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Dear Subscribers:

In this issue: Insights into the online life of a close family - one with a very tech-literate teenaged girl in it. See why we think this family's experience makes an excellent talking point in the growing global discussion about the Internet's impact on kids. Here's our lineup for this third week of July:

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Lessons of a tech-literate family

Laura - a journalist and mother of 14-year-old, very Net-literate Mary (names changed "to protect the not-so-innocent," as Laura put it) - told us in a recent interview what she now thinks about children having their own email accounts: "This password-protected private access to the entire world is really an astonishing intrusion on parenting and family life, and I don't think - as a culture - we've really thought about what we've done to ourselves.... My feeling is, until a child is 18 and out of your house, they should not have that privacy. It's like giving her a lock and key to her room. She can have decent privacy - we'll knock before we come in - but not an adult's total privacy. Otherwise, the entire rest of the universe is allowed into her 'locked room' without her parents' knowledge. It's like letting her set up a storefront in your house, which is appalling."

Whether or not you agree with that conclusion, you can imagine it was not arrived at easily. Laura knows the online world well (she uses it in her work), is a very engaged parent, and has a daughter who, this past year, pushed well past the limits of her instant-messaging privileges, leading to some tough family discussions and decisionmaking. Mary has since been "grounded" from cyberspace - she's only allowed to use the Net for school-related research.

The background Laura gave us on this provides one clear picture of the issues wired families are facing worldwide. (Laura's house, including two offices for Laura and her husband, has four computers, three of them connected via DSL, three phone lines, a dedicated fax line, and three cell phones.) Here's what happened:

Because the family has two America Online accounts for both personal and professional use, Mary "managed to get herself a screenname that we didn't know existed," Laura told us. "Once she realized she could trick us, the situation began to expand. She was encouraged by her friends, because, as far as I can tell, none of her friends had any Parental Controls on their AOL accounts at all - no time restrictions, activity restrictions, anything. What my husband and I thought of as moderation [in parental involvement] she saw as extreme control - because her experience was *no* control by her friends' parents. We think it was tech ignorance on [the parents'] part.... You'd be amazed at how many parents aren't involved or up to the level of tech savvy needed even to understand where their kids are going on the Web. [Mary] had this social environment where she actually had to tell her IM [instant-messaging] friends, 'My time is up, gotta go,' or 'I can't IM now because we have this rule that I can only be online for one hour between 8 and 10 p.m. on school nights.' She used her online time almost constantly for IM-ing. We had thought, 'Oh, she'll be online for research for her homework.' Right. She would IM with as many as 20 or 30 kids. It was a vast juggling act - she'd literally ping pong between these IMs."

Another family policy was: "She should assume that anything she writes or reads on the computer, we will read," Laura told us. We asked her if the computer her kids use [Mary has an 11-year-old brother] is in a high-traffic place in the house. "Yes. When Mary was in 7th grade she got a laptop from her grandparents for achieving 40 words a minute [typing]. What immediately happened is, she was online in her room, IM-ing. So we took it out of her room" and put it in the family room.

Mary had one other online restriction, Laura told us: "She had to tell me who anyone on her buddy list was. Any email she ever received and couldn't identify for me right away she had to delete without opening.

"Around the middle of this past year [Mary's 9th-grade year], suddenly all the kids' hormones kicked in in a huge way. The boys she knew started adopting pornographic screennames as a second or third screenname. This is where the ball of yarn began to seriously unravel. I saw two names unsayable in polite company." Laura told us that she would spot-check Mary's online activity every now and then, peering over her shoulder. She asked Mary who those friends with the screennames were and of course Mary didn't want to tell her. So Laura reminded Mary that her parents could "just take her offline" if she didn't tell the guys her mother said they'd either have to change their screennames or just not send her any more IMs or emails with those screennames. "It appeared she either did that or they just went away."

Not long after Mary's dad "noticed Mary was IM-ing nonstop - more than an hour, no question. She'd use up her hour on her 'official' screenname, then switch over to the one we didn't know about. Parental Controls' time-out feature showed us that.... So we had a family meeting and Mary's head went on the block. After that, she lost all IM privileges, we eliminated the extra accounts, and she was back in the fold with Parental Controls functioning, completely monitored [by her parents], and accurately timed.

