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December 9, 2005
Here's our lineup for this first full week of December:
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A mom on monitoring
The more I hear from parents, the more convinced I am that there are as many "right" ways to parent online kids as there are kids online - even within a single family. There are so many factors, from age and maturity levels to a family's own values. Which means, of course, that, in this Digital Age, more is demanded of parents all the time. So it's great to hear from you and - with your permission - to publish your stories and comments. Whether or not parents agree on approaches, the discussion is extremely valuable.
Heather in California, parent of four, emailed me recently about how well monitoring software has worked for her. I asked if she'd be willing to elaborate a bit, and she generously emailed the hands-on strategy she used with her oldest daughter. Heather certainly has an answer to parents' question about kids' privacy on the Net. I'd love to hear other parents' views. Here's Heather:
"Just read 'A mom's heads-up: Teens in chat.' I have Spector Soft on my one and only computer, and it has been a LIFE SAVER! I have 4 kids, and I know that it has helped prevent my good 15-year-old from making some bad choices! 99% of parents have NO idea what goes on in IM! Most parents think that they shouldn't 'spy' on their kids. They are so wrong!"
She later emailed me....
"I have 4 kids - a son (19) and 3 daughters (15, 13, 10). They are all really good kids. My 15-year-old daughter is smart, talented, and very pretty. However, she has never really been 'chatty' and she has always been mature for her age. Although she has become a lot more open over the last couple of years, she mostly keeps her thoughts to herself. This has always worried me, so I put the Spector Pro [monitoring] software on my computer the summer before she entered 7th grade. It records everything on your computer. I was absolutely shocked at the language she used and the many sexual references made. I decided not to tell her that I was able to read all her IM conversations because it was the only way that I was ever going to know what she was doing. (After reading the first recorded conversation, my husband wanted to yank her out of bed and 'straighten her out.')
"It is the best decision I have ever made! Every time she started heading down the wrong path I was able to either redirect her or stop her ... without letting her know how I got the information. I either manipulated conversations so that the situation she was in could be discussed, or I concocted stories as to how I found out about what she was doing (so and so saw you doing...). She never questioned me as to how I found out. During the last year, she has been grounded more times than ever in her whole life! Actually, she had never been grounded before this. The problem has always been about 'boys'! She is not allowed to date but always seems to be attracted to the 'bad' boys. And for the last year she has been sneaking around with a guy 2 years older than her who is known for doing drugs, alcohol and sex. Fortunately, she does not do any of these, and the only way that I know this is because of the monitoring software. And the only way her dad could believe what his 'little girl' was doing was by reading the print out of the conversations.
"I don't have time to go into all the specifics, but after many, many, many talks from her dad, her 'good' friends and myself - and loading her up with books and CDs with good moral values (hard to find...), I think she finally 'gets' it! It makes me so angry that there are so many bad choices out there for our teenagers to make today, but there are, and it is up to parents to do whatever it takes to help their children make good choices - even if it is 'spying' on them. A good friend of mine thought it was horrible that I was doing this - until her 14-year-old daughter was brought home by the police at 2 am. I had been collecting conversations between her and my daughter and the following day (not knowing what had happened), I had planned to show them to her mother."
Still, Heather cautions parents not to overreact....
"The one thing you do have to be careful of when reading their IM conversations is that there is a lot of 'exagerated' info. Kids like to make themselves look cool. So before you freak out about something you read, you sometimes have to read between the lines. And after doing this for 3 years, I am really good at it. :-) My daughter also writes in a [paper-based] journal - which she leaves out. So whenever I question what I read in IM, I check her journal. Her real thoughts are always there.
"As a responsible parent, you MUST do whatever it takes to protect your children, as exhausting and overwhelming as it is. I have recommended Spector Pro to many parents, and most of them have added the program to their computers.... Unfortunately, my 13-year-old has no interest in IMing and she is *very* quiet. As much as I try, I'm not sure I'll ever really know what is going on inside her head. In a million years I never would have guessed that my 15-year-old was doing and saying the things she does. Hopefully my other daughters have learned a few things through their older sister's mistakes and consequences. I will continue doing whatever it takes to help my children make good choices. It is a parent's responsiblility to do this!"
