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August 25, 2006

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A mom writes: My own MySpace

In response to last week's "Unsupervised teens & other myths," a smart mom in Idaho emailed me that she'd already established her own account on MySpace. Michelle candidly wrote in part:

"I live in the mountains outside of Idaho (USA) and I think that, for the most part, our kids up here, including mine, are not as savvy in electronics and technology as some of their non-rural friends. However, they still know much more than I do! After reading some of the articles and suggestions from this newsletter, I started talking to my kids more about MySpace and other sites. I hadn't really checked them too much - the computer is in the kitchen, and I thought that would provide enough supervision.

"But about a month ago, I decided to go on MySpace myself. At first it was nothing short of depressing - the language, some of the photos, and the profiles. I didn't say anything about my kids' sites. I told them some boundaries I had read about.

"Then I set up my own MySpace site. That was the best thing I have ever done for my teens. They know I am checking on their sites, but mostly I do my own thing on my site. It has been a great arena for talking about concerns and asking them questions about how they see themselves or how their friends think and why so much posing. It makes my kids a little uncomfortable that I am there, and they do complain, but I remind them that if they are following the guidelines, it should not be a problem what I might see. Since they have agreed to follow the guidelines, they can't complain too much.

"I have friends that have banned their kids from MySpace and even Internet at home, but I feel like kids will find a way, and even though I find myself struggling with it and some of their content and choices, I am more glad that I know and that they know I know. All of it is great fodder for conversations and opportunities to share values, even if they don't like it. I feel like your newsletter really keeps me balanced and informed and many times I go to my kids with an article or something I read from here and ask them what they think."

Editor's note: Michelle's idea of using news articles can be a really good strategy for parent-child discussion. It can help to introduce third-party perspectives and other, neutral, sources to broaden or impersonalize the conversation.

And there are probably a lot of parents who can relate to Michelle's follow-up comment after I asked her permission to publish her email: "We are still struggling with all of this, and I don't feel like I am so successful at it with my teens. But it does provide a lot of talking fodder, and at least I am aware of what is going on. There are still things [she doesn't like to see on her kids' sites], but this is what we are doing, and I keep reading and watching for more help along the way."

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Tips for parents of Net natives

I suspect Michelle already practices some of the wisdom behind Elizabeth Losh's "10 Principles for the Digital Family," which I think parents will find practical and empowering. I especially like "Wear your heart on your sleeve," "Bring digital politics to the dinner table," "Raise the issue of inappropriate behavior appropriately," "Consider a computer in the kitchen," and "Set boundaries" (she elaborates on all of these tips, of course). I know: I'm singling out half her list! Liz teaches rhetoric and composition at University of California, Irvine.

Editor's note No. 2: It's great hearing from you, readers. Your comments can be helpful to fellow parents, so email me anytime (via, or - better - post in our forum,

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Web News Briefs
  1. Cyberbullying laws coming?

    One in three 12-to-17-year-olds have been victims of cyberbullying, a recent survey found, and the anti-crime group that commissioned it wants something done about it, CNET reports. The organization, Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, also found that...

    • One in six 6-to-11-year-olds have been cyberbullied.
    • 10% of teens and 4% of preteens said they'd been threatened with physical harm online.
    • 50% of the teens and 30% of the preteens never told their parents about the cyberbullying.

    Fight Crime is urging passage of a bill introduced last February by Rep. John Shimkus, an Illinois Republican, that would provide funding for bullying and harassment prevention programs in schools. picked up the story, adding that Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett called on schools in his state to take action on cyberbullying. Meanwhile, the Christian Science Monitor cites the view of a sociologist that "social norms intervention" is needed to combat middle-school-level bullying: showing kids that, in fact, bullying is not normal. "Another key is for students to understand that there's peer support for seeking help from adults when bullying takes place," the Monitor reports.

  2. Pedophiles' alternate realities

    On the Net, they don't just swap pictures, they participate in "support groups," promote their interests, seek jobs near kids, and chat about their experiences, the New York Times reports on its front page today following a four-month investigation. Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald wasn't investigating specific cases so much as the group itself, and how it uses the Net to extend its reach. "What started online almost two decades ago as a means of swapping child pornography has transformed in recent years into a more complex and diversified community that uses the virtual world to advance its interests in the real one." Some of what happens online is pure fantasy, some is acted upon, but cyberspace definitely provides a base for alternate-reality experimentation, whether people are exploring anorexia, sexuality, drugs, etc. While providing a base for such experimentation, the Net also throws much-needed light into dark corners of human behavior and "places" online where insular groups reinforce their members' illegal and abusive behavior by rationalizing and justifying it. Pedophile groups, the Times points out, "deem potentially injurious acts and beliefs harmless. That is accomplished in part by denying that a victim is injured, condemning critics and appealing to higher loyalties -- in this case, an ostensible struggle for the sexual freedom of children." As for law enforcement in this area, see the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for an in-depth look at how "FBI experts trawl Web for pedophiles."

