Welcome to the SafeKids/NetFamilyNewsletter and thanks to everyone who's just subscribed! Be sure to put our return address ( on your ISP's allow or white list so its filters won't block the newsletter. And email me anytime!


May 6, 2005

Dear Subscribers:

Great to hear from so many of you on IM-ing this past week (see below)! Here's our lineup for these first days of May:

~~~~~~~~~~Support the Newsletter!~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Help support Net Family News: Make a donation
to our free public service, via Network for Good's online fundraising system
for nonprofit organizations. Contributions are tax-deductible.


Subscribers write: Pluses/minuses of kids' IM-ing

In the past couple of issues, IM experts and I have had plenty to say about kids' instant-messaging. So now it's your turn! A huge thank you to all of you who emailed me about this - I think fellow parents will find your thoughts and experiences valuable, maybe even a little comforting....

  1. John in Massachusetts

    John, father of an 11-year-old avid AIM user, emailed me his list of positives and negatives where her IM-ing's concerned. He describes her as "spending every available moment" instant-messaging with her friends, but he's taken some skilled counter-measures: He has gone through AIM's Preferences with his IM-er to configure the right safety level for her, and she's not allowed to take the computer into her room - so he's often nearby when she's IM-ing. Read his comment to see how that helps....

    "The things I don't like about [IM]:

    1. the icons supplied by AIM. Most of the ones the girls choose have some chesty bombshell called 'blue beauty' or 'blondie,' etc. And then there are the customized icons. One boy's icon says 'Yankees suck' [and so on, though worse]. Of course, AIM isn't responsible for the boy's language, but they could elevate the level of the icons they supply.
    2. the language used by many of the boys that are IMing
    3. the fact that there is now one more thing in the house that we have to restrict
    4. the inane conversation that goes on
    5. the fact that friends are now available to talk to almost 24/7."

    "I did think of something I like. When [my daughter] gets on AIM, a pop-up box appears on my computer and I can ask her if she has finished her homework! Also, I am apparently getting another window into their lives that I wouldn't have otherwise. [My daughter] leaves her computer on a table beside my desk (thanks to your advice it isn't allowed in her room), and I get to watch a bunch of this stuff happening. Sort of like me working while she and a friend talk right inside her open bedroom door while I am working on the other side - we shouldn't be amazed that they zone us out when we are trying to talk to them - they zone us out all the time!"

    Since he said his 11-year-old spends "every available moment" IM-ing, I asked him what he thought of the word "addictive" in this case (for several experts' view on this see last week's issue ). John replied, "'Addictive' is quite strong if you mean the dictionary definition. I would be more comfortable with 'constantly distracting'."

  2. Debbie in Ohio

    "My 12-year-old doesn't do IM much - yet! My rule is that it has to be on the computer where I can see it at all times, no closed door in my study. If she minimizes the screen at any time when I walk by, then she loses privileges. She may not IM if I am not home, and must only be with kids that she personally knows, not any 'friend of a friend' type of relationships.

    "As I'm sure you understand, I'm very limited in what we share online. Another thing I've done with my emailing daughter: Her email address is very gender- and age-neutral, with no mention of her name. She is not allowed to give out her email address online to sign up for anything."

  3. Janet in Germany

    "We tend to just set our [IM preferences] to 'Appear Offline' so folks don't bug us so much. If my daughter is not busy and starts to IM, she'll easily get to 6 or 8 conversations going at a time. Mine is generally just one or two, rarely three, but some folks can be very chatty. My daughter (age 15) is pretty Internet-savvy and careful about those with whom she talks and never (she says, and I'm fairly sure it's true) reveals personal info. Of course, we have so much stuff on our family Web site (not her personal site), if someone really wanted to, they could easily find us."

  4. Josephine in Virginia

    "Hi, IM has been a problem here. I have a 12- and a 14-year-old. They can become completely absorbed in IM-ing. I now allow them to use it only on the weekends and in limited amounts. I have the passwords. I found they were not doing chores, and then I would have to ask over and over for them to do something, and they would snap at me. Setting limits and also knowing who they are IM-ing is critical (go through the buddy list with them). Also no chat rooms are allowed [AIM, for example, gives users the option to go into a chat room]. It still amazes me that they have no concept of watching what they say in an IM. It can be copied, pasted, emailed, or watched by any careful parent. I understand there is new software to monitor everything said during a conversation. Thanks."

