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Kid-tech news for parents. Welcome to the official blog of the SafeKids/NetFamilyNewsletter. Please post comments!

Last Build Date: Fri, 02 Apr 2010 14:30:59 +0000


Lots of underage social networkers

Fri, 02 Apr 2010 14:29:00 +0000

Thirteen is the minimum age of the world's most popular social network sites, including in the UK, and a quarter of British 8-to-12-year-olds who use the Net at home have profiles on social-network sites, according to study by UK regulator Ofcom. Given similarly high levels of Internet use on both sides of the Pond, I doubt US figures for underage social networkers would be much different (I'm aware of no parallel study done in the US). Ofcom also found that 37% of 5-to-7-year-old home Net users had visited Facebook (but didn't necessarily have a profile). The good news is that 83% of 8-to-12-year-olds with profiles have them set so that only social-site friends can see them, and 4% have profiles that can't be seen at all. "Nine in ten parents of these children who are aware that their child visits social networking sites (93%) also say they check what their child is doing on these types of sites." Here's another important takeaway, pointing to a growing need for solid new-media-literacy training in school: According to The Telegraph's coverage: Among kids 10 and under, "70% of those using blogs or information sites such as Wikipedia believed all, or most, of what they read." Substantive help site for teens

Thu, 01 Apr 2010 13:55:00 +0000

"We Can Help Us" is the welcoming (and welcome) message of a just-launched suicide-prevention campaign created by the US government's Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the Inspire USA Foundation, and the Ad Council. It's great that there are press releases and radio and TV spots will hit the wires and airwaves, but even better is, a welcoming comprehensive Web site with video and text stories from teens and young adults about difficulties that sparked their suicidal thoughts and how they made their way to support and solutions. The site provides tools and channels for helping oneself (with a direct link to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and solid information about suicide, depression, self-harm, eating disorders, and much more), helping a friend get help (by understanding the warning signs and knowing who to contact), and helping others (by submitting one's own story). Suicide is preventable, SAMHSA points out. That's why is such an important step toward moving suicide prevention into social media. With teens sending or receiving more than 1,300 text messages a month, on average, and the vast majority of teens (82%) using social network sites, very often it's peers who are first to see warning signs (see this bit of social-Web history). According to SAMHSA, "suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15-24 year-olds, following unintended injuries and homicide. While suicides account for approximately 1.4% of all deaths in the US annually, they comprise 12% of deaths among this age group. In 2006, 4,189 people between ages 15 and 24 died by suicide. For every youth who died by suicide, it is estimated that 100-200 attempts are made." It's outstanding that SAMHSA and Inspire USA are getting at underlying causes in this way.

Students leery of school cyberbullying actions: What to do

Wed, 31 Mar 2010 19:48:00 +0000

In light of some egregious cases in the news, we're naturally seeing more and more calls for schools to take action against cyberbullying. Not surprisingly, students are wary of school interventions. "The effectiveness of adult interventions depends a lot 'on context, school culture, climate, as well as the way in which each intervention is carried out,'" we hear from students who've been bullied, according to the Youth Voice Project. And in this week's newsletter feature, students told Dr. Patricia Agatston in the Atlanta area that they felt school intervention "doesn’t really help" and cited a situation where the cyberbullying of a student "got worse" and "more secretive" when administrators intervened. Clearly, if we want students to trust administrative action and help out their peers by reporting cruel behavior, we're going to have to get this right. We need to read past headlines like the Washington Post's "Make strong anti-bullying programs mandatory in schools" to the well-reported content of the article: "Unfortunately, most schools don’t have programs, and many don’t have the ones known to be most effective. Researchers say that the only kind of anti-bullying program with any hope of reducing such behavior involves the entire school community" (I recommend the whole article). There's a reason why students are concerned and a reason why we need to take their concerns seriously: in order to have their necessary involvement in resolving problems and implementing effective solutions. [For more experts on the how-to for schools, see "Clicks, cliques & cyberbullying: Whole school response is key," "Social norming: *So* key to online safety," and "Major obstacle to universal broadband & what can help."]