"Then she really crossed a serious line," Laura told us, amid "all this pressure from her friends who could not *believe* what Nazis her parents were.... Mary has a 'really really really good friend' who told her, 'Just use my [AOL] account.' So she came home and was in the family computer room, and I noticed that she was being very furtive. I recognized all these little minimized IM icons on the tool bar. I told her, 'Tell me you're not IM-ing.' I told her to pull them up, so she did, and one of them was one of the guys with a screenname I told her to get rid of."

It was instantly very clear to Mary, Laura told us, that "she was busted." Laura added, "I explained that she was essentially stealing by using her friend's account without her friend's parents' permission. She told me she thought it was like borrowing a friend's clothes or using each other's makeup." That was last March. "Ever since then she's been completely off AOL. She can launch Netscape or Explorer and do homework research.... I don't think we'll ever give [Mary] back password protection [her own AOL account and screenname]."

[Speaking of kids' own screennames and accounts, we later asked AOL Parental Controls expert Diana Pentecost if there was anything parents could do to keep a child from having total, passworded privacy, minus any parental access. Diana told us that if a parent really needs access, s/he, as owner of the account, can call Member Services and get all the passwords on the account scrambled and then establish new ones that the parent can control. However, the minute you give a child a password, s/he can change it, create a new (secret) one, and you're starting all over again.]

In a followup email, Laura later summed up her family's online experience (so far) with a question: "Would you send your child out to a vast party every single night, school nights included, allow them to stay as long as they wanted - with zero adult supervision and with random people coming and going all night long? Hopefully, the answer is so obvious that the question verges on the rhetorical. However," she added, "that's very close to what this explosion of IM-ing is all about."

Send us your experiences with young surfers and IM-ers at your house! You know the address:

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Further reading: Parental oversight in NJ

And from the "They're Not Alone" Department, here's a New York Times piece about how a single mom in New Jersey got up to speed on the Infobahn fairly fast (after that first step of hiding the computer tower under blankets in the trunk of her car for seven months) because of the exploits of her 14-year-old son. See the lists of "Parents' Tactics" and "Teens' Tactics" in the sidebar, "Parents Battle for Control". (Some of these will sound familiar from Laura and Mary's story above.)

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Family Tech: Medical info on the Web

After close examination and extensive tests on the part of "parent, husband, and hypochondriac" Larry Magid, medical information has been diagnosed as a mixed blessing. In his Family Tech column for the San Jose Mercury News,'s founder offers his own experience with doing medical research on the Web, several doctors' views on the Internet's contribution to the patient-care equation, and some survey data on what Net users and doctors say about medical info on the Web. There are lots of links to relevant sites, too.

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Web News Briefs

  1. High-speed Net access & the economy

    All those DSL-user complaints in the news notwithstanding, a new study by the Brookings Institution found that widespread use of high-speed Internet service by Americans will have a "profound" impact on the economy - to the tune of $500 billion a year. Here's ZDNet's coverage. The USIIA Bulletin breaks down that $500 billion: "Consumers would benefit from online home shopping, entertainment, traditional telephone and health care services, as well as reduced commuting, adding $200 billion to the economy if half the country has the high-speed service and $400 billion if almost all Americans have it, the study said. At the same time, higher consumer demand will provide a boost to manufacturers of computers, software and entertainment products, which would add another $50 billion to $100 billion to the economy...." For would-be DSL subscribers, the Bulletin also notes that AOL is now offering subscribers "a free, 30-day trial of its 'AOL Plus' high-speed access via either DSL or satellite." After 30 days the cost is $19.95 above the usual AOL subscription fee. Activation and a DSL modem are free.

    For a bird's-eye-view of the Internet economy in general, don't miss Wired magazine's interview with Intel chairman Andy Grove (Wired's June cover story).

