Hot Penguin on Penguin Action!

Just trying to get your attention here with that provocative headline. Anne Collier, in her fabulous Safe Kids newsletter, alerted me to the Club Penguin game “Spin the Fish.” You can probably guess what it’s modeled after — the good old fashioned “Spin the Bottle” game in which IRL a group of young persons sit in a circle, a bottle is spinned, and the spinner has to kiss the person the bottle is pointing at (or be put into a closet with them for five minutes while everyone else stands outside with their ears pressed to the door). I remember in grade school longing for that bottle to point to Scott Cassidy or David Bowerbank. But I digress…

Not to be thwarted by the lack of real smooching, kids at Club Penguin (around ages 9 and up, from what I gather) are playing this game virtually. See it in “action” here:

Note how the fish doesn’t really spin. Note how you can react using emoticons about how you feel about being kissed by someone (too bad we don’t know whether these penguins actually know each other offline or not). Note how this is yet another example of how kids will do ANYTHING to express their crushes on someone — and can also snub certain peers just as easily. For more rules on how to play it “cool” (the unwritten rules of this unofficial game) during Spin the Fish, look here. The point in this blog I found most poignant is that the author commented that “No one asked me because I didn’t have my latest style on yet.” Apparently it’s just as important for a penguin to look hot as it is for a pre-teen


Experiments in virtual reality

Over the weekend I tried to participate in two different virtual reality type websites. Unfortunately neither were quite the positive experiences I was hoping for.

First I tried out Google’s new avatar-driven chat rooms Lively. I spent two hours preparing my avatar (can’t go in naked, you know) and then trying to figure out how to get INTO a room. Once I got into a room, my computer slowed down so much that I was going crazy trying to mentally adjust. Instead of trying to chat with people, I started searching rooms. I visited the “Love Sweet Love” room, the “Dating Cafe” and then even took a virtual tour of the Google facilities in the “Lively: Google Room,” but I wasn’t impressed. Maybe it’s because it’s too new, but it felt clunky and not quite user-friendly. Maybe teens can deal with that, but tech-savvy adults might be annoyed by the quirks that it still has. I was disappointed that I didn’t feel “at home” after setting everything up and removed the program from my computer soon after giving up on it.

Second, I put my big girl panties on and looked into Second Life. I think my experience would have been more positive if my internet provider gave me more bandwidth and my computer went faster, but I made due with what I had. I carefully read the “Big Six” (community standards) and was almost scared that I’d make an accidental mistake and get myself kicked out before I even began – especially when my character first appeared naked! I was pleased to see these rules set out so clearly before being able to join, and wish that I had speed/bandwidth to see if they work!

Second Life’s “Big Six” are six behaviors that would result suspension from the site:

1. Intolerance – “The use of derogatory or demeaning language or images in reference to another Resident’s race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or sexual orientation is never allowed in Second Life.”

2. Harassment – “Communicating or behaving in a manner which is offensively coarse, intimidating or threatening, constitutes unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors, or is otherwise likely to cause annoyance or alarm is Harassment.”

3. Assault – Most places you can be in Second Life are “Safe,” where you cannot shoot, push or shove another resident. I guess this also means there are areas that are “unsafe” where these actions are to be expected?

4. Disclosure – “Sharing personal information about a fellow Resident –including gender, religion, age, marital status, race, sexual preference, and real-world location beyond what is provided by the Resident in the First Life page of their Resident profile is a violation of that Resident’s privacy.”

5. Indecency – “Content, communication, or behavior which involves intense language or expletives, nudity or sexual content, the depiction of sex or violence, or anything else broadly offensive must be contained within private land in areas rated Mature (M).” When my character showed up nude, I was worried that I’d be kicked off immediately as I couldn’t find an “M” anywhere on the page. Good thing it was the introduction page where other new characters continually showed up nude.

6. Disturbing the peace – “Every Resident has the right to live their Second Life.”

I was intrigued to see whether these rules were followed within the community. Maybe those readers who are frequent Second Life users can explain it a bit more to me; I’d really like to know more! Also, if there are other online virtual reality “games,” that are geared towards teenagers, I’d love to hear about those to see if I can’t experiment some more!

Rewriting the Dictionary

Apparently, I am leaving all the “on topic” posts to Sarah, while I vent on issues that are at least somewhat related to this blog. I guess I can get away with it since I started it :-).

Many people ask me how and why I got into this field (broadly speaking, adolescent development, and more narrowly adolescent sexual health, and then of course there is the focus on technology that is supposed to drive this blog). One of the reasons is that I had a crappy adolescence. Another reason is that I am a research nerd, and I get very upset when people ignore established findings and instead go with what they think “feels right.” And the majority of our sex education and approach to young people’s sexuality dismisses research and educated theory and instead leans towards moral righteousness and panic. Example: I get mad when I hear about abstinence only curricula and policies mandating its implementation because there is no evidence that abstinence until marriage changes young people’s sexual behaviors. Another example: I am frustrated with the panic about the alleged dangers of social networking and how they are destroying young people’s relationships (though see this article which provides evidence of the benefits of social networking).

