Here's our lineup for these final days of April:
- Fast action: CyberAngels' response to the tragedy at Columbine High
- A subscriber's echo
- The BBC's question on violence & the 'Net (and Web-wide discussion)
- A parent's questions answered here
- Web News Briefs: Stats on young surfers and us grownups; AP courses online; Women in tech
- Fun: What teens themselves say about the Web
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A "reportline" just for teens
The Littleton, Colorado, tragedy certainly raised concerns about children's online activity. Fortunately, the reporting on this angle hasn't seemed disproportionate to other legitimate concerns about violence in schools - and we've seen some clear-headed responses to the Internet issue, including those of our partners and online safety experts Larry Magid and Parry Aftab. (For an excellent overview on the link between violent events and demands made on Washington to regulate the 'Net, see this Wired News story.)
As for Parry, an interview she did for a Wall Street Journal story this past week got her to thinking. "I realized that, for all my preaching on free speech and kids acting out fantasies online, there is a legitimate need for a helpline where classmates can report sites of fellow classmates they fear are dangerous to themselves or others. Kids are the ones who know this first, and they really understand the dangerous and troubled kids better than all other groups put together. The last thing I wanted was teams of law enforcement scouring the Web for kids' Web sites."
That led to the question of how CyberAngels could use their high profile in the online safety arena to make a difference - and to do so quickly, in direct response to the shootings in Littleton.
"That's where the KIDReportline came from," Parry said. "A classmate can report a Web site of a fellow student if s/he believes the student is at risk. Reports have to be about violence-related 'Net-based activity. The tips come directly to me, via my primary e-mail address. I am the only one who reads them, and I'll try to find ways to help the teens who come to us, as well as the ones they may report. We won't take tips from parents, teachers, or anyone other than classmates of those being reported.
"Hopefully, by spotting pained children earlier, and using our vast Internet expertise, we can avoid tragedies like this in the future. CyberAngels will always be a defender of free speech. This measure doesn't change that. But someone needs to listen when classmates need to share their fears. CyberAngels intends to make sure we grownups listen."
And she has one more objective that many subscribers will appreciate: "Like Larry [of SafeKids.com], we are concerned about the fact that whenever anything bad happens, somehow the Internet is blamed. Our KIDReportline is one way, along with services such as this newsletter, that we can prove how valuable the Internet is. It's not the cause of any of these acts of violence, but it can be part of the solution and the healing process. All our CyberAngels and I would like to express our heartfelt condolences to families and friends of those children who were killed in Littleton, Colorado. We have watched, along with others, reports of the courageous acts of many of the children who helped save others. We want to express our respect for them as well. Our prayers are with the community of Littleton."
[Parry Aftab is executive director of CyberAngels. We'd like your thoughts on the KIDReportline or anything else Parry said. Just e-mail us (via firstname.lastname@example.org).]
A subscriber echoes
Great minds do think alike. Subscriber "Grandma Dee" in New Jersey e-mailed us this week to say: "Heard an interesting idea on a talk radio program: One school system is using an 800 number by which anonymous callers report any suspicious or dangerous students or activities." She suggested that posters in the hallways could tell students that they could use this number to help keep violence out of their schools. Like Parry, Dee said, "The students are often more aware of imminent problems than adults are but are uncomfortable about reporting them."
She said such a program could also "serve as a deterrent to students with violent ideas," and it might be "one alternative to turning schools into prisons."
"Does the Internet need policing?" That was the question put to radio listeners to and Web users of "Talking Point," a radio and Web talk show produced by the BBC (Britain's state broadcasting corporation). They expanded on it thus: "If teenagers can learn how to build bombs from the World Wide Web, is it about time we re-thought Internet regulation?" And if so, we ask the BBC and anyone else concerned, just how do we regulate this global medium and simultaneously protect the fundamental right of free speech? They're questions on many minds right about now, we suspect. And there are a number of interesting responses - from people like you 'n' me - posted on the BBC's page. We just want to say that if one of you post a response, will you send it to us, too? Via email@example.com. We'd love to hear (and, with your permission, publish) your thoughts for your fellow members of this fine community. And thanks to our subscriber, Roslyn in L.A. for pointing out this page to us.
