident because of the experience? "Actually, I do," she replied. "This is group work, except you know you did everything you could do, and inside you're proud of what you did even if you didn't win anything."

If any of you and your kids have stories to tell about learning with the Internet, we'd love to hear them. Do email us comments or anecdotes.

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Web News Briefs

  1. Wired families: Data

    The number of US families with Net access has more than tripled from 15% in 1996 to 52% in 2000, according to a study released this week by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. This is the first year in the five years the APPC has been doing this research that more families have an Internet subscription (52%) than a newspaper subscription (42%).

    For better or worse, the study also found that - despite the fact that kids spend 4.5 hours a day in front of some sort of screen (TV, computer, or video game), parents are more concerned about what's on those screens than about how long their kids are in front of them. Almost half (48%) of families with children between 2 and 17 have all four of the new family-media staples: a TV, a VCR, a computer, and video game equipment (and a lot of them are in the kids' own bedrooms).

    Those numbers are from "Media in the Home 2000," just one of three studies the APPC has recently released on kids and media. You can find the executive summary on pp. 3 and 4 of this study, linked to from the AAPC's home page. Some interesting data on families' use of the V-chip and TV ratings system are in the press release, which is also a link on the home page. The other two studies, also chock-full of arresting data, are "Public Policy, Family Rules and Children's Media Use in the Home" and "Is the Three-Hour Rule Living Up to Its Potential?"

    Are you more concerned about content on TVs and the Internet, or the time your kids spend with it? Do send your comments.

  2. Filtering in public places: Update

    The US Senate this week passed two competing proposals to protect online kids. Both were attached to a huge spending bill for the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services. According to CNET, the differences will now have to be worked out in a bi-partisan conference committee.

    An earlier Wired News piece gives more details on the proposals. With his legislation, Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona is trying again to require that any school or library receiving federal "e-rate" funds for Internet connectivity (administered by the FCC) install filtering software on its connected computers. Critics say McCain's proposal is too restrictive and gives the FCC too much authority. The other proposal, by Sen. Rick Santorum (R) of Pennsylvania, requires funded schools and libraries to take protection measures, but lets them decide what type of online-safety measures they want to take. In addition to those two proposals, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont has a separate, less controversial amendment attached to McCain's that requires Internet service providers to provide their customers with filtering software.

    Do you have a position on filtering in public places where children have Net access? If so email us your thoughts.

  3. Online privacy: Good fallout

    With well-known brands like Reader Rabbit, Arthur, and Little Bear, Mattel Interactive is responding to privacy concerns. According to CNET, the company announced it will provide a tool that removes software in those products that was surreptitiously placed on customers' computers and is designed to transmit and receive information for marketing purposes. Mattel Interactive, which Mattel put up for sale two months ago, says the information was rarely used because of all the merger and acquisition activity the company has been involved in.

  4. 'Snoopware' everywhere?

    Privacy can be violated by people we know, too. The New York Times has a thought-provoking piece on snoopware - "the computer equivalent of reading other people's private diaries, opening their mail, going through their garbage, scanning their bank statements and portfolios, cracking their safes, tapping their phones and peeping through their windows, all at once" - how readily available it now is and what that means.

  5. Fine-tuning AOL's parental controls

    ZDNet tells how to "go beyond AOL's basic controls" to ensure kids' online safety. It describes the types of access you can give individual "account holders" in your home (Kids Only, Young Teen, Mature Teen) and explains why those top-level controls are probably not adequate. Then, it walks you through configuring "Custom Controls" for better protection.

    Let us know if you find this article helpful.

  6. School tech to come

    Keyboards for small students' hands, a handheld device that monitors students' hallway movements, and an online SAT prep course. Those are just a few of the goodies educators looked at this week at the National Educational Computing Conference in Atlanta. Wired News was there. In a related report, Wired News says laptops are much in demand among educators working on integrating technology into the classroom. The story provides some context for Madeline's story above.

  7. E-signatures' early days

    In a thoughtful article that puts some perspective on last week's breaking news, the New York Times suggests that digital signatures are definitely not yet ready for prime time. "People simply can't stop themselves from using the Internet, spooked though they may be" about the privacy risks, the Times proposes, presenting the concerns and possible explanations of technology and computer security experts.

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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!


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