Student leaders' views on cyberbullying

Wed, 31 Mar 2010 14:24:00 +0000

The other day, Patricia Agatston – school risk-prevention specialist and co-author of Cyber Bullying Prevention Curriculum for Grades 6-12 and Grades 3-5 – met with 30 student leaders at a high school in the state of Georgia. She asked them for their thoughts on cyberbullying."I found this discussion fascinating," she later wrote some colleagues. "I was there to discuss bullying, and we did a role-playing exercise that went pretty well, but when I moved the discussion to cyberbullying, the room just lit up. I was kind of shocked it was such a hot topic. I talk to kids about this fairly often – but something is really happening out there. I would venture to say that, while face-to-face bullying is a big topic in elementary and middle school, the issue of cyberbullying is huge with high schoolers because they have become so much more connected and, Anne, I think what you have written about, this idea of constant access [see bullet #2 in "Related links" below], is what is feeding the flame." In light of several current news stories about tragic cyberbullying cases, I thought you'd appreciate, as I did, the insights these students offer. Here, published with her permission, are Dr. Agatston's notes from the session (I inserted ellipses between students' responses to keep this post to a manageable length):Question: How bad is cyberbullying at your school?"It’s bad ["group consensus," Dr. Agatston wrote].... People can be meaner so much easier now.... It is way more powerful than regular bullying.... There are apps like Formspring[.me] that are easy to access (Facebook is blocked by the school district but Formspring is not), and people use it to anonymously say awful things about one another [Note from Agatston: "This started a heated debate about how some people are just asking for trouble if they participate in Formspring – so, the students said, why would you do that if you knew people could leave hurtful comments about you?" Note from me: Formspring use is a trend; it turned up in a tragic suicide story on Long Island, N.Y., this week. Back to the students:] Problems with evidence gathering: "People are figuring out how to keep things more private so it is harder to have evidence of the bullying too. People don’t post things as publicly anymore.... You can’t just copy and paste IMs into a document because the administration will say that you could have altered it, or the other parent can say that, so now that cyberbullying is taking place through less visible ways, i.e. texting and IM Chat on Facebook, it is harder to prove." Agatston: "Some debate around ways that you could still have evidence. But the point, I think, is that kids don’t always think to save the chat on Facebook right away, and it is deleted after 24 hours, so evidence is lost, versus comments posted on a wall."Do you see cyberbullying incidents as just happening all of a sudden, or are they reactions to things that happen in ongoing relationships and between peer groups?"It's both.... Some start spontaneously online, and some are reactions from relationships among peers at school." [Agatston: "But the consensus of the group was that more of the cyberbullying incidents happened in reaction to things that were happening at school."]Is there any single best way to deal with a cyberbullying incident from your perspective? What advice for teachers and school administrators on how to handle one? Or is each case pretty different? [Agatston: "These questions led to very lively discussion/debate."]"It depends on the situation.... Schools should not get involved.... You should try to resolve it yourself.... If that doesn’t work you talk to your parents.... Schools should be the third/last option...." [Agatston: "Much agreement to this statement." Me: This tracks with Project Tomorrow's Speak Up Survey of US students and findings of the Youth Voice Project study I wrote about here.]Responding to bullies (or not): "You have to act like it doesn’t bother you even tho[...]

9 charged in MA school bullying case

Tue, 30 Mar 2010 14:16:00 +0000

The felony charges against nine students at South Hadley High School – including stalking, criminal harassment, violating civil rights causing bodily harm, disturbing a school assembly, and statutory rape – follow the suicide of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince in January, the Boston Globe reports. Northwestern District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel said that the bullying was known to most of the student body and that "certain faculty, staff and administrators of the high school also were alerted to the harassment of Phoebe Prince before her death," according to the Boston Herald. She added that, in reviewing the investigation, her office did consider whether school actions or failure to act amounted to criminal behavior but concluded they did not. "A lack of understanding of harassment associated with teen dating relationships seems to have been prevalent at South Hadley High School. That, in turn, brought an inconsistent interpretation in enforcement in the school’s code of conduct when incidents were observed and reported." The DA said Phoebe's mother spoke to "at least two school staff members" about the harassment her daughter experienced. In an editorial, the Boston Globe said the charges "mark a new seriousness about bullying," and the state legislature has been working hard on a new anti-bullying bill that would provide school administrators with clear direction on how to handle (see my post last week). The New York Times reports that "41 other states have anti-bullying laws of varying strength." [See also "Suicide in South Hadley" at Slate.]

