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March 10, 2006

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Here's our lineup for this first full week of March:

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Online sex & child protection: Latest research

I recently received a heads-up about online sexual behavior from subscriber Jerald Block, MD. I'm featuring it this week, with Dr. Block's permission, because 1) parents should have the latest information, and 2) nowhere have I seen the most recent studies pulled together in one place, much less so succinctly. Do note what Dr. Block says about "open family communication"; it's an important message and reinforces what became clear as I worked on my 2/3 editorial about Web 2.0, or the new online realities we all face.

Dr. Block is a practicing psychiatrist who deals with addictions (including Net-related ones). He's also on the faculty of Oregon Health & Science University, president of SMARTGuard Software, and author of "A (Virtual) World of Their Own: Computer Gaming and Your Patients." Last week he spoke on "Addictive Behaviors and Computers" at Oregon Psychiatric Association's winter conference. Here's what he wrote me (he later kindly emailed me his sources, footnoted below)....

"Anne - Just finished a lecture on Virtual Sex and, as a result, I read much of the more recent and obscure literature. I wanted to update you.

"In the past I wrote you that I think the issue of real-life sexual contacts with children was overestimated and that the risk was actually rather small. I think I was wrong.

"In the US, in one study it appears that 7% of kids aged 10-17 meet with a stranger in real life after talking with them via the computer.[1] In Nordic countries, another study documented a 14% incidence [in ages 9-16].[2] In Singapore, a 16% incidence [with 12-17-year-olds.[3]

"Equally alarming - when the kids do meet in real life the stranger [they "met" online], they often go alone (23%), without notifying anyone (10%).[4]

"Finally, in the two studies that looked at this [5], filters did NOT make any difference. Nor did examining the browsing history or sitting next to your kid on the computer. However, one study (Kienfie) showed that two household rules did make some difference:

"1. You cannot have face-to-face meeting with people you meet online.
"2. You cannot arrange to meet strangers online.

"More generally, open family communication seemed to be essential (rather than more covert spying and the such). Parents should know that the average age of first sexual intercourse is now around 15.8 years old.

"In adults, it seems that a surprising number of virtual contacts are converted into real life contacts. In one STD [sexually transmitted diseases] clinic, 15% of heterosexual patients had sought online virtual sex; 65% of these converted the contacts to real-life ones."

The studies Dr. Block reviewed

1 Wolak, J., Mitchell, K.J., Finkelhor, D.: "Close online relationships in a national sample of adolescents," Journal of Adolescence 37:441-55
2 Staksrud E.: "Parents believe, kids act"
3 Albert Kienfie Liau, Angeline Khoo, Peng Hwa Ang: "Factors Influencing Adolescents Engagement in Risky Internet Behavior," CyberPsychology & Behavior 8(6):513-20
4 Wolak study (No. 1 above)
5 Kienfie study (No. 3 above) and Michele Ybarra, Kimberly Mitchell: "Exposure to Internet Pornography among Children and Adolescents: A National Survey," CyberPsychology and Behavior. 8(5):473-86
6 Berne J., Huberman B.: "European approaches to adolescent sexual bahavior and responsibility," Advocates for Youth, Washington, D.C., 1999
7 Sylvain Boies, Gail Knudson, Julian Young: "The Internet, Sex, and Youths: Implications for Sexual Development, Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity," 11:343-63 (2004).

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Web News Briefs
  1. In game chat: Pedophile case, a blog that tracks social and legislative developments in the videogame world, this week reports another case of alleged child harassment in game chat. It's the second I've seen reported (see "Teen exploited in online gaming"). "A 52-year-old man who helped manage the Green Berets, a competitive videogame clan, was busted by police in London, Ontario, following accusations that he solicited obscene pictures of [10-to-13-year-old] boys he recruited for the Green Berets' Counter-strike team," according to GamePolitics. He reportedly told them to lie about their age and used the Ventrilo game chat program to encourage the boys to send him nude photos, promising them computer gear and "clan leadership positions" in return (or getting kicked off the team if they didn't comply).

  2. Teen blogging & politics

    The politicization of teen social-networking has begun. "Jeanine F. Pirro, the Republican candidate for attorney general [of New York], has begun an attack on," the New York Times reported, "saying that it represents a threat to child safety." According to the Times, "Ms. Pirro said that her motivation for taking on the issue was a result of the work she did in her 12 years as district attorney as a zealous pursuer of sex offenders." Meanwhile, Reuters reports that US attorney Kevin O'Connor announced federal charges against two men for using MySpace to meet with teenage girls. Mr. O'Connor said "MySpace was not at fault and that full blame lies with the two defendants." But Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal "has called on MySpace to tighten access to the site and improve its age verification system," Reuters added. "MySpace and Blumenthal's office are in negotiations over the attorney general's request." Here's a Business Week interview with Blumenthal about MySpace that ran today.

