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June 22, 2007

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Online parenting tools: Long list + context

Marking National Internet Safety Month**, Adam Thierer - parent, author, and online-safety public policy specialist - commented in his blog: "This remains one of the great mysteries of the parental controls debate: Why is it that so many parents say they want more and better controls, but when they are made available many of them choose not to use them?"

Adams says some people think it's because the parental controls aren't easy enough to use and others because they're too basic. I hope it's because parents instinctively know tech tools are no blanket solution. Different tools (Web filters, phone filters, IM monitoring, Net curfew software, etc.) can be useful at different times, but nothing ever replaces parenting, even though we're figuring it out as we go along!

Adam just released a book - Parental Controls & Online Child Protection: a Survey of Tools & Methods - that provides a very comprehensive survey of what's out there for us, but saying in his introduction something very similar to what I just said: "If there is one point I try to get across in my book, it is that regardless of how robust they might be today, parental control tools and rating systems are no substitute for education - of both children and parents."

Related links

**The statistics in the Senate's resolution on National Internet Safety Month, which haven't been widely corroborated in the online-safety research community, shouldn't be the focus of this document. For data, check out the research at the Digital Media & Learning Project, Pew Internet & American Life Project,and the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire - or search for "research" or "study" in the 10-year-old NetFamilyNews archive (search box at the top of each page).

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Web News Briefs
  1. US parents on kids' media use: Study

    Two-thirds of parents are very concerned about the amount of inappropriate content US children are exposed to, but they're mostly talking about other people's children, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation's just-released study, "Parents, Children & Media." Only 20% of parents say their own children are seeing a lot of inappropriate content. The study included a national survey of more than 1,000 parents of kids 2-17 and six focus groups with parents held around the US. In other findings, 65% of parents say they closely monitor their kids' media use and only 18% say they should be monitoring more (16% say it's not necessary to monitor their kids' media use). Where the Internet's concerned, about 75% of parents "check what Web sites their children have visited, and even more look at how kids are profiled on MySpace and who's on their Instant Message 'buddy lists'," USATODAY reports in its coverage of the study, which quotes lead Kaiser researcher Victoria Rideout as saying parents feel they're getting on top of their kids' Internet use (yet KNX Radio's headlines was "Study Shows Many Parents are Clueless when it Comes to their Kids and the Internet"). Kaiser also found that 59% of parents say the Internet is "mainly a positive force in their children's lives"; only 7% say it's "mainly negative." And 73% of parents say they "know a lot about what their kids are doing online," Kaiser found.

  2. Tragic teen grooming case

    Most teenagers know they're too smart to fall for the manipulations of online strangers young or old, but they're not, is the message of parents Danielle and Robin Helms in Orange County, Calif. They say that because their 15-year-old daughter, Kristin, committed suicide after she and her parents "tried everything" to overcome her depression over the end of her mostly online "relationship" with a man who had groomed the girl online for over a year and convinced her they were in love. "She was a smart, well-adjusted kid who was close to her family," the Los Angeles Time reports. "She got good grades, got to school on time, ran on the cross-country and track teams and was an artist whose talent landed her in advanced classes," the Times reports. When they found out she was communicating with this man, her parents banned Net use for five months. But parents need to know that "even in the strictest of households, children can flout access rules by hopping on computers at schools, libraries, coffee shops and copy centers and by using gadgets as handy as their cellphones." And that's what Kristin did, she later told her parents. She kept in touch with her "friend" via email and phone outside her home. [See also "How to recognize grooming."]

  3. Global child porn network busted

    An international pedophile network involving more than 700 suspects was investigated by police in 35 countries, the BBC reports, 200 of them in the UK. "The paedophile ring was run by [Briton] Timothy Cox, 27, who is due to be sentenced for child porn offences." He ran a chat room, called "Kids the Light of Our Lives," that was used to exchange pictures of child exploitation. Some 75,000 explicit images were found on Cox's own computer, the BBC adds. "In total, 31 children were saved as a result of the investigation," the UK Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre, which coordinated the international investigation, told the BBC.

  4. Drug-dealing on the social Web

    For some time I've been writing and speaking about the other kind of support teens are finding on the Web, support for risky or self-destructive behavior - which long predates this latest, very social phase of online life. Now there's some valuable research on this - a study of "more than 10 million online messages written by teens in the past year," USATODAY reports. Conducted by Nielsen BuzzMetrics for The Caron Treatment Centers, a non-profit program in Pennsylvania, it found that teens "regularly chat [online] about drinking alcohol, smoking pot, partying, and hooking up." Only about 2% of the messages in blogs, public chatrooms, message boards, and other online spaces, specifically mentioned drugs or alcohol, says USATODAY, but the article led with the experience of an 18-year-old, now in recovery, who "wrote freely [in her online journal] about her drug use," and used the Net to contact her dealer and connect with people who had drugs. "Many of the teens who posted messages about drugs or alcohol often traded information about using illicit substances without getting hurt or caught. Some teens debated drug legalization and the drinking age. Other teens recounted their partying experiences, including sexual liaisons while drunk or high," USATODAY says the study found.