Supremely useful tool for parents:

Mon, 29 Mar 2010 23:35:00 +0000

Parental-control technology – filtering, monitoring, screen-time controls, etc. – isn't for all families all the time, but it's a valuable part of the parenting toolbox, along with values, regular discussion, rules, rewards, repercussions, etc. There is no easy, one-size-fits-all solution in that mix and, since '97, when I started writing about youth tech, media, and safety, I've heard from a lot of parents who so wish there was – at least in the tech-tools area. It would be nice for parents, but not so nice for kids, who are all about change and individuality even in a single family. But, if not the ultimate parental-control product, how about the ultimate guide to such products? Check out's 2010 Product Guide.

What you get is a tremendous service: at-a-glance comparison-shopping organized in a number of ways: e.g., by kids' ages (up to 7, 8-10, etc.); by type (filtering, monitoring, etc.); by location (at the operating-system, router, or ISP level); by activity (Web browsing, email, IM, search engines, video-sharing, virtual worlds, social networking, etc.); and by device (cellphone, game console, media player, etc.). All cleanly presented with a librarian's appreciation for "accurate, unbiased information." It's the brainchild of David Burt, a former librarian who in 1997 founded the nonprofit Filtering Facts (cited in a US Supreme Court decision in 2003) and now works for Microsoft. Get Parental Controls is the new face of In an email interview, Burt told me, "I’ve wanted to get back into online-safety activism, and I wanted to find something that would have an impact but wouldn’t be duplicating what others were doing. What set the direction for me was when in June of 2009 I read the PointSmartClickSafe Task Force Recommendations for best practices for child online safety, one of the recommendations really struck me: "The following is a sample of the limitations connected with the purchase, installation, and use of filters: No standardization or benchmark exists to differentiate an excellent from a merely good or mediocre product." [See also this review of NetNanny's monitoring software for cellphones in the Wall Street Journal blog, with insights into the challenge even a trusted brand has offering working controls for teen mobile phone use.]

Empathy training gains ground in schools

Fri, 26 Mar 2010 15:55:00 +0000

Used to be, if a student behaved badly s/he was sent to the office. Now, at Public School 114 in the South Bronx, a teacher sits down with students and finds out what's wrong. P.S. 114's principal told the New York Times that the school's had workshops run by David Levine, author of Teaching Empathy, since 2006 and has seen the number of fights drop from 1-3 a week to "fewer than three a month." The Times published this story a while ago, but I hope this growth trend is continuing. It's ever more important in the current highly charged climate (see below).

The Times says similar workshops are being held in the high-end community of Scarsdale, N.Y., where one parent feels parents should be attending them too! Eighteen states "require programs to foster core values such as empathy, respect, responsibility and integrity." One such state is California, and "Los Angeles is spending nearly $1 million on a nationally known program for its 147 middle schools called Second Step that teaches impulse control, anger management, and problem solving as well as empathy. The Times gives other examples but adds that some people are questioning "whether such attempts at social engineering are appropriate for the classroom or should remain the purview of parents" and extracurricular programs (and whether there's even enough to teach academics in school). I can understand the question, but all this isn't just addressing "Mean Girls" – it's also addressing cyberbullying. I wonder if these programs are folding online behavior into the discussion. It should be there! If kids don't distinguish much between online and offline, why address social cruelty in one "place" and not the other? I think the need for other-awareness and perspective taking in all aspects of our lives (not just children's) is increasing as – enabled by digital media – the world crowds in on all of us more and more. But what do you think? Feel free to email me via anne[at], comment below, or join the discussion at ConnectSafely.

Cyberbullying & the dark side of 'flash mobs'

Thu, 25 Mar 2010 22:25:00 +0000

There's something Dark-Ages about Philadelphia's flash mobs – more like the digitally assisted Paris riots of 2005 than the "impromptu pillow fights in New York," as described in today's New York Times, the train-station group dancing in Europe (great example on YouTube here), and the giant, lighthearted Dupont Circle snowball fight I witnessed while stuck in snowbound Washington last month. Philadelphia's have "taken a more aggressive and raucous turn here as hundreds of teenagers have been converging downtown for a ritual that is part bullying, part running of the bulls: sprinting down the block, the teenagers sometimes pause to brawl with one another, assault pedestrians or vandalize property." City officials are considering a curfew, holding parents legally responsible for their kids' behavior, and other measures to get the situation under control the Times adds. Not everyone calls the seemingly spontaneous violence in Philly "flash mobs," and some sources the Times cites say it's due to fewer jobs for youth in a touch economy and "a decline in state money for youth violence prevention programs."

