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Dear Subscribers:

"What do parents think of instant-messaging?" a student asked us for her paper on the subject. So we put the question to you and received a wonderful range of parent and teacher perspectives - insights and practical experience we know you'll find helpful. Don't miss the sampler below! Nowhere else will you find parents' and teachers' views on a tool that's changing the way teens communicate and relate.

The newsletter will be on Spring Break next week. The next issue will arrive in your In-Box March 23. Here's our lineup this first full week of March:

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Sponsor ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Publishers Pipeline - low-cost or free educational software, housewares,
PC hardware, music CDs, etc. Examples this week:
Disney's Adventure in Typing (Reg price $36.99, FREE after rebate)
Davidson's Learning Center Math: Grades 1-5 (Reg price $38.99, FREE after rebate)
Conair 1600-Watt Hairdryer (Reg price $29.99, FREE after rebate)


Parents on instant-messaging

Those of you who have teenagers in your house are likely to be more familiar with "instant-messaging," or IM, than the rest of us. And some of you probably IM with the best of 'em! For readers who aren't certain what it is,'s glossary says it's "technology similar to that of chat rooms which notifies a user when a friend is online, allowing them to 'converse' by exchanging text messages." By most definitions, it's the fastest-growing communications service ever. The actual number of users isn't easy to pin down, but one IM FAQ offers an estimate of 100 million IM users (with approximately 175 million screen names) worldwide.

For highly communicative, tech-literate teens IM is much more fun than using a phone - probably because they can carry on conversations with lots of friends all at once. Here's what parents and teachers have told us they think of IM:

  1. From parent Jennifer in Georgia:

    "Today's IM is yesterday's telephone. Kids are still doing homework while chatting - only now it's online. Families with broadband access will notice kids checking out Web sites together [while IM-ing], either for fun or homework. Unlike on the phone, kids seem to be able to carry on 3-4 'conversations' at once using IM - and they do it at the same time they're researching online and writing a report for history.

    "Practically speaking, most teens know how to download, install, and configure the software themselves (better than many parents!) and their typing skills are phenomenal, although they use a lot of 'shorthand.' Just like the phone, though, we have to set limits to the amount of time they can chat (fortunately they often forget to turn off the sound that lets us know when they're IM-ing).

    "A hazard is that friends can give friends their other friends' IM codes, so they might not know who's got their profile. My daughter only IMs folks she knows (who've given her their codes at school) or who've been 'formally introduced' online (codes and info were provided by trusted friends before chatting), and she periodically empties her buddy lists and starts fresh. We have clear rules in our family about not chatting online with someone you don't know personally. IM at our house is usually with close friends whom my daughter may not see in school every day.

    "A social advantage is that the boys, who seem to be intimidated calling on the phone and having to talk to Mom or the little sister first, are more comfortable having long conversations with girl classmates in IM first before making scary 'in person' phone calls. By the time the phone actually rings, you know who it is and what to expect (and mom knows which boys are capable of intelligent communication)."

  2. From a father in Maine:

    "I feel that my 15-year-old daughter is addicted to IM. It's unhealthy. We all know about teenage girls and the telephone; well, with IM, she can talk to dozens of friends at the same time by switching back and forth between several conversations. She spends hours and hours every day on the computer doing IM. It has affected her schoolwork as well as any interest in life outside the social circle of her 80+ IM friends. She stays up late doing it and gets up early to do it, too. At every spare moment she checks to see who's on - and there's always someone!!! She appears to be out of control. It's definitely an obsession."

  3. From parent and elementary schoolteacher Becky in Utah:

    "As a fifth-grade teacher and a mother of a high school student who enjoys communicating with her friends, I have two perspectives. First, my daughter was very involved IM-ing her friends when she was in middle school. Now she is too busy. I see my 5th-graders discover it and, like Sarah, by the time they are in high school, they have other things to do. It seems to be very big with kids in our school and community from grades 5 through 8. They are known to have many 'conversations' going on at one time and often they are on the phone to another person at the same time. It is the ultimate in multi-tasking communication. It is more than an adult can fathom, but they get very good at it. Unfortunately, I think parents are not looking over their children's shoulders enough, because most of what is discussed is gossip, and we see it come into school in a negative way. It does concern the educators in my school, because many parents think it is so cute. They really should check on what is being said."

  4. From parent Diane in New York:

    "I view IM the same way I view the phone. My kids are having conversations I can't begin to understand and don't need to understand. I spent hours on the phone as a teen. I had originally planned to write that I 'wasted hours' on the phone. But as an adult I think of it more as a rite of passage to the world of communication.