Readers, your comments, stories, observations, etc. are so welcome! When published (with your permission), they can be a big help to fellow parents. Email them to me anytime via firstname.lastname@example.org.
* * * *Check out StaySafe.org!
I'm biased, because NetFamilyNews and partners SafeKids and Net-mom are contributors, but there really is a little something for everyone in this new, Microsoft-supported online-safety and PC-security Web site. So far, there are sections for parents, teachers, teens, and kids. Please send feedback, comments, questions to the site via this page. StaySafe.org wants to make the site as useful as possible to online families and educators.
* * * *Web News Briefs
- Teacher-bullying in blogs
Is it appropriate for teachers and administrators to discipline students because of their blog posts? Even students who disagree with some threatening posts about teachers by three peers at Taft High School told the Chicago Sun-Times that it was the students' right to make those remarks. The three are 7th- and 8th-grade students in the Advanced Placement program at Taft. One wrote this about a teacher in a Xanga blog Nov. 3: "She'll see oh yes, there will be blood'' and "no, I won't kill her ... yet," according to the Sun-Times. "Chicago Public Schools lawyers Wednesday approved disciplinary action against the students after a long review over whether outraged Taft administration officials were wading into First Amendment waters by seeking suspensions." The three were suspended, the Sun-Times added, "one for as long as 10 days." Another Chicago public school handling a student-blogging case last year did not suspend a student for discriminatory remarks, but a spokesman said this recent case was different because posts referred to specific individuals and physically threatening. The incident "has divided students and teachers" at Taft, according to the Sun-Times says, and debate over student First Amendment rights continues nationwide. The article comes with a sidebar reporting that, especially since the Columbine High School shootings in 1999, "the majority of courts [dealing with these cases] around the country ... have held that school officials are well within their rights to discipline students for what they post off-campus on the Internet." For more legal info, see the Electronic Frontier Foundation's guide to student blogging.
Meanwhile, the Middletown (Ohio) Journal published an editorial today about two cases of Ohio students posting death threats in their Xanga blogs. See also "School nixes blogging" and "Student wins free-speech case." Email me your experiences with student blogs anytime!
- Talking IM worm
Talk about social engineering (you know, when people are tricked into downloading worms, etc.)! Tell your kids, now there's a worm that chats with IM-ers, and they do not want to "go there." CNET reports that a new worm in AIM called "IM.Myspace04.AIM" comes in an instant message that says "lol that's cool" and contains a link to a malicious file called "clarissa17.pif." "When unsuspecting users have responded, perhaps asking if the attachment contained a virus, the worm has replied: "lol no its not a virus," IM security firm IMlogic told CNET. Clicking on the Clarissa file opens a "backdoor" to your PC, disables security software, messes with system files, and sends the worm to everybody on your child's buddy list. Be sure every IM-er knows that, before clicking or downloading on any message supposedly from a buddy, they need to open a new window if the buddy's online and ask him/her if s/he sent that file or link. If s/he's not online, just don't click! For more, see "Tips from a tech-savvy dad."
- Rockstars of videogames
One is 24 and made more than $800,000 this year in tournament winnings and computer-parts endorsements, the other is 69 and works for MTV as a "senior" correspondent and game reviewer. Well, grandmother and gamer Barbara St. Hilaire may not exactly be a rockstar-type figure, but gamers obviously think she's pretty cool. "Grandson Timothy chronicles her Xbox, Playstation 2 and GameCube adventures in his blog, OldGrandmaHardcore.com," the Washington Post reports (see the online discussion with Barbara, Timothy, and people around the US at the Post - it dispels a few myths). As for the 24-year-old almost-millionaire gamer, "Fatal1ty" Wendel has won 5 videogame championships playing various games and is profiled in the New York Times and will be featured on CBS's "60 Minutes" (this Sunday, 12/11). He and other videogame "rockstars" are helping marketers reach the ever more elusive 14-to-21-year-old market, which is "consuming traditional media at lower rates every single year." Here's the San Jose Mercury News and the Associated Press on the growing power of product-placement ads in videogames.