Whatever, this is, it isn't happening in a vacuum. There seems to be an increasingly uncivil, angry tinge to exchanges between people who disagree and members of opposing political parties on Capitol Hill, the airwaves, and online. Is it possible that all these adults publicly modeling disrespectful, degrading behavior are creating a new, very destructive social norm? Could cyberbullying in schools and teens' destructive behavior on city streets have something to do with that? I think so. Experts rightfully alert us to the sexually toxic culture our children are growing up in; they're also growing up in a behaviorally toxic culture and media environment. Media and technology can make mobs grow fast, but they don't create the underlying attitudes. All of which points to the critical and growing need for education in good citizenship, online and offline, and new media literacy (critical thinking not just about content, texts, and comments being consumed or downloaded, but also sent out, posted, produced, and uploaded). [See also "Social norming: So key to online safety."]

MA's hard-fought anti-bullying bill

Wed, 24 Mar 2010 14:19:00 +0000

Both houses of the Massachusetts legislature have voted unanimously to approve anti-bullying legislation that mandates training for teachers and requires them to report incidents to principals," reports. The legislation also "requires principals to investigate bullying incidents, use appropriate discipline if necessary, notify parents on both sides of the incident, and report to police and prosecutors if a crime is thought to be involved." The legislation follows two young people's tragic suicides in the past year, most recently that of Phoebe Prince, 15, reportedly after being bullied at school and online, and last April that of Carl L. Walker-Hoover, 11, "after what his mother said was continual bullying by classmates," MassLive said. The bill will House and the Senate are expected to create a committee to develop a compromise of the bills approved in each branch. The legislation will now go into committee, where a compromise bill will be hammered out. That will go to each house for a final yes vote before going to the governor for signing.

'Recombinant art,' life?: Parenting & the digital drama overload

Tue, 23 Mar 2010 15:22:00 +0000

As Moby does with other people's sounds and musical phrases, David Shields does with words, saying that mashing up other people's words (or "recombinant" art) is much more interesting than creating fiction, which is sort of an appropriation of Mark Twain's "reality is stranger [more interesting?] than fiction." "Mr. Shields’s book consists of 618 fragments, including hundreds of quotations taken from other writers like Philip Roth, Joan Didion and Saul Bellow," the New York Times reports. That's a huge contentious subject – copyright, intellectual property, fair use, etc. – important and fascinating, but it's only about content. What about the other part of new media? Moby, Shields, and other mass-media natives are gutsy, but they're focused merely on content at a time when there's a lot more going on in media. Much more interesting for our (parents') purposes is the behavioral part: all the sociality we – especially youth in the pressure-cooker social environment of school life – are constantly observing, appropriating, and mashing up with the help of social digital media. We are remixing and creating a recombinant reality that is pressing in upon us with the same constancy, volume, and intensity as content is. Can you imagine a time in history when there was ever a greater need for media literacy than there is now, with our children growing up with online+offline, 24/7 exposure to the school, family, local, national, and international dramas of life – but, for them, especially school-related drama? Or a greater demand on all of us, too, for civility, perspective-taking, and respect for self, others, and community? If we can't model these for our children – at home and school, on phones and online – how can we teach them? If we keep fearing and blocking new media, we can't really be there for them in these tricky media waters. As they navigate both adolescence and the new-media space, they need breathers, reality checks, a sense of balance, and guidance (shore leave, buoys, dramamine, and a lighthouse, maybe? Sorry!), by which I mean: Breathers. Breaks from "peer reality" (which can feel overwhelming) in the form of quiet conversations, hugs, and support in dealing with social-scene overload (aka The Drama) are better, more positive than a negative approach of taking away technology or media. Tech and media don't create drama, people do; rather, tech and media are drama-enhancers, -extenders, and -perpetuators. Restricting the latter can help sometimes, if the goal is helping kids get perspective, but it can also cut them off from friends and situations, when being plugged in has become a social norm for youth. Reality checks. Our kids deserve reminders every now and then that the tsunami of school life they "wade" into everyday and then bring home on their phones and usually have on their screens while doing homework is not the all of reality: There is much more to life and much more to them. Much more to them than the role they play at school, where it's hard for them totally to be themselves. Balance. This is pretty intuitive for parents, the need to help kids balance the activities in their lives – social, academic, onscreen, offscreen, etc. But go deeper. With constant exposure to friends' thinking, do kids have enough chances for the reflection and independent thought that help them figure out who they are in relation to it all? In "Always-on/Always-on-you: The Tethered Self," MIT sociologist Sherry Turkle writes, "The anxiety that teens report when they are without their cellphones ... may not speak so much to missing the easy sociability with others but of missing the self that is constituted in these relationships." Guidance. This is intuitive for parents, too, but how do we offer that guidance? The command-and-control, sage-on-the-stage way, or as [...]