  3. 'Auteurs' at your house?

    Probably. They're everywhere. Content is no longer king, conventional media people everywhere are finding out. "The customer is king," the BBC staidly put it, referring to uploaders, auteurs, or basically everybody on the Web. used the word "auteur" in its relaunch press release. It sort of means "author," but takes it further to suggesting a creator's control over all aspects of, say, a movie production. That's pretty much what Web users (including kids) now have, with zillions of sites (including,,,, etc.) providing "storage" or hosting of all manner of media, virtually all of it home-made, by anyone who wants to register (for free). It's Web 2.0, now upon us. But even auteurs aren't king, really. Community is, I think - witness the popularity of everything from eBay to Craigslist to MySpace. Auteurs aren't happy without a community with which to share their creations (and inner-most thoughts). Evidence: The Los Angeles Times reports, "Oscar-winning director Steven Spielberg, actor-producer Ashton Kutcher and reality TV impresario Mark Burnett are ... grappling with a fundamental question: What defines a hit on the Internet?", and both the L.A. and the New York Times report that Yahoo has figured it out. While, it did invest heavily in professionally created TV on the Web, Yahoo is now focusing more on "user-generated content." Business Week ran the story too.

  4. Study on online dating

    "Thirty million Americans say they know someone who has been in a long-term relationship or married someone they met online," according to the latest Pew Internet & American Life study, which adds that 60 million "know someone who has at least dabbled in the online dating scene." But online dating isn't all upside. In its coverage of the study, USATODAY report that opinions on Net dating among the 145 million US Internet users in general are an even split: 44% agree "it's a good way to meet people," 44% disagree. But the percentage on the positive side is only growing. "Online daters are generally younger and more likely to be employed," Pew says. The project only surveyed adults, but it was "the youngest cohort (18-29 years old)" that "has the largest percentage of online daters within it." And with the number of teens using social-networking sites (nearly 14 million under 18 on alone), online dating and socializing is quickly becoming part of everyday life. An interesting finding in the Pew report that bears this out is reflected in a chart on p. 20 showing "Dating-Related Activities Online." Maybe social-networking is more for teens and 20-somethings and online dating is more Gen X and older? But wait, there's more: what USATODAY describes as "team online dating," which is like merging and with and "The result? TeamDating and eTwine in the USA and Compa in the UK. Users can sign up in groups of two or more and correspond with other duos, trios or quartets. The goal is to take the two cyber-squads offline, to the promise of mingling - and mating - opportunities."

  5. More earbud ear-risk news

    USATODAY adds a few more voices to the growing discussion about what earbuds are doing to ears. The article leads with a family of iPod lovers, the 43-year-old dad of which cranks the music up for hours every day, to drown out power tools at work, to ski to, and to listen while working at his computer. He's "concerned about hearing loss and already experiences ringing in the ears, called tinnitus, which is a symptom of damage. But he says he has no plans to cut back on his MP3 use." It's sustained use at high volumes that audiologists warn against most. "Using earphones for hours at high volumes basically causes 'shock and awe' to delicate hair-like cells deep within the inner ear that help the brain process sound," USATODAY cites one doc as saying, adding that "after years of abuse, those structures won't function anymore." A nice addition is the sidebar, showing the decibel levels of various everyday sounds - e.g., moderate rainfall, 50; conversation, 60; lawnmower, 90; movie theater, 118; earbuds 120 (basically the same as "live music concert" at 120+). The sidebar says anything over 85 exceeds what experts are calling "safe." Apple must be quietly scrambling to find safer, better-designed earbuds.

  6. '25 to Life' game boycott

    Democrats in the Michigan House of Representatives have called for a boycott of the "25 to Life" videogame, "in which players try to kill police officers to win the game," the Detroit Free Press reports. "The call for a boycott joins a national campaign by the police organizations to keep children and families away from the game." "25 to Life" is rated Mature/17+ by the Entertainment Software Rating Board , which says "titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content, and/or strong language." Gaming news site reports that the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund "has collected more than 220,000 signatures protesting" the game.

  7. Major videogame study coming

    Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), and Dick Durbin (D-IL) have persuaded a Senate committee to approve what could be a milestone study by the Centers for Disease Control of the "impact of electronic media use" on children, CNET reports. "It appears to be intended as a way to justify" restrictions such as those imposed in legislation the senators have introduced against sales of violent videogames to minors." CNET adds that "a string of court decisions have been striking down antigaming laws because of a lack of hard evidence that minors are harmed by violence in video games."