- 'Internet addiction': More 'patients'
Some mental-health professionals are calling it "Internet addiction disorder," others are calling it a fad. Whatever, it's increasingly in the news. Citing Dr. Hilarie Cash's practice in Redmond, Wash., the New York Times reports that she and other specialists treating this problem (e.g., Dr. Kimberly Young in Bradford, Pa., and Dr. Maressa Hecht Orzack in Belmont, Mass.) - which skeptics like Prof. Sara Kiesler at Carnegie Mellon U. contrast to actual physiological addictions - are estimating that 6-10% of the US's some 189 million Net users "have a dependency that can be as destructive as alcoholism and drug addiction." Even more key, it appears to me, is the view that "a majority of obsessive users are online to further addictions to gambling or pornography or have become much more dependent on those vices because of their prevalence on the Internet." The Net's downside in this area is summed up in these key phrases: affordability, accessibility, opportunity for anonymity, and an alternative reality. The Times cites an inpatient program at Procter Hospital in Peoria, Ill., that treats cocaine and Net addicts in the same therapy groups. [Parents might want to know that Dr. Cash and other therapists told the Times they're seeing a growing number of young people as patients.] For further discussion, see the Christian Science Monitor, citing research showing that "40 million Americans regularly view Internet pornography, which accounts for $2.5 billion of the $12 billion US porn industry"; the Boston Globe's "The secret life of boys"; and the Times of Oman reprinting a pay-to-view article in the UK's The Independent on "Internet addiction."
- File-sharing unabated
File-sharers may think I'm talking about Kazaa, whose parent Sharman Networks has complied with an Australian federal court order in an interesting way. Instead of adding a filtering system that blocks copyrighted music, as ordered, Sharman has only "cut off Australians' access to the Web site from which the file-swapping software Kazaa can be downloaded," CNET reports (for more detail and file-sharers' discussion, see P2P news site Slyck). But what I'm really talking about is a USATODAY column that pretty much nails the current reality where piracy's concerned. An illustration: Columnist Andrew Kantor cites the big news last week that BitTorrent creator Bram Cohen has agreed with the film industry to "go legit" - no longer let people search for pirated content (via "torrents," or "pointers to files available for downloading) on his site. The only problem is the workarounds, the many BitTorrent-indexing sites, among them Torrentspy, where "141,651 torrents available. Each represents a song or a movie or an image or a piece of software. And Torrentspy isn't the largest" (Kazaa traffic was long ago surpassed by BitTorrent and eDonkey, and there's speculation in Slyck the company no longer even has the resources to do the software upgrade the court ordered). Anyway, the music industry now views CD-burning to be a bigger threat (see my 8/19 issue).
- Digital paperdolls
I loved paperdolls, but that may not be a totally fair description of imstar* because, to the teenagers it targets, it must be infinitely more compelling than its 2-dimensional predecessor. This is paperdolls of the digital generation - very multimedia, more personalizable by an order of magnitude. Imstar lets instant-messaging users design their own avatars (the "animated" character that represents them in their IMs), as well as their virtual clothes, and change them and their apparel anytime they want. What I mean by "design" is everything from the shape of the avatar's face and body to eye, skin, and hair color to the way she moves to various kinds of music. This takes online role-playing to a new level. What I mean by "animated," which is so Minnie Mouse-sounding, is PS2 or Xbox 360-style animation (there will soon be guy avatars too). The fashion-conscious IM-er can use "Imbucks" to try on and "buy" clothes at the "Galleria" for her avatar to put in her "Closet" (right now, Baby Phat is a partner, with more fashion brands to be added). She can also just swap clothes with people on her buddy list. But one of the biggest selling points, VP marketing Pamela Quandt told me in a phone interview, is "less misunderstanding." I thought this was interesting. "In testing, we saw that girls were sometimes nervous about how they were perceived by the user at the other end," Pam said, referring to the anxiety a lot of digital communicators have because body language and visual feedback don't exist in cyberspace. Instead of mere emoticons (e.g., smiley faces), "imstar gives you facial expressions *and* body animations," Pam said, "so users can really showcase how they're feeling." I suspect imstar parent Bandalong has started a trend, and this armchair IM anthropologist will definitely be watching animated IM-ing developments! [Imstar is free and has some parental controls. So far, it only works for Windows XP and 2000 users, but Bandalong says it's working on a Mac version.]