Growing consensus to handle teen sexting differently

Mon, 22 Mar 2010 15:15:00 +0000

Great news on the New York Times's front page yesterday: "There is growing consensus among lawyers and legislators," the Times reports, "that the child pornography laws are too blunt an instrument to deal with [naked photo-sharing, or sexting, which the paper describes in a slightly odd way as] an adolescent cyberculture in which all kinds of sexual pictures circulate on sites like MySpace and Facebook." The description left out cellphones, largely the focus of the public discussion about sexting (if not the activity itself). "Last year, Nebraska, Utah and Vermont changed their laws to reduce penalties for teenagers who engage in such activities," the Times continues, "and this year, according to the National Council on State Legislatures, 14 more states are considering legislation that would treat young people who engage in sexting differently from adult pornographers and sexual predators." And last week saw "the first case ever to challenge the constitutionality of prosecuting teens for 'sexting'," reports. "A unanimous three-judge panel [of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia] concluded there was no probable cause to bring any charges against the girls who had appeared in various states of undress in photos shared among a group of teens. Missing from the prosecutor's case, the court said, was critical evidence about who exactly had transmitted the images," according to, which added the court also found that former prosecutor George Skumanick, Jr., had "violated parents' rights by usurping their roles." According to the Times, states are considering various ways to handle sexting by minors – some as a misdemeanor, others as a juvenile offence along the lines of "truancy or running away." Do read the Times piece for legal scholars' views. [Here's my earlier post about the Pennsylvania case.]

What 21st-century learning does/doesn't look like

Fri, 19 Mar 2010 14:28:00 +0000

This post points to how technology in the classroom is and isn't done properly in the classroom, thanks to teacher Vicki Davis writing in Edutopia and university student Hillary Reinsberg writing in the Huffington Post. Davis talks about helping students (in the first 5 min. of the first day) turn personal Web portals like My Yahoo or iGoogle into their own "personal learning networks" (PLNs) – the new school locker. Her 9th-grade student says the approach "helps me keep things organized. It lets me know when my agenda changes," and Davis adds: "The fact that a ninth grader would talk about her own research agenda gives a glimpse into the power of the PLN; she is using a term here that is often reserved for grad students." How not to do this?: Reinsberg describes in a way that puts me to sleep just reading it: "The lights go dim, eyes begin to shut and the room gets quiet.... Welcome to a college lecture hall in 2010. Too many classes begin the same way: with an often cheesy PowerPoint presentation. The professor hooks up a projector to a computer and spends ninety minutes clicking through a series of slides." Hopefully, that isn't happening in too many middle and high schools! Because integrating 21st-century learning tools doesn't work with the sage-on-the-stage approach, which makes not allowance for the self-directed learning required for a user-driven media environment and participatory culture.

Potential iPad glitch for families

Thu, 18 Mar 2010 20:58:00 +0000

Blogger Anton Wahlman at thinks Apple's going to hurt the iPad's family market by not building in multiple user accounts with passwords for each family member (it's not out yet, so we're not completely sure this is the case). He feels the iPad's a lot more like a laptop than a phone, and "you wouldn't let your kids use your laptop under your personal login, with access to your emails, address book, documents, and instant messages," he writes. At CNET, my ConnectSafely co-director writes, "because of its size, price and versatility, the iPad is really a tablet computer and if is going to be used like a computer, it needs to have the same level of security and account control." But I'm not so sure Apple isn't just making it so that parents will want to have their own iPads and buy a family all-purpose one for the coffee table and road trips – IF they can afford them! [Here's my last blog post about the iPad and kids.]