  5. Pankey in Maine

    "We do use Yahoo Instant Messenger in our house. It has worked very well so far. We have several friends who are out of state, and this allows the girls to keep in touch pretty easily & even play games together online without the worry of adult advertising on the sidelines of the games.

    "Our rules are pretty simple:

    1. "Mom (or Dad) approves ALL addresses/requests for adding to a [buddy] list (and people we do not know are an automatic NO).
    2. "Mom (or Dad) reads whatever & whenever they wish to, up to & including mid-conversation.
    3. "As with email, the girls are not allowed to check for messages/sign on without me first signing them on (or sometimes just being there) to be sure there are no inappropriate messages.
    4. "Penalty for disobedience on the computer is the loss of the computer. And, since they know I mean it when I give them a limitation with an ultimatum, they generally listen well."

    "My girls are only 9 & 11, and computer time is somewhat limited, so an actual 'curfew' does not apply right now, but as they get older & maybe have a computer in their room they will have a curfew, which will be enforced by tracking their usage regularly via parental controls. The penalty at that time will be (as my sister does) giving away the computer, and the child won't get another one until she can buy it.

    "Yes, I tend to be fairly strict. Interestingly, it is often the people who think I am too strict who also tell me what wonderful, obedient, helpful, happy girls I have. Thank you for the email newsletter!!"

  6. Susan in New York

    "My 12-year old son IMs many of his friends, and seems to do so pretty responsibly. He only responds to messages from addresses that he clearly recognizes as friends'.

    "My only concern about the IMing is that it seems to take precedence over scheduled face-to-face interactions - we're working on that!"

  7. Ken in Georgia

    Ken Leebow, author of 300 Incredible Things to Do on the Internet and Qwest's Internet expert, emailed me:

    "I encourage parents to IM with their teens. Here's what you'll learn: It's a fun, informal, frequently goofy way to communicate. It is very different from face-to-face, email, or phone communication. And, there isn't anything wrong with that."

    Related news

    • "Instant message, instant virus," was the headline in the Washington Post's computer security blog. It cites Trend Micro findings that "four out of ten of the top online threats at the moment arrive via instant message" and "the threat of viruses and worms through instant messaging could worsen in the near future." For help, see "IM tips from a tech-savvy dad."
    • IMs are heading to cell phones. It's called "mobile IM," and right now providers are thinking about business users, but I bet young IM-ers will get there first. Here's a report at RCR Wireless News.

* * * *

Web News Briefs

  1. Spyware targeting kids

    This is something online families need to talk about: how spyware gets downloaded onto the family PC. One clear answer just confirmed by spyware expert Ben Edelman is "kids." But it's not their fault. As Edelman explains it to ZDNET, spyware creators are buying banner ads on kids' Web sites - cute ads with offers like "Click here for free smileys!" (smiley faces and other little graphical icons to add to/spiff up their instant messages). When kids click on these free, fun, innocuous-looking ads, they download spyware, Edelman said. "I've been trying to figure out how these programs have such a large installed base: Who in their right mind would agree to have their computer become a vehicle for pop-up ads? It turns out that many of these programs target kids." Besides free IM graphics, another temptation is free little games kids can click on, play, and in the process download spyware. But informed families are empowered families, and kids will probably appreciate this heads-up, which they can in turn IM to their friends! The simple message is "think before you click" (and you probably don't want to click on free downloads or to Web sites advertised on banner ads that make them sound really cool with all kinds of freebies (so they don't have to ask Mom or Dad to pay for them). Here are Edelman's report and bio.

  2. Clubs on phones

    Texting is the instant-messaging of phones (not that IM itself isn't coming to cellphones too!), and it is taking off. I'm just not sure what the difference between the two is, since both are text on phones (help me out, readers-in-the-know). Phone text messages have a 160-character limit, so - like IM on the computer - they're short, silent, and part of a conversation, not something you leave with someone, as in email. The experience of 15-year-old Shawn in Indiana - who told that he sends around 1,000 text messages a month - helps explain the attraction. And here's a thorough update on US-based texting at, including texting clubs such as "the alibi and excuse club" at, "which promises to get users out of any bind. Send a detailed text message to the club and one of its 4,100 members will pose as a friend or a relative and call whoever is your superior - a boss, a teacher, a spouse [a parent?] - with an excuse on why you could not keep an appointment or date." As for numbers, "about 36 million Americans, or about 27% of the 134 million American adults who have cell phones, have sent text messages" and last year "more than half of 13-to-24-year-olds were active text message users" (send more than one text message a month). And the reason given for texting's take-off of late? "American Idol"! Two years ago the TV show allowed viewers to vote for their favorite singers via text message.