    "One very special benefit of IM which I, along with my father, have found is that teens away from home (college, summer trips, etc.) will use it to communicate with family members. Sometimes the telephone and face-to-face conversations can communicate too much baggage as teens read into every tone of voice or look. Children who have nothing to say on the phone will use IM to chat forever with siblings, parents, cousins, and even grandparents. My father says it has enriched his relationship with some of his grandchildren in ways he never expected. The chats are less formal than phone calls, less confrontational."

  5. From parent Laurie in Maine:

    "I think IM is ok as long as it is monitored. We have Net Nanny, which shuts down IM instantly if any bad language is used. Although I am concerned about slang, I know the kids use all kinds of 'shorthand.' For example, 'lol' means 'laugh out loud.' I'm sure they have found ways around Net Nanny.

    "Our computer is in a room with glass pocket doors so that we can walk by the room and see what they are doing. We try not to let them be on the computer too long. We would not let them on for more than an hour at a time. We try to keep them occupied in other ways. On a good note, it keeps the phone free!! It's a great way to communicate."

  6. From parent and English teacher Veda in Texas:

    "With so many teenagers seeking refuge with drugs, alcohol, and unprotected sex, I find it refreshing that others have opted for safe, less-destructive habits such as chatting on the Internet or using IM. When a teenager is given proper instruction on correct usage, the Internet can be a haven for entertainment and information that interests them. How wonderful it is to have teenagers who find pleasure in enhancing their knowledge and skills as opposed to destroying society and their bodies."

If you haven't sent in your thoughts yet, it's never too late! We love to receive your comments on all aspects of kids' online experiences, at home or school - via

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On bullying

In light of this week's school shooting tragedy in Santee, Calif., parents and teachers seeking resources for kids affected by bullying can find some in two locations we've highlighted recently. One,, is a Web site created by a Canadian teacher who wanted to do something substantive after a similar shooting incident by a bullied child in a Canadian high school. The other,, a site by teens, for teens, was created by UK 16-year-old Oli Watts as a place "where young people can put over their views and ideas and get advice on things [e.g., teen pregnancy, bullying, exam stress] that are affecting people everywhere." The project grew out of and was part of the solution for Oli's experience as a victim of bullying. Both of these sites are finalists for the 2001 Childnet Awards, designed to spotlight what the Internet can do for kids, not to mention what kids can do for the Net! Winners will be announced later this month

Two other resources - one for kids, one for parents - were unveiled by Nickelodeon just this week. They're not so much about bullying as about helping parents talk with their kids, and vice versa. Based on research funded by the Kaiser Family Foundation, "Talking with Kids about Tough Issues" offers advice on age-appropriate discussions about respecting others, violence, sex and puberty, and substance abuse. "The Talk Challenge" for kids bears the sensible tagline, "Because if you don't set your parents straight about the world, who will?" It includes a parents' manual. Here's Kaiser's press release (in PDF format) on the research that fueled these resources: "Bullying, Discrimination and Sexual Pressures 'Big Problems' for Today's Tweens and Younger Kids; Parents Often Wait for Their kids to Raise Touch Issues".

As for the Santee story, according to the Associated Press (via, the 15-year-old boy arrested in the shooting Wednesday was formerly charged as an adult with two counts of murder. The Christian Science Monitor looks at the tragic trend, reporting that "In many ways, the profiles of each student shooter in recent years are similar: white, middle class, male, and mostly suburban. In addition, most have fit into one telling category: They've been outcasts." One psychologist told the Monitor that we, as a society, can no more tolerate bullying than we can tolerate sexual harassment.

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Web News Briefs

  1. 'Bugs' replacing 'cookies'

    We're not talking about springtime picnicking, here. Just as we were getting used to "cookies" in the online-privacy lexicon, a new invasive technology has reared its head: Web bugs. According to the USIIA Bulletin, they "track your online behavior and even read data from your hard drive," which "has privacy advocates scrambling." The USIIA cited a study showing that, during the holiday e-shopping season, more than 30% of Web pages used the bugs to track their customers (they can steal names, addresses, and even memos from a computer only minutes after it has logged on to a Web site), and the use of Web bugs was not disclosed in the privacy statements of most of the Web sites. Here's a Washington Post interview with The Privacy Council's chief privacy officer Steven Lucas and its coverage of what's in the works for online-privacy legislation - "THE hot issue this year on Capitol Hill," the Post reports. As for what we users can do about Web bugs, CNET takes a look at emerging tools for dealing with the pests.