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A parent's questions answered here
A subscriber in Oregon e-mailed us this past week about her very Web-savvy son. She has some concerns, so she sent us some very good questions that we think are resonating all over the country. We ran them by our friend, partner, and "resident" question-answerer, Parry Aftab, author of A Parents' Guide to the Internet and executive director of CyberAngels. Parry answers parents' Web-related questions all the time in PTA meetings, school conferences, and in the media.
First, here's one family's story:
"I have a 14-year-old son who is very, very knowledgeable about computers and can override and 'hack' any controls I could put on the computer. He's a good kid, gets mostly A's in school, with occasional B+ grades. He's not really social but has some friends. He spends hours playing games like Starcraft, sometimes online with unknown people. He has visited adults-only sites. Occasionally I leave him at home alone, and this is when he has visited adult sites and made copies of the teaser photos on the home pages of these sites. I have made him erase these copies and informed him that he will not visit adult sites again.
"He chats in a closed-subject chat room about Macintosh gaming. The site is monitored by an administrator constantly, and they have rules about content and reserve the option to ban someone who disrupts. My son feels this is different from the AOL chat rooms with general-interest groups who are not monitored. I'm not experienced enough to know the difference, although I sometimes sit with him to read what he's reading. The computer is on a landing where everyone can see what you are looking at. We've occasionally taken away the keyboard or restricted him from the computer."
Here are the questions she sent with that background:
Subscriber: "Do you have a kid's-use contract that a family can use?"
Parry: "Yup. You can find our sample contract, "My Agreement About Using the Internet" in the Sage Family Web site. We've even done a checklist on things to consider when drafting your own family policy."
S: "Are these chat sites 'safer' than other types?"
P: "Moderated chats are always safer than unmoderated ones. But you should check and see if they are moderated by live people or by bots. Some chat hosting providers use software (bots) to catch certain off-color words and adult content. But there isn't any substitute for an experienced moderator in a teen chatroom. I like FreeZone for chats. I like Headbone Zone too. Both are moderated and as safe as an online chat can be. You should find out how this chatroom you mentioned is moderated. Know that kids hang out in gaming chatrooms, and people who want to find them know to look there. Even tech-savvy kids get into trouble with predators sometimes."
S: "How do I control his surfing without cutting off positive stuff?"
P: "You're talking to him about it. That's the first and most important step. You could use filtering software. Most such products have monitoring options as well. But if you use them, make sure your son knows you are using it. Most of the top brands, such as Net Nanny and CyberPatrol are relatively hacker-proof. Given the fact that he surfs where you tell him not to when you're not at home, you might want to consider using the monitoring-only option. That gives him the right to go anywhere he wants, but tells you where he's been." Deterrents can be quite effective sometimes.
S: "Is his activity 'normal' in light of the Colorado kids?"
Parry: "His activity is typical for a 14-year-old boy. We used to have the dog-eared copy of 'Playboy' hidden under a mattress - they have the Internet. Just make sure the communication stays open and the trust stays mutual."
S: "How do I find out if he has set up a Web site or home page? How do I monitor that?"
P: "Ask him. Does he lie to you normally? Check and see if your Internet service provider gives you Web site space, where you can set up your own site. The more you are available as a parent to help your children through the tough years, the less likely you are to run into serious problems."
If anyone has questions like these, e-mail them to us, and we'll either publish or point you to answers of which we and our partners are aware. We're all in this together!
