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.

 

Teen dating websites: A good idea?

News about Skout.com being used by online predators to lure underage youth has been all over the place lately. Luckily, many experts such as danah boyd, David Finkelor any Larry Magid are chiming in on this issue with their less-panicky perspectives on what is happening concerning youth exploring online, interacting with others, and staying safe. One quote, by Finkelhor, seems to be making the cut in most of the news items I have read:

“If someone wants to help teens do online dating, it needs to be carefully thought out with a lot of education, cautions, abuse detection mechanisms and quality controls.”

Is it just me that’s all excited about this possibility? I mean, really, could we actually develop a SMART teen dating website? One that has the usual online dating stuff, but also includes material about healthy relationships, some educational stuff, and a whole lot of acceptance? I am giddy at the mere thought of it.

I am also realistic, however, and do realize it’s a lawsuit waiting to happen — issues related to age of consent/statutory rape, privacy concerns, bullying, sexting. But I can’t help but imagine a time where such a site could happen, be used responsibly and successfully. How far off into the future is it?

The TRULY Wordwide Web: My dilemma

First of all, thanks for your patience concerning my absence. I have flooded with grant-writing, but the overall good news is that I have had many successes. I hope to resume some semblance of regularity in posting soon.

Meanwhile, I have noticed that many comments have been posted on my blog entries as of late. They are not in English, so I honestly have no idea what they say. Using Google’s translating option, I tried to figure out their meanings — with little success. Of course, these posts are about sex; after all, this is what this blog is about! But my question always was: were these posts genuine, or created by a SPAM bot and filled with invitations to view adult-related material? There were times when I thought the former, but ultimately I decided they were more the latter. As a result, I have deleted most of these posts.

I bring this up, because it really posed an ethical dilemma for me. Do I assume the worst or hope for the best? Did I censor the disingenuous to create a safe environment for honest visitors, or by deleting expression did I shut down rarely-articulated dialog about an issue? Sadly, I will never know. But one thing I do know is this: the internet is a place where every language is spoken and all topics are discussed. At this point in time, however, my blog is not a specific outlet for certain people and I feel somewhat apprehensive about that decision.

Tragedy with a lesson

This horrible incident lets us know that it can be adults, not simply youth, who take risks online. According to the Daily News, 47-year-old George Weber was stabbed to death by a “troubled” 16-year-old after the latter responded to Weber’s craigslist post seeking “rough sex.”

I was hesitant to post this for a couple of reasons:
(1) First, what happened here was truly awful and to use it as an example might not be the best idea. But unfortunately, I think it takes something this drastic to have it make the news in the first place.
(2) This incident might be more about the dangers that can result from feeling ashamed of one’s sexuality than about online risks. I certainly don’t know all the specifics here, but it could be that if this man was more comfortable with his sexual desires, and society did not portray his preferences (“rough” sex) as taboo, he could have found a safer way to express them.

But I ultimately made the decision to see if any readers out there have any comments on this and how it might contribute to the dialogue related to online safety.

Internet Safety Technical Task Force Carries a Strong Message

It takes great news like this to awaken me from my holiday slumber. The Internet Safety Technical Task Force is releasing their report which concludes that ““actual threats that youth [online] may face appear to be different than the threats most people imagine.” The New York Times headline reads: Report Calls Online Threats to Children Overblown.

I feel both happy and vindicated. Happy, because this is an accurate assessment of the experiences of youth online. Vindicated because I set up this blog and have been making presentations with this message for several years now.

Larry Magid, who served on the Task Force, summed it up beautifully by saying: “While the task force found that youth risk from predators is a concern, the overwhelming majority of youth are not in danger of being harmed by an adult predator they meet online.”

Instead, according to the Task Force report, the focus of our online safety efforts should lean towards better understanding — and preventing — cyberbullying.

Unreal and Sad

I’ve been mulling over how to write this post for several weeks now, and am still at a loss for words. A study issued by internet security company McAfee found that about two-thirds of mothers of teens in the United States are just as, or more, concerned about their teenagers online safety as they are about drunk driving and experimenting with drugs.

This is so wrong that I don’t know where to start. Luckily, Larry Magdid did all the work for me, breaking down the actual statistics related to the risks of online predators, drug use, and drunk driving among youth. Of course you know the bottom line: Teens are MUCH more likely to experience harm as a result of drunk driving or drug use than they are by surfing the web, or even visiting MySpace. Yet, somehow, parents are nervous as hell about something that really is quite safe. Being online, while it can have negative consequences, is not nearly as detrimental to a young person’s health as substance use. We can’t say it enough.

This is one of those cases where it is tempting to blame the media — newscasts, To Catch a Predator, talk shows — they all do a great job of scaring the crap out of adults by sensationalizing how “easy” it is for adults to target teens for sexual exploit. But research shows that the teens are smarter than their potential aggressors: as this article states, online sexual predation is extremely rare and teens aren’t really even distressed by the infrequent sexual solicitations that they receive online.

But the issue is more complex than that — in order for parents to buy into this media bias, they have to lack the basic understanding of how the media work and the realities of its impact. Just as I stress the need for schools to integrate internet safety/etiquette/etc. into its curricula, I also feel it is important to reach out to parents who aren’t sure about the true ins and outs of interactive media. While there is no question that parents can be harder to reach than their children, this study demonstrates that their education is just as important if not moreso.

In the meantime, I hope that parents don’t forgo conversations about drunk driving and drug use, replacing them with rehashed versions of the “don’t talk to strangers” speech. Sure, that has it’s place to, but let’s not misplace our concerns of where the dangers really lie.

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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