  2. Web: Family unifier?

    Bearing out what subscriber Diane says in our IM feature above, a study conducted by CyberDialogue for Disney's found that the Internet has "become a force in bringing families closer together." Here are some interesting key findings:

    • 53% of those surveyed said the Web has actually brought their family closer.
    • 84% said they enjoy going online with their children.
    • 92% call the Web a great educational tool.
    • 96% identified the Internet as a great tool/resource for finding answers to questions they have about their children and family.
    • 85% said they like getting information from the Internet because it "puts me in control."
    • 77% indicate they spend less time watching television as a result of their Internet use.
    • 90% said the Net is a great tool for saving time, and 85% said the Web helps them simplify their lives.

  3. Broadband for all?

    It was the first piece of legislation introduced by Sen. Hillary Clinton, but she's not alone. According to ZDNet, members of both houses have introduced "digital divide" bills addressing "the dearth of high-speed Internet access in rural areas." It's a popular cause on Capitol Hill, but Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell "recently dismissed concerns about the slow spread of broadband Net access outside wealthier urban and suburban areas," ZDNet reports, "saying new technologies will always be available first to those who can most afford them."

  4. Putin on the Web

    This week saw the first Webcast of a Russian president. According to CNET, thousands of people sent questions to President Vladimir Putin about his personal and political life. "The ex-KGB agent sat with three journalists, each with a laptop, and answered questions live as they were filtered through," reported the UK's, adding that three news sites supported the Webcast: and in Russia and in England.

  5. Internet2 now for K-12

    They call it "Abilene." It's a high-speed network, also known as Internet2, that used to be reserved for research institutions, but that now is expanding to include more colleges and K-12 schools, according to Wired News. Abilene, to which nearly 200 universities subscribe, "supports high-quality audio and video, and does not include the extraneous sites of the so-called commodity Internet," Wired reports. For K-12 schools, its availability could mean "a digital video archive of best practices for teacher training, videoconferencing that would enable schoolchildren to take a virtual tour of the Smithsonian, and … musical collaborations between musicians in different geographic locations, to name a few."

  6. Newest toys: Web-enabled

    You've heard of videochat for kids (see our report last year). Well, Yahoo! has taken it a step further (and safer) with Webcam, which turns online chat into an animated experience. This fascinating product has software that "analyzes the image captured by the camera and determines the position of your forehead, eyes, nose, and mouth. It then duplicates those movements in the avatar [the animated character the child picks to represent her in the chatroom], which means kids can make all kind of crazy faces that will be mimicked online. It will be available this fall for about $90," according to TechTV. And that's just one of the "Web-enabled" toys in TechTV's report from the American International Toy Fair in New York last month. Our thanks to subscriber and teacher Anne in California for pointing this story out (do send us your findings via!).

  7. The 'new' Napster

    The music-file-swapping service won a very small victory this week, reports CNET, when US district judge Marilyn Hall Patel ordered Napster to begin blocking users from downloading copyrighted tunes. A small victory because Judge Patel also ordered the suing record companies to help Napster find those tunes. CNET calls it "breathing room" for Napster, and that's about all it got. ZDNet agrees, saying Napster's prognosis is not good. It survived the injunction, but it still has to survive billions in record-company lawsuits and a dwindling audience (because they can't swap copyrighted music!). Here, too, is's report.

  8. Community colleges and dot-edu

    Robert Boggs, president of the Washington-based American Association of Community Colleges wants to change the federal rules that say the dot-edu top-level domain is only available to four-year colleges and universities. According to the Detroit Free Press, "Boggs and other leaders say having '.edu' is essential because it makes it easier to market colleges online and through Internet-based classes and programs," adding that the change is in process. About 300 community colleges have been allowed dot-edu domain names.

  9. Email experiment

    For their geography class, 50 sixth-graders at Taylorsville Elementary School in western North Carolina wanted to know where in the world their email would travel. According to the New York Times, there were so many responses to the email they sent out asking for help with the project that they "overwhelmed the email box set up in the schools computer lab." The students thought they'd get around 10,000 responses and, within a month, they got a half-million from 50 US states and 76 countries.

* * * * A call for feedback

Subscribers, the online-safety experts at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (which last month unveiled the resource for parents and kids - see our report) called us to see if we'd heard from any of you on this new site. We haven't, so - if you surf around with your kids - do tell us what you all think of it (especially kids' reactions!). It could be a fun way to review sound online-safety tips together. Please send comments.

* * * *

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


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News

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