Parental Monitoring

I was struck by the findings of this research presented at the NetSafe Conference in New Zealand this week. According to a survey done by the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI), 70% of parents monitor their teens texts and 84% monitor their online usage (to what extent, I don’t know). Despite this high level of investigation (prying?), few teens were aware their parents were doing it — 70% of the teens didn’t know their phones were being monitored and only 39% knew that their internet use was being investigated by their parents.

Time for disclosure here: I am not a parent. I work with youth and young adults as a small part of my job, but that’s it. That said, here is what I think of these research findings:

The disconnect between parental “spying” and teen awareness of it, to me, is disconcerting. I remember that my parents would rifle through my backpack to get a sense of “what was going on” when I was in high school (this was B.I. — before internet). I had closed up as several teens do and I believe they were simply desperate for information. But as soon as I caught on to what they were doing, it only sent me further underground. I learned to better hide my secrets — my grades, my crushes, my hopes, fears, and desires. I felt betrayed and vowed not to tell them anything about what was going on with me and how I was feeling.

I am not saying my experience represents that of a typical youth today, but I do believe that there are some out there that are a lot like I was then. And, I admit, I needed help from a trusted adult back then. Finding out I was being spied on did not help that situation. So, I wonder: How would many of these young people react to discovering that their parents are invading their privacy without their knowledge?

I know some parents believe they have a “right” to do what they are doing, and are more often than not monitoring digital behavior out of love and concern for their children. I still don’t think it makes it right. And I do believe that for those young people for which there is something to be concerned, such actions could backfire big time. Research shows that youth who are struggling in the offline world are more likely to engage in risky online behaviors. Making the world seem less safe for them through spying seems that it could make matters even worse.

My hope is that parents and youth can somehow engage in more open dialogue. Easy to say, and an enormous challenge to actually do. Building the trust for this sort of conversation takes a lot of time and effort from all parties, but I believe it is worth it in the end. I know I would have benefited from this approach much more than I would have from backpack snooping. My relationship with my parents would have as well.

The story behind the story

By now, many of you have heard about the tragedy regarding Amanda Todd, the teen who took her life after severe cyberbulling. Her video, posted on this article about her, gives her own account of what happened, just days before she took her own life. I encourage you to watch it and “listen” to her story unfold.

What I believe may happen is a flurry of stories much like the one I posted above: the stories that talk about all the evils of the internet and how it is a dangerous place. What happened to Todd is horrible, but I want to highlight the two things that I hope are stressed and the ones I hope that are NOT brought to the front:

1. Media people — please see that this young woman was groomed by online chatters. It took her a year before she took off her top. What was shaping her life during that time? Who was (and wasn’t) in her life? Don’t just focus on the fact that she fell prey to an online stranger. Take a deeper look into how her situation was the result of a slow progression.

2. All of us — especially youth — why did you follow her from place to place? It was bad enough to bully her, but she moved several times to get away from it all. What, inside of you, possessed you to keep harassing and stalking her after she had left? This lack of humanity frightens me.

Things I don’t want focused on:

a. People figured out who she was. Yes, somehow, she was identified. But please don’t make this a scare-tactic story about stranger danger.

b. What she did was illegal. While it’s true that she could have been guilty of creating child pornography, I hope that the focus is on all the harm the other people did.

What’s going to happen now? Unclear. But I hope her story can be used to create dialogue about what can happen when harassment goes too far. There needs to be more forgiveness and understanding taught here. The basic lessons of being a good person.

Safe navigation still should be the priority

Anne Collier of NetFamilyNews describes why sites like Skout are bad for teens. Yet, overall, we should still encourage our youth to navigate the internet safely and wisely.

Teaching safe navigation is a good point to stress given the fact that this study (condcuted by McAfee, the internet safety company: Bias alert!) states that many teens engage in behaviors that result in them hiding some internet usage from their parents. Overall, the results of this poll are not too surprising to me. I mean, really: young people hide parts of their lives from their parents! No! Do tell…

Of course youth clear their history, close their browser window (note: I do this reactively at work even if I am doing something legit!), and use non-monitored computers. They are (young) people who don’t want their parents to know everything! And you know what? Parents shouldn’t know everything. Parents do need to know the big, important stuff, but not necessarily the day-to-day feelings and situations that come and go fleetingly.  It’s important that young people have some privacy in their lives, too. So for PCMag to say that  young people are “fooling” their parents by using cell phones to go online and high privacy settings (!) — shame on them! That’s just irresponsible fear-inducing.

I also find it disappointing that this article also lumps in searching for “sexual topics online” (36%) along with surfing porn or “nude content” (32%)  and accessing violence online (43%) as “inappropriate.” Really? Getting some sexuality education is not appropriate. Sigh.

 

Great Piece From Wired on "Raising an Internet-Savvy Child"

Although I pretty much love this whole article from Wired, The First Email Address: Raising an Internet Savvy Child,” here are the highlights for me:
1. “The same approach to have towards teaching them to know right and wrong offline applies to their activities online. “
— I support the idea that although the internet has many “new” aspects, responsible and ethical use really is all about learning how to treat others and yourself with respect and good will. Know that offline, and it will happen more readily online;

2. The New York Times stated it first, but it’s repeated in this article (and should be repeated several times): “you ,the parent> should practice the same guidelines in posting and e-mailing personal information like photos, birth dates and addresses as you would want from your kids. Just as you wouldn’t want them giving out information online about your family that would put the entire household at risk, you must guard their information as well to ensure that your privacy practices online don’t put them in danger.”
— If we don’t practice safety common sense, why should we expect our children to do so?

Seriously — read this article, especially if you are a parent. It will be one of the smartest things you will do to support healthy internet safety.

New Legislation Introduced to Senate

The School And Family Education (SAFE) about the Internet Act of 2009 has been introduced to the Senate. It’s purpose is to “promote Internet safety education and cybercrime prevention initiatives, and for other purposes.” From what I can tell by reading this Act, the education would take place primarily in the schools, but at no cost to the schools. This means seeking federal monies for grants, which means the Feds are going to have to see this as a priority.

One of the things I especially liked about the text of this bill were that they were interested in “peer-driven Internet safety education initiatives.” However, the word “evaluation” is nowhere to be found, which makes me nervous.

While I am not holding my breath on this one given the current economic times and other priorities, it is a first step towards recognizing the importance of online safety. It also may be the first time there has been a formal attempt on a national level to suggest that internet safety belongs in school instruction (Virginia has state legislation related to supporting online safety instruction).

The Law is Still Catching Predators — Just Not on TV

A new report finds that more people are being arrested for sexually soliciting youth online than they were six years ago. However, this is mostly due to “sting” operations, where the number of arrests for soliciting undercover investigators who posed as juveniles increased almost 500%. In contrast, arrests for solicitation of actual children increased 21% from 2000-2006. Although it should be alarming that those crimes involving actual children are increasing, it is important to remember that internet use overall during this time has increased much more than 21%. So, proportionally, these solicitations are on the decline.

According to the report, arrests of online predators comprised only 1% of all sex crimes against minors. By far, the vast majority of sex crimes against minors are within the family or local community — not by online strangers. On a similar note, the report also noted that there is little to no evidence that minors were being “lured” by adults or found by predators based on personal information they post. Instead, youths were the ones reaching out to people whom they knew to be adults and seeking relationships with them. Unfortunately, some of these adults take advantage of such situations.

Bottom line is that online predation remains a rare occurrence. Minors are more often abused by someone close to them (either a family or local community member), and when they are sexually involved with someone online, it is someone whom they already know to be an adult, and actively have formed a relationship with.