    Parents, please note: If you're concerned about texting costs and your child is not yet an avid texter (in which case this would be a negotiating tool more than a cost-saving measure, probably), some cellphone companies will turn texting off for specific phones on your plan - be sure to ask about that. When my then-12-year-old got his cellphone, I had Verizon turn texting off, and he never got the taste of it; IM's enough of a digital socializing opportunity for now.

  3. Phone parental controls in the works

    With more and more Web-type content coming to phones - including the X-rated stuff - cellphone companies are trying to figure how to provide as broad a range of material as possible without displeasing parents (a very big market). The solution? Parental controls, in the form of content-rating and filtering. Phase 1 of the process, spearheaded by the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA), is rating the content, Reuters reports. By "mid-year," CTIA says, content inappropriate for people under 18 will have been identified and put into a "restricted" category. In 12 months there will be more labels and content categories - "mobile versions of existing rating systems," e.g., for movies and video games. So it looks like filtering - technology that puts those ratings to work - is a ways off, but at least it's in the works. I can think of other controls parents might want, too: restrictions on time spent talking, number of text messages, calls from strangers, pictures or videos sent and received, etc. It'll be interesting to see what cellphone makers will provide. For an early look phone parental controls, see my 5/7/04 issue.

  4. Teens' ringtone costs mount

    CNET refers to teenagers' "penchant for reckless spending," but I think this new cellphone-related challenge to our wallets is more because 1) they love personalizing their gadgets, 2) they're huge music fans, and 2) the ringtones are a great way to combine those and show off how current and cool their music tastes are. Don't you think? Anyway, the CNET story I'm referring to, here, may sound familiar: "Wireless operators are fighting a growing backlash from parents angry at the exorbitant ring tone bills their children are racking up," CNET reports. The outrage (against ringtone providers) is probably justified, since they don't make their pricing plans clear - some kids don't realize they're buying subscriptions with monthly payments instead of single ringtones, according to CNET. In fact, one family is suing Cingular, T-Mobile, and ringtone company Jamster. Cellphone companies have been getting more and more irate calls, and the good news is, they're taking action.

  5. Our personal info online

    With all the news about identity theft of late, there has been "a flurry of hype over," CNET reports. The article provides some helpful perspective, saying that ZabaSearch is one of zillions of personal-information search sites (Google turns up some 300 million). It's "no evil Big Brother. It's a search aggregator, and a rather efficient one at that. All the information in its database can be found elsewhere on the Web." It's all public information (which - at first check - means that minors' information doesn't turn up, thankfully). I guess there's small comfort in that only one's birthdate, address, and phone number turn up - you have to pay for background check info! The article's writer, Tom Merritt, points out that ZabaSearch will remove your information but - somewhat shadily - requires even more details to do so. The main point is, though, that you'd really have to go to the sources to get personal info off the Web, and he tells you how. This is another one of those Internet reality checks; convenience has a definite downside. If you read down far enough in the CNET piece, you'll get to a link to another very informative article about "Identity theft remedies in the works," which I'm linking to here in case you don't get that far.

  6. Telling the world their secrets

    At a recent meeting of the Lexington Herald-Leader Teen Board, "most members said they had blogs, but when an adult said she'd like to read them, there was a universal 'Nooooo.' The 'it's on the Internet, where anyone can read it' argument was lost on them," reports Herald-Leader writer Mary Mehan. She cites the work of David Huffaker, a PhD student at Northwestern University who has studied 3,000 teen blogs, finding that - in terms of blogging topics - "struggles with parents or sexuality are presented with the same frankness as small ones, say, what somebody had for lunch or the glory of a sundress." But it's not so much these intimate details that add risk to blogging; it's information that helps strangers figure out who and where they are. The Pew Internet & American Life project has found that 62% of teens online have been contacted by strangers; blogs are just another tool they can use. This is a readable, meaty article that you'd also find great fodder for a family discussion. Another good one is at MSNBC. As for secure blogging, here's Wall Street Journal tech writer Walt Mossberg on MSN Spaces, which - along with AOL's new RED Blogs (as described by CNET) - offers bloggers varying degrees of privacy.