  2. Teachers on tech

    Nearly all US teachers now have access to computers and the Internet in their schools, according to's 2001 survey, but that access is not "being translated yet into actual usage for achieving educational goals." Here are three other key findings:

    • Teachers' attitudes toward tech and the Net's roles in education have "dramatically changed in the past couple of years" - they now value technology and are comfortable with the Internet and computers.
    • "Teachers primarily use the Internet as a research tool - a big electronic encyclopedia." Use of the Net for communications, professional development, and classroom projects is "not fully realized yet by teachers."
    • "Teachers face significant obstacles to using the Internet as an integrated education tool and resource." Time is the biggest obstacle, but school leadership and support are also significant barriers.

    NetDay is a national nonprofit ed-tech organization that aims to "connect every child to a brighter future by helping educators meet educational goals through the effective use of technology."

  3. The upside of teen Net expertise

    There are actually many upsides (email us about the model surfers you know, via!). Just two examples in the news this week include an Associated Press report (via CNET) about Teenangels, a group of (by year's end) 350 teen volunteers worldwide who are teaching peers about online safety. They're a division of Cyberangels [as of spring 2002,] which has thousands of adult volunteers worldwide, expert in all aspects of online safety and crime prevention, but - to a teenager - sometimes there's no one quite as credible as a peer. The second example might be labeled "Teen Tech Support," a group that includes kids helping parents navigate CPUs as well as cyberspace. Then there are those who can even write about their expertise and get published. Here's 15-year-old Michael Morelli's opinion piece in about networking all the entertainment devices in a home - TV, DVD player, digital recorder, and computer "to deliver a seamless entertainment experience."

  4. Some call it filtering...

    ...others call it censorship. Whatever you call it, here's a useful update on the public debate about filtering software. It's a New York Times profile of one of this year's three winners of the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Pioneer Awards for "people who have played crucial roles in the history of technology." The Times reports that Seth, a founder of the Censorware Project, an anti-filtering advocacy group, has "spent hundreds of hours [over the past six years] decrypting the blacklists of popular Web filtering programs like Cyber Patrol and X-Gear [the Times might mean X-Stop]." Seth points to both political and values biases in filtering products and their flaws - e.g., he told the Times "he was now analyzing a list that blocked the National Institutes of Health's Spanish-language site on diabetes. The Spanish word 'hora,' which means hour and is used often on the page, also happens to be a Swedish word for prostitute."

  5. 'Webbys' announced

    They're called the Oscars of the Web, only at this awards ceremony (in San Francisco Wednesday night) acceptance speeches were limited to five words. The resulting experience had a lot more levity than that of most dot-com-ers in the past year, reports CNET, describing "the glitzy and zany Webby Awards." There's no real overall award, except maybe "Best Practices," which search engine won. The Learning Network's was the winner in the Kids category. Individuals who won Webbys were lifetime achievement award winner Doug Englebart, the computer mouse's inventor, and Ray Tomlinson, "a major contributor to the invention and development of email," CNET reports. Here are all the 2001 winners.

  6. Napster's back

    At least temporarily. A federal appeals court stayed last week's ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ordering Napster to block all song trading through its service, unless it could block 100% percent of copyrighted songs. According to CNET , Napster, which is appealing last week's order, had said it could block more than 99% of unauthorized songs on its service with new audio fingerprint technology it is testing, but could not guarantee 100% success. The federal appeals court indicated that this stay is only a reprieve pending further study and a further ruling by the court. Here's a bigger-picture piece by ZDNet about the recording industry's gradual warming to new kinds of Internet music services and how these services look to be faring.

  7. Microsoft cracks down on schools

    Where software piracy is concerned, "shape up or pay up" is what Microsoft is basically saying to schools, according to "Microsoft is seeking to thwart would-be software pirates by adding copy controls to the new version of its operating system and by urging schools to invoke zero-tolerance policies against copyright-violating educators," eSchool News reports. Our thanks to subscriber and teacher Anne in California for pointing this story out.

  8. Librarians in the digital age

    Napster has no more to deal with than librarians when it comes to copyright battles, at least not for long. According to a special report in CNET, "emboldened copyright owners are turning to new fronts in the campaign to retain control of their work in the wilds of the Internet." "Copyright owners" also means book publishers, of course, whose "primary target is the most obvious place to get free books: the public library." We reported on Napster CEO Hank Barry's speech on this at the American Library Association's annual conference last month, but this report will be very useful to anyone interested in this topic.

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


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News

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