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May 4, 2007

Dear Subscribers:

Here's the line-up for these first days of May:

Protect Your Kids From Internet Threats on Their Cell Phones!
RADAR, Your Kid's Mobile Watchdog, is a parental control service for phones. It alerts
you to any call, email, text message or instant message to or from your child's phone
from anyone not in the address list you create. Learn more:


Read 'Totally Wired'

This week and next I'm featuring two new books in the youth-tech space by authors I admire: Anastasia Goodstein and Nancy Willard. These authors and I don't just share the same topical space; we also resonate where teen Net users and parenting are concerned.

Anastasia describes her book Totally Wired as "the first inside guide to what teens are really doing on the Internet and with technology." While MySpace Unraveled, the book I co-wrote with Larry Magid last year, was the first parents' guide to MySpace and teen social networking on bookstore shelves, Anastasia did the same kind of "anthropological" reporting I did but on a much broader scale, scooping up information from multiple sources on all aspects of "totally wired" teens' lives. Teens themselves topped our source lists.

Demystification is important to both of us - demystifying for parents their teens' use of technology and digital media. "Ever since I graduated from college," Anastasia writes, "I've spent my career trying to be that voice of reason for teens and adults trying to reach them." She mentored inner-city teens and wrote for teen media companies and Web sites during the dot-com era, then on Web 2.0 she channeled her passion for this demographic group into her blog. There, anyone - from parents to advertisers targeting the teenage market - can take Generation Y's pulse on a daily basis. Anastasia provides the needed perspective of a Generation X-er; she's a generation closer in age than I, a baby boomer and parent to a tween and a teen, to digital natives.

But we're observing the same thing: "Just as reading by young women in the 19th century was viewed by fearful parents as a disease, and just as flappers dancing to 'jungle music' (jazz) horrified adults in the 1920s," Anastasia writes, "the introduction of movies, radio, TV, and now the Internet have all followed a similar pattern of first being feared and then gradually accepted as part of our society." I agree with her that "what teens are doing online and with cellphones and other devices doesn't have to keep you up at night any more than what they may be going at the mall or their friends' houses or wherever they hang out offline." But, we both feel, there need to be parent-child conversations about what's going on online as well as at friends' houses and the mall.

Remove the fear factor but stay engaged. That's our basic message to parents of the vast majority of teen Net users. And whenever I talk with parents I try to go one step further and explain why fear is not good: because it usually shuts down communication with our teenagers, and communication is needed more now than ever. Now that they have greater than ever access to the world (and vice versa) through a myriad connectivity "hot spots" on a myriad devices and services, there are just as many way for them to go "underground" and work around our rules and parental controls. Increasingly, communication with our kids works better than control - especially tech ones like filtering and monitoring. If we can keep communication lines open, we can better help them develop the critical thinking (the "filter" between their ears) that really keeps them safe from manipulation, cyberbullying, and predation. There is a minority of teen Net users who can't be reached by informed, communicative parents - teens who are engaging in risky behaviors offline, from substance abuse to eating disorders to reaching out to strangers. But Anastasia's book isn't about this teen population, which is only beginning to get the research it deserves (see "The Social Web's 'Lifeline'" for starters).

Totally Wired takes the time to describe and analyze today's young uber-communicators, social producers and creative networkers. Anastasia makes the reader's learning process interesting and personal, spending Chapter 1 describing a day in the life of Generation Y's "Judy Jetson" (a composite of many teens today) and the views of "Meghan," a real girl in San Francisco who told Anastasia she seeks balance: "I try to experience the world as more than a [computer or cellphone] screen." This is a book that empowers parents by helping them understand "what teens and tweens are really doing online."

Totally Wired: What Teens and Tweens Are Really Doing Online (224 pp.), published by St. Martin's Griffin in March 2007, is available at for $11.16. Here's the book Web site.