So you can imagine how I feel when people take the liberty of changing the definitions of words in order to suit their needs. This is what I read about today. According to the New York Times, Bush has decided that “abortion” means “any of the various procedures — including the prescription, dispensing and administration of any drug or the performance of any procedure or any other action — that results in the termination of the life of a human being in utero between conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation.” That definition is completely wrong. According to the medical professions an abortion is “when the fetus is expelled from a woman’s uterus” (yes, a “miscarriage” is just a more delicate way of saying “spontaneous abortion”). Here is the key difference: an abortion can only occur if there has been implantation. Bush seems to forget that essential component and instead broadens his own special version of the word to incorporate anything that interferes with a fertilization.

I understand Bush is anti-choice. I understand many people are. That is not what is at issue here with me right now. What I am concerned about is when politicians decide to redefine words in order to suit their own wishes.

Cornfed Citizen Safety

i work on the webImage by glsims99 via FlickrDr. Kris pointed me in the direction of Net Safe Kansas, a new website based in Kansas looking to protect their state’s Internet users. Maybe it’s a Kansas thing, but apparently Internet users there are ridiculously uneducated and can’t do research for themselves. On top of that, the website creators believe that their oh-so-exiting website will draw children in to read all of their rules. I was bored … what 12-year-old is going to stick around to read these things? (My comments on these “rules” are in italics.)

• Don’t believe everything you read online, especially from someone in a chat room. It’s extremely easy to lie online and predators will tell you anything to gain your trust. For example the “14-year-old girl” you just met online might actually be a 40-year-old man trying to gain your trust. Or the “14-year-old girl” you just met online might actually be a 160-year-old boy from your neighboring high school fulfilling a dare from his friends.

• Choose a random user name or screen name. Make sure it doesn’t reveal your name, age, school, location or interests. For example, the user name “CutieCougar94″ might reveal to a predator that this person is likely female, a student at a school with a Cougar mascot and born in 1994.” Or people of my generation will think that you’re a cute older woman looking for a younger man and that you quite possibly graduated in 1994.

• Don’t respond to messages that are mean or in any way make you feel uncomfortable. It is not your fault if you receive a message like this. Tell your parents right away so they can contact the online service provider. Messages that come to me that make me uncomfortable aren’t always illegal … if it’s not illegal, the online service provider can’t do anything anyway.

• Stick with friends. It’s always safer to chat with friends you know in real life. Strangers online are bad news. I was 22, online talking to strangers and met my best friend. Strangers online aren’t always bad news. You can safely meet some incredible people online.

Then they have a “NetSafe Kids Pledge” that made me laugh … and then I felt kinda bad for laughing at the ridiculousness of it … for about 37 seconds.

NetSafe Kids Pledge

1. I will turn off my computer monitor right away and tell a trusted adult if anything makes me feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused. There are TONS of things on the internet that confuse me. If I turned off the monitor every time that happened, I’d never learn anything. (I do understand what they’re getting at, though.)

2. I will tell my parents or guardian if anyone online asks me my name, my address, my telephone number, or the name and location of my school. Or I could just tell them no or ignore them or block them.

3. I will never share personal information such as my address, my telephone number, my parents’ or guardian’s work address/telephone number, or the name and location of my school without my parents’ or guardian’s permission. Why would a teenager share their parent’s work number with a stranger online?

4. I will tell my parents or guardian if anyone online asks to meet me in person.

5. I will never meet in person with anyone I have first “met” online without checking with my parents or guardian. If my parents or guardian agrees to the meeting, it will be in a public place and my parents or guardian must come along.

6. I will talk with my parents or guardian so that we can set up rules for going online. The rules will include the time of day I may be online, the length of time I may be online, whom I may communicate with while online, and appropriate areas for me to visit while online. I will not break these rules or access other areas without their permission. Seriously? I was a good kid growing up. Straight-A student, top of the class, blah blah blah, and I wouldn’t have set up rules like this with my parents. Do you know any teenager that has?

7. I will tell a trusted adult if I come across anything that makes me feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused. I will not download anything from anyone without permission from my parents or guardian. Stay away from Wikipedia.

8. I will not use rude or mean language on the Internet. *bites her tongue so she doesn’t say something inappropriate*

9. I will never respond to any messages that are mean or in any way make me feel uncomfortable. If I do get a message like that, I will tell a trusted adult right away so that he or she can contact the online service.

10. I will always remember that people online may not be who they seem. Because I can’t see or even hear the person it would be easy for someone to misrepresent himself or herself. For example, someone indicating that “she” is a “12-year-old-girl” could in reality be an older man. Hello stereotypes.

So, it seems that NetSafe Kansas has a good idea … but it almost feels patronizing to go through their website. I am pretty sure that there are Kansan citizens who KNOW better than the website assumes. Also, the fact that their kids & teens pages are still geared towards adults doesn’t make it any more marketable. The bare bones of it might one day be improved, but spreading more “stereotypical” internet information doesn’t help anyone.

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What girls do online

Texting on a keyboard phoneImage via WikipediaThis post is a continuation of yesterday’s post, moving through Justine Cassel & Meg Cramer’s article “High Tech or High Risk: Moral Panics about Girls Online”.