  5. Peaceful videogames?

    Yup. The New York Times reports that the focus of videogame makers around the world is shifting away from "violent killer videogames" to the sort of game that promotes exercise, vocabulary-building, and nutrition. "The strategic shifts in the game industry come as critics and government authorities are growing impatient with violence in video games," according to the Times. "The justice ministers of the European Union vowed last week to press for stricter regulations on the sale of 'killer games' to children." Game manufacturers aren't just responding to regulators, though, they're trying to broaden their market, as Nintendo did by introducing the Wii console. Examples are Ubisoft's My Life Coach with nutrition advice and Electronic Arts's Sommelier wine guide for the DS and Boogie for the Wii, with which users "sing and dance along with cartoon characters," the Times reports. Other even more high-minded examples are Food Force, developed by the UN Food Programme, and PeaceMaker about finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (see "Gaming for peace!").

  6. Parent videogamers

    I love the parenting message in this Associated Press story, and I think it applies to teen social networking as well as videogaming. Across the US, according to the AP, many parents say hanging out with their children in the virtual worlds of videogames brings kids closer "by providing a safe, convenient way to stay in touch and talk to their children on their own terms." Eighty percent of the parents who play videogames (35% of US parents) play with their children, according to an Entertainment Software Association study cited by the AP. One dad said "the time spent with his daughter ... matters much more than the games themselves," and the AP cites an expert saying that "videogames equalize the physical size differences between fathers and their kids. That means children often have the edge in a video game, and they may feel more willing to communicate." That's something I've been suggesting since I started writing this newsletter - that empowering kids (letting them be, e.g., the family chief technology officer or just asking them to guide a parent through software preferences) fosters both communication and mutual respect, which is increasingly protective of online kids. It's protective because on the 24/7 user-driven Web it's so easy, when parent-child communication breaks down, for kids to operate at greater risk online "underground" where parents can't be involved.

  7. Your house on a power diet

    This isn't a kid-tech story so much as a family-tech one. But putting our homes on a strict "power diet" to save money and help the planet can offer quite a life-lesson to our kids.'s Larry Magid (who is also my co-director of put his own house through the paces and wrote about it the New York Times. He walks you through what to do to reduce the energy pigginess of household computers, whether they're PCs or Macs, desktops or laptops. Fortunately, tech companies are planning to do their part too. "A consortium of Intel, Google, PC makers and other technology companies [last] week announced their intent to increase the PC's overall energy efficiency to 90%," Larry reports.

  8. Be smart about Internet cafes

    If your family is traveling this summer and wants to blog or check email in Internet cafes, you'll need to be careful about logging into your Web accounts like Hotmail, Gmail, or Yahoo Mail. Public computers can easily have malicious keylogger software on them that logs your every keystroke (such as passwords and other account info). The workaround is simple, though. Take a great tip the Washington Post's Rob Pegararo picked up from the Lifehacker blog: "Type a character or two of a password, then click elsewhere in the browser [like the window where you type URLs or Web addresses] and type a random character or two before clicking back in the password field to type the next character, repeating this exercise until the entire password has been entered." Only malicious software that actually tracks your cursor position would "know" which part of what you typed was junk and which characters were part of your password. "But," Rob writes, "why would the hypothetical criminal bother going to that effort when enough other people will type in passwords without obscuring them?"

  9. Job interviews in Second Life?!

    Wall Street Journal reports that a big recruitment-advertising firm hosted a job fair in the Second Life virtual world "with employers such as Hewlett-Packard Co., Microsoft Corp., Verizon Communications Inc. and Sdexho Alliance SA" and there'll be another one in August. it's now possible to meet with recruiters without actually showing up for a job interview." So a ZDNET blogger decided that, with "future job prospects in mind," it might be prudent to revise some earlier statements about Second Life, for example, changing this comment... "Second Life has gone from zero to cliche in record time as people sit around admiring their avatars. The dirty little secret: It's a productivity drain"... to this view: "Second Life is great. I love my avatar, which is some rabbit type thing if I recall. It's a great productivity tool." Not that I'm suggesting we parents need to do any backpedaling from comments about teen time spent in virtual worlds. But a little open-mindedness might not hurt.

  10. Phone-sex number on game disk

    A 12-year-old boy in Washington State got stuck in a particular level of the PlayStation 2 game Ratchet and Clank, so he called the tipline printed on the game disk and found he'd called a phone sex line, KNDO TV reports. "The number appears on multiple games, including top sellers like Hot Shots Golf, and a similar number on other games leads to the same service." When the boy's mom called Sony, the company said it hadn't used that number for about two years and couldn't be responsible for it.

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


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News

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