Related link

  • Totally wired Indian teens. this week looks at the "tug-of-war between teens and parents worried about their Web wanderings" in India. The experiences of teenagers Rahul, Sakshi, and Hemant, don't sound very different from the online lives of their North American counterparts.
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    Web News Briefs
    1. Closer look at mobile social networking

      Phones as personal location devices. That's one big reason why cellphones are joining computers as social networking devices (the other being that people have a lot of fun sharing media on phones). Friends and family can find each other's physical location and get together or blog about their locations as they go. "Location-based services (LBS) represent at least a $750 million market in 2007," reports co-director Larry Magid in "Soon, thanks to Federal Communications Commission rules, all phones will be able to transmit your location. The question isn't whether you can be found, but how that information will be used and who will have access to it." And there are other tracking technologies besides GPS for both phones and computers using instant messaging. That's why "members of the location services industry met with Washington policy makers and other stake-holders at the April 25 event that was sponsored by the Internet Education Foundation. Although no formal proposals came out of that meeting, there was discussion about "best practices," Larry writes. Socializing by sharing media and documenting our lives on phones is the focus of the New York Times's report this week on mobile social networking. For some data on teens sharing media with phones, see this M:Metrics study. On mobile socializing in general, see also and

    2. Obama's MySpace: Lesson for teens?

      What happened this week with Barack Obama's MySpace profile could happen to anyone, and it's a useful illustration for people trying to understand ways cyberbullying happens on the social Web. One way: A friend sets up a blog or profile for someone. The someone begins to feel that friend is misrepresenting her and suggests maybe she should take over her own profile. The profile creator takes offense because he feels he was so nice to set things up. He changes the password so the person the profile's about can't have access. Friends become ex-friends, and now the page is an imposter profile, where harassment and defamation can happen. It didn't get that bad for Barack Obama, but his campaign let some nice volunteer supporter in L.A. create the candidate's profile and run it for more than two years, the Associated Press reports. It was pretty convincingly Obama, you can see from this amusing Los Angeles Times commentary about how the writer was getting way too many bulletins from Barack and had to delete the candidate from his Friends list. Probably not because of the L.A. Times piece but wisely, Obama's campaign people were beginning to feel it was time to take control of the profile and asked the L.A. supporter/profile creator to hand over the password. You can read in the AP piece how a sticky situation seems to have been resolved fairly amicably - thanks to a personal call to the guy from Obama himself - but with Obama having to give up the 160,000 friends the supporter amassed for his MySpace profile while it was under the supporter's control. That 160,000 was "about four times what any other official campaign MySpace page has amassed." But by Wednesday evening, the Obama profile's Friends count was back up to 20,000. In a bigger social-Web fracas this week, user-driven news site experienced a user rebellion that could mire the site in litigation that would have the potential to put it out of business - see

    3. Kids need to listen to *this*

      Rapper Ben Johnson has joined a team of hearing loss specialists who talk to young music fans with earbuds about ear damage. He's a very cool-looking 20-something musician who's very effective at driving home the point that people need to be really careful about earbud volume levels and music listening time, reports National Public Radio. He does this for a very personal reason and because of some numbers. First, "his father Isaiah, who is looking on from the back of the cafeteria [of the middle school where the team is conducting a special assembly], is a classical musician - a conductor - who lost much of his hearing a few years ago." Second, according to a Centers for Disease Control study NPR cites, nearly 13% of Americans ages 6-19 (more than 5 million) have suffered noise-induced hearing loss. Earbuds can cause that if they're used for long periods (at 7+ volume on a scale of 10). The rule of thumb these experts give is to "limit earphone listening to an hour a day, at a setting no greater than six" on that scale of 10." If other people can hear the music "leaking" from their phones, it's too loud. If they hear ringing in their ears when they take the earbuds out, that's "a sign of imminent ear damage." If your children want to know why earbuds can be damaging and they don't want to read the NPR piece, tell them it's because they're actually in the ear canal, very close to the "cochlea, the inner ear chamber where hearing happens." See also this item about Apple's free software for protecting iPod users' ears and this about teens and hearing loss from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

    4. Schools banning music players

      Where cheating's concerned, first it was baseball caps (answers under brim), then it was cellphones (texting answers), "now, schools across the country are targeting digital media players as a potential cheating device," the Associated Press reports. Kids can podcast (audio record) answers, store them on an iPod, Zune or Zen, and hide them "under clothing, with just an earbud and a wire snaking behind an ear and into a shirt collar to give them away, school officials say." The National Association of Secondary School Principals told the AP it's becoming a "national trend."