We’ll first look at some general teens & the internet facts:

– Today’s teens spend over six hours a day in front of some form of media … at least one of those hours is spent in front of a computer.

– 87% of teens are online

– the activity takes place primarily in the home or school

– 50% of US families are connected with broadband

– girls between 12 and 16 are the fastest growing internet users

– boys are more likely to play games online while girls are more likely to send email, use text messaging, read websites about movie stars, get health or dieting information

– 25% of girls online have a blog (go us!)

Then, some more interesting reading:

– “Teenage blog and social networking site users describe their writing s as read only by their peer network, express surprise that the writings are easily findable by others, and comment on the blogs that they feel are comfortable exposing their innermost feelings in these contexts because of their anonymity (even though the same author may give identifying information in a neighboring post).

– “Teens‘ use of instant messaging, e-mailing, game playing and website creation are key ways by which they grow into adults who manage, produce, and consume technology intelligently on an everyday basis.”

– “… the current panic over girls being online is not new … the result of moral panic has been a restriction on girls’ use of technology.”

– “Girls in particular may thrive online where they may be more likely to rise to positions of authority than in the physical world, more likely to be able to explore alternate identities without the dangers associated with venturing outside of their homes alone, more likely to be able to safely explore their budding sexuality, and more likely to openly demonstrate technological prowess, without the social dangers associated with the term “geek.” (I’m a geek. I embrace it.)

– “With luck, there will be a single difference between the moral panic surrounding the telegraph and the telephone, and that surrounding the internet: that we will come to recognize young women as more likely to be empowered by technology than damaged by it.”

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Frivolous electrical conversation

irdImage via WikipediaI truly believe that most teens know what they’re doing when they begin playing online. They don’t get into a chat room, end up on a pornographic site, or visit with strangers without knowing they’ve done it. However, the media explosion of shows like To Catch A Predator and news headlines reading “Man has sex with girl he met on MySpace” has made it seem as though teens use the internet without knowing what they could get into. After 23 pages of “High Tech or High Risk: Moral Panics about Girls Online” (authors Justine Cassell & Meg Cramer from Northwestern University’s Center for Technology and Social Behavior), I wanted to go and hug these women. Finally a well-written, easy-too-read article that I agreed with!

First, some general statements from Cassel & Cramer that I think always need repeating:
– “… family members and friends … are still the most frequent perpetrators of child sexual abuse.”

– “… offenses against children … numbers have been diminishing … since the advent of the internet.”

– “… the majority of these sexual solicitations … were not from adult predators, but instead came from other youth.”

– “Often, children who do begin online relationships with an abuser fit a particular profile … ‘a greater tendency for conflict or lack of communication with their parents; high levels of delinquency, including committing assault, vandalism or theft; have a troubled personality due to depression, peer victimization, or a distressing life event.'”

Second, some statements regarding the history of “moral panic” with “the compromised virtue of young girls”

– “… the panic over young girls at risk from communication technologies is not new rhetoric in America. There has been a recurring moral panic throughout history, not just over real threats of technological danger, but also over the compromised virtue of young girls, parental loss of control in the face of a seductive machine, and the debate over whether women can ever be high tech without being in jeopardy.”

– This is later addressed as the scares the telegraph (yes, the telegraph was apparently scary) created; “Media critics of the time desicribed the telegraph as used by ‘talkative women’ who had ‘frivolous electrical conversations’ about inconsequential personal subjects.'” Stories written during telegraph-time were morality tales expressing the opinion that “women’s use of men’s technology would come to no good end.”

– Even the telephone was lambasted for it’s use. “Despite companies’ efforts to direct how th telephone was used, women nevertheless cultivated their own purposes or ‘delinquent activities’ as they were thought of – primarily social interaction.”

– “… the politics of both the Victorian era and the early twentieth century – of rapid modernization and technical advancements – has many parallels with today’s societal response to the advent of the internet.”

– With regards to the definition of moral panic “the media relies on bias, exaggeration and distortion to manufacture news.” If you read the first four quotes I pulled from the article, you can see how the media exaggerates what studies actually say.

Third, tomorrow: “What girls do online.”

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Gender Role Reversal

I can’t find much on this story from the Shreveport Times (Louisiana), but a 39-year-old female teacher has been arrested on cyberstalking charges for posing as a 14-year-old girl and harassing a 14-year-old boy through MySpace. According to the brief article, there is no evidence that the teacher and boy ever met face-to-face.

I think this is worth noting because we spend so much time worrying about girls as victims that we need reminders that boys can also be subject to such things. Outside of the extremely bizarre case of Mary Kay Letourneau and her former student and now husband, Vili Fualaau, this issue has been a completely non-issue but remains a lingering question: “Is a sexual relationship with a young male and significantly older female harmful?” There is all sorts of research on the negative effects of younger females partnering with older males (higher rates of pregnancy, sexual coercion, drug use…) but there is NOTHING on the opposite. I’ve looked. And wondered as a result. Which means that I am challenged by my own stereotypes and assumptions. I think that this large an age gap at this developmental time cannot be healthy. But is there evidence? That remains to be seen.