  8. Tracking videogame politics

    Earlier this week I blogged about the beginning of teen social-networking's politicization. Well, videogame politics have been tracked for a year by Philadelphia Inquirer game columnist Dennis McCauley at, MTV News reports. This month Dennis added a new page to his blog: a US map that tracks state and federal legislation against violent videogames (currently there's legislative activity in 20 states, I think - those northeastern states are so small!). But he started the blog "in an effort to track not just game legislation but many of the serious social issues related to gaming," according to MTV.

  9. 'Spying' on IM-ers?

    It's the other kind of "domestic surveillance," as Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus put it, and parents of teenagers all know it's just as controversial as the NSA kind. Ruth feels nostalgia for less "ethically ambiguous" times, e.g., the pre-instant-messaging and MySpace era, and some parents are heaving sighs of relief that their kids went off to college before they had to deal with these issues. A lot of parents shared their views on monitoring and how best to protect online kids during a discussion today tied to Ruth's column. Only one mom pointed to one of the biggest risks to social well-being, reputations, and futures that online communications present teens: how hard it can be to take something back. Whether it's a comment emailed/IM'd/posted unthinkingly or a photo uploaded impulsively, it can be copied and pasted to "places" where it can never be taken back. Whether or not and for how long it's re-posted, -emailed, -uploaded, -IM'd, -texted, or shared around global file-sharing networks (and stored on millions of hard drives) depends on the whim or good graces of friends, ex-friends, and strangers. In the vast majority of cases, nasty re-publishing doesn't happen, never will, but it can, and kids and parents need to know this. Your thoughts on this are welcome, via or

  10. Parents on MySpace

    I'm not talking about parents spying on kids' MySpaces - but about parenting groups on MySpace. I decided to look into it when Maggie in Vancouver posted in our NetFamilyForum(.org) about her own MySpace profile and her group's page, MySpaceMoms2006. Unfortunately, the link she posted didn't work, but clicking around MySpace Groups, I found dozens of geographically based parent solidarity and networking groups for moms (not so many for dads) in the East Bay, Tampa Bay, Tulsa, Vancouver, mid-Michigan, southern Maryland, New York City, Phoenix, and so on (there were also groups for single, teen, and stay-at-home moms, a group for "the alterna-parent crowd - Punk, Goth, DeathRock, Metal, etc.," and a "Daughters Against Moms on MySpace" group). This week Vancouver-based The Columbian led with the story of how one mom of a toddler was helped with a scary poison-control issue by another mom she met in MySpace. "The two Vancouver mothers are part of a growing group of parents who are raising children away from family or supportive friends. For this generation, that grew up with Internet access, cell phones and e-mail, meeting friends and getting advice online is not only easy, it's the norm."

  11.'s relaunch

    It's not publicizing the move as such, but (which was hosting teen social-networking long before anybody heard the term) has a unique solution to the downside of the teen online social scene. It's segmenting itself. It has relaunched 10-year-old for 18+ users and unveiled for 13-to-17-year-olds. "To provide value to its original audience, Bolt Media today also launched, enabling kids, tweens, and younger teens to create content, meet people, and play games in a safe, no pressure, and age-appropriate environment," the company's press release says, adding that Bolt2 "is organized around games, pop culture and self-discovery" (here's early coverage at It'll be interesting to see if MySpace and other such sites make similar moves.

    Meanwhile, apparently to capitalize on both social-networking and media-hosting trends, is folding the two terms into "creative networking." Its relaunch includes "unlimited storage" of videos, photos, tunes, and blogs in its users' profiles. The site claims to have grown 300% in 2005 to 10.8 million visitors a month. Because of children's age-old desire to be older than they are, it'll be interesting to see if teens stick with, but it doesn't appear there are any new limits on their networking and uploading. Besides allowing users to make their content "private" instead of "public," the only readily apparent safety features are requirements in the Member Code of Conduct and Terms of Service that members not falsify information they provide at registration and not "transmit, solicit or post extremely sexually explicit messages, text or photographs."

  12. Swapping tunes, supporting musicians may be a sign of the music piracy tide turning. Or at least its marketing message is. On its About Us page, the new music site, which fully launches this summer, says it's completely legal and, "while there is no obligation to do so, 'la la' is setting aside 20% of trading revenues for musicians." It just may help make supporting musicians more cool than illegal file-sharing. The San Jose Mercury News calls lala "a mix of social networking, Internet swap meet and music store. It's meets eBay meets iTunes." It also represents another trend and buzzword for Web 2.0: "mash-up." Its founders say they're mashing together community, search, and retail (new and used) so people can "discover music the old fashioned way - through conversation," like in those local independent music stores depicted in the book and movie "High Fidelity." It's a great idea, but I wonder if it isn't a temporary solution (like NetFlix) or for an older user base - people who've had time to amass huge CD collections that are mostly gathering dust?

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


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News

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