    5. How the CyberTipline works

      The tips about child exploitation or child porn that the US's CyberTipline receives 24/7 are acted on immediately. One of the Tipline's analysts at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children looks at what comes in via the Web (at or phone (via 800.843.5678) and immediately looks at the threat level to a child. If it's top-priority, the people behind the Tipline, the Center's Exploited Child Unit, contact the parent immediately, do a search for the best help local to the case, and contact law enforcement in that jurisdiction and other relevant law enforcement agencies, including the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force if there is one in that state. "Since it started, the CyberTipline has received about 450,000 child sexual exploitation reports, about 400,000 of which involved possession, distribution and/or manufacture of child pornography," reports the Visalia [Calif.] Times-Delta. It adds that, "during a typical week, the CyberTipline gets more than 1,000 child pornography reports. Not every tip involves illegal activity.... Some report adult pornography or simply offensive online content.

    6. Disney's social site for tweens

      Aimed at social networkers under 14, Disney Xtreme Digital will allow them to create their own "personal mini Web sites" as in MySpace only with parental controls, Reuters reports. Parents will be able to monitor interaction, and "a chat feature requires parental approval for kids to go beyond trading canned messages designed to prevent users from revealing personal information, or from using profanity." Kids can decorate their sites with Disney characters and themes (which sounds a little juvenile for older tweens, so we'll see). The site's goal, Reuters says, sounds like viral marketing, actually. It's "to create a community of kid marketers for Disney, as kids visit each other's sites and talk up Disney TV shows, characters, and products."

    7. Free speech on social Web: Canada

      Anyone concerned about defamation on the social Web - such as school teachers and administrators - might be interested in a lawsuit filed in Canada by a businessman who says postings in a variety of sites "paint him as disreputable and as a bully." Writing in the Toronto Star, law professor Michael Geist says that if Wayne Crookes, formerly involved with the Green Party, wins his cases against MySpace, Yahoo, and Wikipedia, among other services, they "could have a significant chilling effect on free speech in Canada." Geists writes that "the suits would effectively require websites - including anyone who permits comments on a blog or includes links to other sites - to proactively monitor and remove content that may raise liability concerns." Sites and bloggers would respond by dropping the option for people to add comments. He cites the US's Child Online Protection Act of 1996, saying "courts in the US have repeatedly denied attempts to hold intermediaries liable for content posted by third parties on the grounds that a 1996 statute provided them with immunity for such postings" and concludes that Canada would do well to introduce a similar provision," explaining why.

    8. Hurricanes in Second Life

      Well, not quite real, I mean virtual, hurricanes. It's a fascinating experiment - an immersive, interactive exhibit in a virtual world. Basically, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration created an immersive, interactive 3D exhibit for avatars in a virtual world. Of course, there are humans behind those avatars who are learning from the exhibits, learning things like what it's like to fly through or around a hurricane in one of the NOAA's research planes or a weather balloon, and other things such as "the effects of global warming on large glaciers" and "what undersea caves and marine life looks like from a submarine," CNET reports (with a photo of what one of NOAA's demos looks like). Second Life is being used by many organizations, both commercial and nonprofit, to experiment with everything from social and political activism to product and service promotion (see "Social networking meets virtual worlds").

    9. Lawsuit over student's MySpace photo

      A student has sued her school for denying her a teaching degree "because of a MySpace photo," the Associated Press reports. "Millersville University [in Pennsylvania] instead granted Stacy Snyder a degree in English [instead of Education] last year after learning of her Web-published picture, which bore the caption 'Drunken Pirate'." The AP says the dean of the Education School "accused Snyder of promoting underage drinking, the suit states." Snyder is seeking "at least $75,000 in damages" with her federal lawsuit, the AP adds.

    10. MySpace, Chinese-style

      Tom won't be your friend if you join MySpace in China. A Chinese person will be, the New York Times reports. MySpace China "faces stiff competition from China's home-grown Internet companies, including Baidu, Tencent, Sina and, as well as dozens of other Internet start-ups." So its parent, Fox Interactive, is not going down the bumpy road other US Internet companies took in that country but rather will license the MySpace name to "Chinese entrepreneurs who understand their market."

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


    Anne Collier, Editor

    Net Family News

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