  3. Apple's recall

    Last week it was Dell, this week Apple. The latter this week announced it was recalling 1.8 million Sony-made notebook batteries that potentially could catch fire. The Seattle Post Intelligencer has all the details, including the serial numbers of eligible batteries. Here's Apple's battery recall Web page.

  4. Tech, networking & back-to-school

    You'd think MySpace and Facebook were enough. But many college-bound students can add another social network to their social networking: their own school's. Many universities are developing their own networking sites, at least for incoming freshmen, USATODAY reports. They vary in functionality - some trying to replace Facebook, others just adding stuff specific to the particular school - but the goals seem to be the same: promote the school's programs and ease the transition into campus life. More and more schools are setting up their own social networks, and increasing numbers of students are using them along with MySpace, Facebook, Xanga, and other "generic" ones, since they have to keep in touch with friends back home too, of course. Another USATODAY article looks at how colleges are "preparing for the onslaught of [gadget-wielding] students who don't know what life was like before chips, bytes and dot-coms." And for students of all levels (and their parents), there's the perennial coverage of gadgets and wearable technology "invading a school hallway near you," as the Washington Post put it, and the New York Times's article includes grade-school-level tech too.

  5. Sony and Grouper mash it up

    Here's a good idea: If you're a movie studio and you're worried about copyright theft, just acquire a site that could contribute to the problem, and come to learn and control its piece of the business of online video sharing, which is a piece of the future. That, it appears, is what Sony is doing in buying It's a business story more than a family-tech one, but it will affect the aspiring videographers and digital film producers at your house and school, in some cases providing new opportunities. The Associated Press reports that "in addition to featuring short videos uploaded to the site by users, Grouper also provides software that allows people to place those videos on social networking sites such as MySpace and Friendster using its peer-to-peer network. The software also allows others to email the videos to friends and to download them to portable devices." Not only can Sony sell ads on the site, but also "discover new talent," the AP adds. "One of the most popular features on Grouper is 'mashups' which encourage users to create new videos from snippets of other videos." Mashups are what Web 2.0, the participatory Web driven by our children, is all about (see "The age of remixes, mashups").

  6. Views on social networking

    Two very grownup views of social networking are presented as pretty much the only ones in PC Magazine this week, one more confirmation that few adults understand teens' attraction to social networking - that it's more than just socializing or self-expression. It's both: creative networking, social producing, or "collaborative self-expression." A new concept for those who think of the Web more as an information source than community, but for digital natives (teens) on the broadband Web we're all now using, socializing doesn't really happen without creating or producing, and vice versa, and the Pew Internet & American Life Project says young people are the drivers of the participatory Web, or Web 2.0 as it's often called (see its May 2006 report). In other social-networking news this week: Another niche network,, debuted this week; the Philadelphia Inquirer was able to interview and profile the elusive 16- and 18-year-old founders of about their online-safety plans for the site; and The Register reports on computer-security risks on the social networks.

  7. Texting: Help for young Iraqis

    There isn't much for young people to do in many parts of Iraq these days. Speaking of Baghdad, the Associated Press reports that, "in a city bereft of entertainment, text messaging and swapping ringtones are all the rage for young Iraqis trying to lighten their lives. Most restaurants, cafes and movies have closed due to the country's security situation." But entertainment involving ringtones, tunes, and text messages isn't the only reason for cellphones' popularity in Iraq. Twenty-two-year-old Abdul Kareem also uses his phone to text his mom "around the clock," letting her know he's ok.

  8. Parents in the age of exposure

    There's a high-traffic blog whose mission it is to expose what high-profile parents' kids have done on the Web, the Washington Post reports, but you don't have to be famous to be embarrassed by bloggers and social networkers at your house. The Post offers examples of children of state and federal lawmakers and media personalities acting out online, but also of a corporate executive defending his company's customer service before regulators while his son is blogging about customer-bashing policies in one of the company's retail outlets - one in which the dad got his son a job. There are so many roles in communities where teens' comfort level with the "age of public disclosure" and parents' discomfort with said could have an impact on family dynamics, not to mention professions, for example, teachers, police officers, and elected local leaders with kids in local schools. Increasingly, parents might find it pays to have a feel for what kids are uploading to the Web.

  9. Teens' new favorite 'channel'? definitely seems to be the MTV of our kids' generation. "More and more viewers want to cook as well as dine [the site's tagline is "Broadcast Yourself"], which makes the TV story of the year the story of a website: YouTube," the Associated Press reports. The AP adds that - though YouTube is less than a year old - it plays more than 100 million videos a day, and 65,000 new ones get uploaded it each day (I've also read that its costs are $1 million/month to provide this service). Some of this "channel's" fare is funny, some sleazy, some completely inane, some just mundane, some favorite broadcast TV clips recycled by fans, but that range of possibilities and no-rules environment is part of the appeal (and soon the news media will pick up on the child-safety story in all this). And there is no denying YouTube's popularity. To compete with Yahoo Music, YouTube is "talking with record labels to post thousands of music videos online," Reuters reports. Newsday in New York recently ran an in-depth report on the YouTube phenomenon.

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


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News

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