  7. Web's fan fiction boom

    Every now and then someone in the media notices how huge "fanfic" is on the Web. New York's Newsday is the latest to take a thorough look at the "millions of stories written for cyberspace by ordinary consumers of TV shows, movies, books, even video games." It actually has been going on for eons; the Web has simply made the writing and sharing that fans of Harry Potter, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, etc. infinitely more efficient. And it has turned all this writing, critiquing, and interacting into places where passionate fans can find each other and hang out. Some of these fans - particularly Harry Potter ones - are very young. Which is why parents might want to know about this sort of hang-out. It has what some would consider a darkside - sexually explicit stories - lightly covered fairly far down in the Newsday piece. For the perspective of a mom and fanfic writer in Texas, see "'Chanslash': The other Net porn kids access."

  8. From road to computer rage

    Personal computers arrived and evolved so quickly (and the making of their software and hardware involve so many different people and talents), it seems, that they never got to be user-friendly. Thus we've added "computer rage" to the lexicon of modern society. And to roaming tech-support techies' lists of headaches (though, on the upside, they are becoming the knights in shining armor of the Digital Age). Their employers, however, probably aren't too upset about computer rage. "The phenomenon is transforming the nature of technology service, an industry long infamous for being impersonal," the Washington Post reports. "Business is booming for companies with names like Rent-a-Geek, Geeks on Call, and Geek Squad that make house calls to fix computers." The savior-techies of one such company "do triage. The challenge is to recognize which of the five stages of grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance - a given customer is in, and respond accordingly." If this sounds entirely too familiar and your family is in need a little computer-related humor therapy, do not miss, starring John Cleese.

  9. A student's threatening blog

    The article in the Foster's Daily Democrat (in Dover, N.H.) starts with a caveat: "Readers should know that some of the language and images presented in this story may be considered obscene and disturbing." That is not an understatement. The article is about a University of New Hampshire junior who was ordered by administrators to undergo counseling and stop attending a class because of obscenities and threats of violence and murder against the class's professor and fellow students in his blog. "The public blog however did not require a password and could be opened by anyone knowing [his] name," the Democrat reports, adding that the student said it was all intended as a joke, but he has since apologized to the professor by email. The student "said the counseling sessions and being banned from the English class are the only sanctions he has received. He also said he voluntarily took down the journal, which he started his freshman year of high school." That's a long time for his blog to have been available - hopefully it only recently turned threatening. This is a very extreme example of what can go on in the "blogosphere" but a reminder that it's a good idea for parents to be aware of their children's blogging activities - ideally through open parent-child communication, but at least via an occasional Web search of their name in association with other key words in their lives (such as town, school, team, and friends' names).

  10. Teen fraudster sentenced

    UK 18-year-old Phillip Shortman has been sentenced to 12 months' detention and training for defrauding more than 100 eBay customers of $85,000, CNET reports. He did so by selling them goods he didn't have and demanding cash up front. So tell anyone who uses eBay at your house to be on the alert for seller terms like that. "EBay recommends that customers pay by credit card or by PayPal," according to CNET. "It also offers a buyer protection program."

  11. 'For teens, [literally] a tangled Web'

    Teenaged software writers, Web developers, and tech support experts are actually not the norm of their generation, according to a recent report. Although 83% of US teens have Net access, they're not as media literate as many adults think they are. In a series of tests in which a group of 13-to-17-year-olds was "asked to visit selected Web sites and perform given tasks, [Nielsen Norman Group] researchers measured a success rate of 55% ... much lower than the 66% success rate they found for adult users in a similar recent test," reports. For more on media literacy and youth, see "Not-so-savvy searchers," "Kids confused about Net risks," and "Critical thinking: Kids' best research tool."

* * * *

Share with a Friend! If you find the newsletter useful, won't you tell your friends and colleagues? We would much appreciate your referral. To subscribe, they can just click here.

We are always happy to hear from potential sponsors and distribution partners as well. If you'd like to make a contribution or become a sponsor, please email us or send a check payable to:

Net Family News, Inc.
1121 3rd Ave.
Salt Lake City, UT 84103

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


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News

HOME | newsletter | subscribe | links | supporters | about | feedback

Copyright 2009 Net Family News, Inc. | Our Privacy Policy | Kindly supported by Domain Names and Web Hosting UK,, PCTattleTale Parental Control and Monitoring Software,, and