Key US court decision on bullying & school

Wed, 17 Mar 2010 18:54:00 +0000

This may be a big step forward in US anti-bullying efforts: A recent federal court decision in Michigan sent "a clear message to schools that inaction, or even a simple unwise reaction, is not enough when it comes to dealing with bullies," author and cyberbullying researcher Justin Patchin blogs. The court ordered a Michigan school district to pay $800,000 "to a student who claimed the school did not do enough to protect him from years of bullying," according to the Detroit Free Press. The verdict "puts districts on notice that it's not enough to stop a student from bullying another." Dane Patterson, the victim in the Michigan case, "was in middle school when the bullying began as simple name calling and verbal harassment. It escalated in high school and included being pushed into lockers and at least one incident in 10th grade where he was sexually harassed," Patchin relates. It's not that his school didn't do anything at all about this, it just didn't change a thing. The occasional disciplinary action accomplished nothing, apparently. Patchin cites court records saying that, at one point, a teacher even joined the bullying by asking Dane in front of an entire class how it felt to be hit by a girl. "This is almost unbelievable," Patchin writes. I agree. He goes on to write about what does help, and I've written about it too (see this, but I have to be repetitive because this is so relevant, here: "Because a bully's success depends heavily on context, attempts to prevent bullying should concentrate primarily on changing the context rather than directly addressing the victim's or the bully's behavior," wrote Yale University psychologist Alan Yazdin in Slate.

Fun video contest for Net users (& producers) 13+

Tue, 16 Mar 2010 15:09:00 +0000

Hey, aspiring filmmakers and video producers (in Canada and the US), here's a project for you: Produce a two-minute video about Internet safety with your videocam, cellphone, or Webcam, and enter it in TrendMicro's "What's Your Story?" contest (you have to be 13 or older). Choose from one of four topics: "Keeping a good rep online" (and avoiding TMI), "Staying clear of unwanted contact" (e.g., dealing with bullies), "Accessing (legal) content that's age-appropriate," and "Keeping the cybercriminals out" (ID theft, scams, phishers, etc.), my ConnectSafely co-director Larry Magid reports at CNET. The grand prize is $10,000 and the deadline is April 30. Humor's just fine. Here's the official site where you can upload your video. Because TrendMicro is one of our supporters, I get to be one of the judges, so have fun!

Major obstacle to universal broadband & what can help

Mon, 15 Mar 2010 16:26:00 +0000

Last week Chairman Julius Genachowski unveiled the children-and-family part of the FCC's universal broadband plan, designed to enable, among other things, 21st-century education. There's just one problem: Schools have long turned to law enforcement for guidance in informing their communities about youth safety on the Net, broadband or otherwise, and the guidance they're getting scares parents, school officials, and children about using the Internet.Fear tactics don't work"Over the last decade, much of the Internet safety material – information still present on many state attorneys general web sites and in instruction material they provide – contains disinformation that creates the fear that young people are at high risk of online sexual predation," writes author Nancy Willard of the Center for Safe & Responsible Internet Use (see the paper for examples), "when the actual research and arrest data indicates the opposite. There is a tendency among law enforcement officials to think that scare tactics are effective in reducing risk behavior. Research has never found this to be so." That last sentence is important, because Willard footnotes it and links to what the research is showing us about the fear-based approach, as well as how we can get it right and optimize kids' broadband use going forward. The University of Virginia's Social Norms Institute says, "Until recently, the predominant approach in the field of health promotion sought to motivate behavior change by highlighting risk. Sometimes called 'the scare tactic approach' or 'health terrorism,' this method essentially hopes to frighten individuals into positive change by insisting on the negative consequences of certain behaviors. As sociologist H. Wesley Perkins has pointed out, however, this kind of traditional strategy 'has not changed behavior one percent'." In fact, the scare-tactic approach is doubly problematic: Besides the fact that it fails to change behavior, it also hinders the efforts of visionary educators (who I've talked with, met at conferences, and followed on Twitter) to capitalize on and guide students' use of new media by integrating them into all appropriate subjects, pre-K-12 (for example, a middle school teacher in New Jersey told me, "My students are as afraid of the Internet as their parents are now," and another in New York that a parent of one of her students told members of the school board that she didn't want her child using the Internet with her peers because their parents could get hold of her email address, and "one of those parents could be a predator"). [Willard points to a report released by the FCC in February, "Broadband Adoption and Use in America," showing that 24% of US broadband users and nearly half (46%) of non-broadband users "strongly agree that the Internet is too dangerous for children."]What does workWhat will help youth, 21st-century education, and universal broadband move forward? What has "revolutionized the field of health promotion," according to the UVA Institute: the social-norms approach. "Essentially, the social-norms approach uses a variety of methods to correct negative misperceptions (usually overestimations of use [of alcohol or drugs, it says, so think: overestimations of risky or cruel online behavior like "everybody hates her," "bullying is normal," "everyone shares passwords with friends," etc.]), and to identify, model, and promote the healthy, protective behaviors that are the actual norm in a given population. When properly conducted, it is an evidence-based, data-driven process, and a very cost-effective method of achieving large-scale positive results" (see this on social-norming and Net safe[...]

