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June 18, 2004

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Here's our lineup for this third week of June:

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Family Tech: Rethinking 'stranger danger' for teens: Part 2

Why do kids arrange in-person meetings with perfect strangers they think they've gotten to know online? There are probably as many answers to that question as there are children who take this risk. But "risk" is the operative word. Some teenagers enjoy taking risks; others do so under certain conditions - on a lark, at peers' urging, under the influence, etc. Nothing new to any parent, but we sometimes forget that we define "risk" differently from our teenagers because we have fears, or just life experience, our children don't yet have.

We wish we could explain to a teenager - who experiences a lot of his or her social life online and thinks s/he can get to know someone when s/he's never actually been in the person's presence - that it's risky to meet a stranger in person.

Last week, I quoted Janis Wolak - mother, sociologist, and research professor at the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center - as saying that "kids often feel an online relationship is a purer form of friendship.... The Net facilitates a kind of intimacy that has good things about it and bad things about it." If that's the case, it would be difficult to convince someone that what s/he sees as a very close, sincere friendship is potentially dangerous.

My takeaway from a phone interview with Janis is that, before we start trying to explain anything in a one-way, us-to-them sort of arrangement, it might help first to understand how the online social scene works in our kids' lives. There's a lot to learn - their online/offline blend of a social life is unprecedented. Here's one approach, Janis suggests:

"When your child has some friends over, talk with them frankly about their Net activities in general, then get more specific and ask them how they form relationships on the Internet.... Do you know anybody at school who's met a friend online, then offline? How did they get together?"

"It's not so much that we need to be telling kids don't have sex with 40-yr-old men," she continues. "We need to be talking with kids about Internet relationships in general. Parents need to know that their kids are forming relationships online, just as they know about the kids they get together with otherwise.

"We did an Internet safety survey," Janis said, referring to the Crimes Against Children Research Center. "One thing we found out is that a lot of kids had online relationships, and most were perfectly benign. And their parents knew about most of these relationships. The relationships kind of intersected with their social lives in a way that made sense - their best friend's cousin was into the same rock star or TV show or into horses. Or kids go online to expand their horizons socially. For example, where we live, it's relatively isolated, and kids go online and look for other kids who go to other high schools in New Hampshire. Or they go to sites where they can post messages, looking for people who go to another high school, and if the two high schools are having a sports event, they'll arrange to meet. Also, often they'll find online that they know people - friends of friends. A girl's friend will check a guy out online for her [strike up a conversation in chat or IM to see what he's like and report back to her friend]. There are a lot of ways that these relationships develop and forms that they take which make perfect sense to teenagers and grow out of their social networks. In a way, I think these things are just part of kids' lives."

So the biggest question is how do we find ways to learn about how all this works for our own children, in loving, casual, mutually respectful conversations? Probably better while doing the dishes or catching up on a school and work day than in anxiety-ridden emergency moments. But every family has its own best ways to communicate about important things. This is where you come in. We'd love to hear how you are figuring out this new/old world of teenage social lives, now with Internet-enhanced autonomy and privacy for teens.

Email us your stories, solutions, concerns anytime via With your permission, we'll publish them for the benefit of fellow parents. Here's Part 1.

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Web News Briefs

  1. Taking on Web hate

    Any effort to reduce our children's exposure to online hate is good, and this week's conference on the subject in Paris was remarkable just in its level of participation. "Officials from more than 60 countries were attending the two-day conference aimed at finding ways to keep racist information off the Web without compromising free speech and freedom of expression," USAToday reports. European governments see hate Web sites as a factor in the growing number of hate crimes. Certainly, the number of hate sites is on the rise. In the SafeKids/NetFamilyNewsletter last month, I mentioned new figures from the UK showing that the number of hate and violence sites had increased 25% since this past January and 300% since 2000. UK Net filtering company SurfControl monitors nearly 3,000 sites that "promote hatred against Americans, Muslims, Jews, homosexuals and people of non-European ancestry, as well as graphic violence."

  2. Cool games on cell phones

    Charge up your batteries! Or at least, get ready for major competition with your kids over the family cell phones or time on their battery chargers. And not just for communicating with or taking pictures of their friends. Because very cool, graphically intense games are coming to a cell phone near you. "The switch from stubby cartoon figures to graceful golfers and lifelike superheroes is likely to be swift," the New York Times reports, because the games will probably be ready about the same time as phones will have the sophisticated graphics chips needed to support them. Actually, you know how some people use those teeny iPods with their 30- and 40-gig hard drives to carry around and transfer files from their desktop PCs? Well, cell phones are really becoming more and more computer-like too. And, believe me, kids will find ways to use their phones as computers just as much as game platforms. Get them to teach you how!

  3. Dublin on protecting young cell-phone users

    Dublin is taking unparalleled care to protect young users of next-generation cell phones. Because the Irish government sees 3G phones as potential "tools of pedophiles," Wired News reports, it's establishing a national register that "will require the name and address of anyone who buys a 3G phone to ensure that people who use it abusively, either to target children or to access or distribute child pornography, can be traced to their physical address." Wired News explains that 2G phones have always-on Net access like DSL; 3G phones have full-time access but at even faster speeds, making images and video much more part of the phone users' online experience. The government reasons it's simply getting in on the ground floor of the market for this new model of phone - to provide a deterrent to porn distribution more than a blanket solution, Wired News adds. Certainly the move has its critics, who say it represents "infringement of civil liberties for little real benefit." And cell phone companies are working on filtering and other protection technologies.

  4. Finding Nemo on a PC near you

    Nemo and most other films shown on the Starz cable network will soon be available online, the New York Times reports. "The new service, called Starz Ticket on Real Movies, will cost $12.95 a month, and subscribers will be able to download and watch 100 or more movies each month, using Real's media player software," according to the Times, which adds that the move is part of Hollywood's effort to head off the kind of financial losses like those the recording industry says it's experiencing because of MP3 file-sharers' piracy. Here are USAToday and the Washington Post on the new service, which launched this week.

  5. Blocking P2P in high school now

    In some high schools around the country all the tune-swapping happening in the lunchroom may actually be replaced by lunch. According to CNET, what used to be a preoccupation of college and university network administrators has moved down to the high school level. "Filtering technology from Audible Magic has been installed at several high schools around the country, most recently at private Bellarmine College Preparatory School in San Jose, Calif., and a technical high school in Cape Cod, Mass.," CNET reports.

  6. Teen convicted for eBay scam

    Cole Bartiromo, a 19-year-old in California, will go to prison for defrauding users of eBay's auction services. He was sentenced to 33 months and ordered to pay $20,000 back to eBay users to whom he sold items he never sent, The Register reports. This was not his first exploit. "He was also found guilty of bank fraud for trying to convince a Wells Fargo employee to wire $400,000 to an offshore account he had set up," and, when he was 17 and still in high school, the SEC made him pay investors back $900,000 after he scammed them for $1 million, claiming to offer risk-free bets on sporting events.

  7. Harry Potter creator's home page - not the forthcoming Book 6 or the just-released movie under a new director - is the most significant Harry Potter development, according to the New York Times. Said to be entirely written by Rowling herself, "the site has tallied 76 million page views in just a few weeks," the Times reports. The only problem is, it's designed to dispel rumors and guesswork about future developments, and rumors and guesswork are major fan fuel. What hard-core fan would prefer reading the truth?!

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


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News

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