- Cable TV, family-style
A family package of TV programming is in the works for Comcast and Time Warner customers, USATODAY reports, saying the cable operators are bowing to pressure in Washington. Comcast and Time Warner are the US's No. 1 and No. 2 cable companies, serving some 33 million subscribers. The "family tier," which would include the Disney and Discovery Channels would be "free of sex, violence and rough language." The pressure USATODAY refers to is "the Federal Communications Commission's increasing concerns about offensive cable content and surging rates." Last week FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said "cable companies should make channels available on an individual, or a la carte, basis, so people only have to pay for what they want to watch."
- 'Podcast': 'Word of the Year'
Looks like FamilyTechTalk got going just in time, since "podcast" has just been declared Word of the Year by the New Oxford American Dictionary. The BBC reports that the word will be added to the dictionary's online version early next year. Its editor-in-chief told the BBC that they thought about adding it last year, but not enough people were listening to podcasts yet. What else has been under consideration? One contender was "lifehack," interestingly referring to "a more efficient way of completing a everyday task. The other was 'rootkit,' defined as software installed on a computer by someone other than the owner, intended to conceal other programs or processes, files or system data. The term hit the headlines when Sony was found to have included a rootkit as part of the copy protection system on some of its music CDs. Other words that did not make it include bird flu, sudoku and trans fat."
- The new Rhapsody.com
Rhapsody has moved onto the Web, the Seattle Times reports. Aiming for a bigger presence in blogging communities like MySpace (with 40 million users) and Xanga (with 21 million users), RealNetworks "s rolling out a Web-services platform that will allow third-party Web sites to link directly to albums and songs on Rhapsody. A blogger writing about a new song, for example, could post a link to a track that, when clicked on, will begin playing in a pop-up window." Before this, people had to download a software program (like iTunes) to use Rhapsody. Now anyone with a browser can download 25 songs a month for free, but the Times says the Rhapsody software will still have more features than the Web version.
- Ill. videogame laws struck down
Two state laws banning sales of violent or sexually explicit video games to minors have been blocked by a federal judge in Illinois, Reuters reports. US District Judge Matthew Kennelly said they would "have a 'chilling effect' on the creation and distribution of video games." The laws were due to go into effect January 1. Gov. Rod Blagojevich said he would appeal the decision. Please see the article for an update on similar legislation in other states.
- 'Lost' & critical thinking
What has quickly become a cult TV show, ABC's "Lost," is a great tool for teaching media literacy. Take a Lost-related site a Washington Post article leads with, Oceanic-Air.com, and compare it with, say, Quantas.com.au or Lufthansa.com. Then surf through the other Lost links the Post provides, and make a list of ways you can tell which sites are what they say they are and which are bogus, and how you (or your kids or students) can tell which have accurate information and which have content worth some skepticism. Net-mom has a really useful page of links for critical-thinking development: "Who Says? Developing Web Literacy Skills." And if something tells you you've been fed a line on the Web or in email, there are sites that expose online hoaxes, such as Hoaxbusters.org, VMyths.com, and the one by US government's Office of Cybersecurity. [See this item about some research on critical thinking done at Wellesley College in 2003.]
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!
Anne Collier, Editor
Net Family News
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