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Web News Briefs
Seems like every single demographic group of 'Net users is the fastest-growing one! A lot of Web-surfer numbers were reported this week, so we thought we put together a little sampler. Then there's news on the Advanced Placement front and a fun profile (icing, if you will, for this week's issue):
- Kids in control
A joint study by Nickelodeon and Yankelovich found that "kids are taking control of their lives at a much younger age with the help of technology." Fifty-six percent have a PC in their home (up from 40% in 1997), and 85% use one in school, the survey found. For anyone concerned about youthful gullibility online, here's encouragement: An overwhelming majority of the children surveyed (83%) trust themselves over traditional information sources such as government and the media, second only to parents at 92%. There are more interesting stats at this same URL. Another study on the Web and youth, by Computer Economics research group, founded that 77 million people under 18 will have Internet access by 2005.
- Then there were grownups
Three more articles look at numbers and characteristics of adult users. More than 83 million of us US grownups now have Internet access, says a study by IntelliQuest. That's 40% of the population 16 and older! And 17.2 million more of us plan to go online in the coming year. The characteristics of that latter group (first-time 'Net users) are changing. Whereas upscale households (earning $50,000 or more a year) used to dominate the Internet, new users will be older, less affluent, and more feminine, according to a study by INTECO. Finally, there was a piece in TechWeb that didn't surprise us. It said that senior citizens are one of the fastest-growing segments of Web users - 40% of US adults over 50 have a computer at home (up from 29% in '95). More than 13 million members of this demographic group are online. Microsoft Investor and Charles Schwab say a lot of them are using the 'Net to track investments.
- Advanced placement online
Last week it was GREs. This week the news is about how high school students are studying for their Advanced Placement exams online - 54,000 of them, according to the New York Times. The difference: GREs (graduate record exams) are now all-Internet, all-the-time - and it's the test-taking that is online. The AP project is still in the experimental stage, and these are whole advanced-placement courses online, offered at the APEX Web site. It's a venture backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.
- Women in tech
Anita Borg works at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center. She is also realizing her dream. According to a fun profile of her in Red Herring, she believes that scientists and tech companies should listen to new kinds of customers, especially women, so she started the Institute for Women and Technology in 1997. Its goals: "bring nontechnical women into the [product] design process; encourage more women to become scientists; and help the industry, academia, and the government accelerate these changes." And, in another piece (at ABCNews.com), an effort Anita would support: free high-tech boot camp for women in Denver. Its objective is to retrain women for real, higher-paying jobs in technology.
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What teens themselves will tell ya
For fun and a little insight into young teens' Web activities, 13-year-old contributor Trent Spiner "polled" five friends in his school in New York City. Here's what they told Trent (who described his process this way: "I tried to get almost direct quotes from everybody even though I interviewed them in person."):
Seth (age 13): "I'm not allowed to use the Internet unless my mom is there. Also, my mom says I can only do research and that kind of stuff on-line."
Jimmy (14): "I use the Internet just to, you know, talk to friends and stuff."
Lance (14): "Well, I guess I just waste time online, pretty much doing nothing. But sometimes I do homework or something."
Peter (13): "I actually don't have the Internet or a computer, but when I have the Internet, like at the school library, I look up cheat codes for my favorite video games."
Sam (14): "I use it for, like, everything because there is so much stuff you could get off of it." Like what? Trent asked. "Remember the English project we had to do on Shakespeare? For that I just typed in 'Shakespeare' at a search engine like Yahoo or HotBot, and there were pages of stuff to plagiarize, I mean, learn, off of."
Sam, you're joking, right? :-)
If you have a teenager in your house or classroom who'd like to tell us his or her favorite activities on the 'Net (and why!), we'd love to get some e-mail! We have some teen subscribers, too, whose comments and reviews would be most welcome. You know the address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Share with a Friend!! If you find the newsletter useful, won't you share that information with your friends and relatives? We would much appreciate your referral.
To subscribe, they can just send an e-mail to email@example.com (SafeKids is our partner site) - no need to type anything in the Subject field or the body of the message.
That does it for this week. Have a great weekend.
Net Family News
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