FCC's positive new plan for digital literacy & Net safety

Fri, 12 Mar 2010 18:20:00 +0000

This morning Elmo of Sesame Street helped Julius Genachowski of the FCC launch the child- and family-empowerment part of the FCC's universal broadband plan (trying to understand Mr. Genachowski's job, Elmo asked, "So you're the chairman of the Funky Chicken Club?"). But before Elmo joined him, the Federal Communications Commission's chairman spoke of the "four pillars" of broadband Internet for US families: Digital access – "every child should have broadband access," Genachowski said, and one of every 4 kids is missing out. "Anything less than 100% access is not good enough," because "every child must benefit from digital opportunities and do so safely." Digital literacy "doesn't just mean teaching children basic digital skills" (though that's important, too, he said), "but also teaching children how to think analytically, critically, creatively" and to "teach media literacy." He said that both digital and media literacy skills are particularly critical, given how much time the average child spends a day in and with digital media. "This is not just a good idea," he said, "it's increasingly a job and citizenship requirement".... Digital citizenship – Genachowski said the FCC plan is not just about giving children access and teaching them how to use the tools, but also teaching them how to be responsible community members, which gives them "the ability to participate in a vibrant digital democracy" (I'd argue in democracy, not just the digital kind; we adults keep thinking in this binary, delineating virtual/real, online/offline, digital/non- way). He also acknowledged the challenges to this effort, including online "anonymity," which masks the impacts of their online behaviors on others. Safety – The FCC chair mentioned first the risk of online harassment, saying "43% have been cyberbullied, and only 10% have told someone." He also referred to distracted driving and inappropriate advertising. My connection to the event's live video streaming was a little sketchy, so the fact that I didn't hear a reference to "predators" in the mix could've been due to my connection; but his starting with cyberbullying was an important high-level acknowledgement of the findings of the Internet Safety Technical Task Force, which some attorneys general have sought to discredit (see this for examples and a link to the ISTTF report). Schools often turn to law enforcement as their authority on Internet safety, so fears not grounded in research which are generated by senior law enforcement officials and published in their Web sites could be an obstacle to 21st-century learning and universal broadband adoption.Though the plan is positive, Genachowski acknowledged children's experiences with media certainly aren't always: "Parents are asking themselves whether they should be embracing new technologies or worrying about them. The answer is, we have to do both," he said, as EnterpriseNetworkingPlanet reports.To help parents and schools, he announced a "digital literacy corps to mobilize thousands of technically-trained youths and adults to train non-adopters," my ConnectSafely co-director Larry Magid reported in CNET; a plan to get public libraries "more broadband capacity"; "a national dialog" in the form of FCC-hosted town meetings around the country; a new section of for kids and parents; and an interagency working group on online safety (something I've been hoping would happen for a while), which certainly includes the Federal Trade Commission and its pioneering work on virtual worlds and free, well-written Netcetera booklet. "Let's focus on what parents can do" in helping their kids have positive expe[...]

More evidence student anti-gay bullying is rampant

Fri, 12 Mar 2010 17:29:00 +0000

More than half of self-identified gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) 11-to-22-year-olds surveyed said they'd been cyberbullied in the past 30 days, reports. The study, by Iowa State University researchers Warren Blumenfeld and Robyn Cooper, "appears in the LGBT-themed issue of the International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, being released March 15," Futurity adds. It was an online survey of "444 junior high, high school, and college students between the ages of 11 and 22–including 350 self-identified non-heterosexual subjects" (here's an audio interview at CNET by ConnectSafely co-director Larry Magid with Dr. Blumenfield). An earlier study by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network and Harris Interactive I blogged about found that LGBT youth are "up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers." I have to repeat the profound words of New York Times columnist Charles Blow after two children's suicides last year which reportedly involved anti-gay bullying: "Children can’t see their budding lives through the long lens of wisdom - the wisdom that benefits from years passed, hurdles overcome, strength summoned, resilience realized, selves discovered and accepted, hearts broken but mended and love experienced in the fullest, truest majesty that the word deserves. For them, the weight of ridicule and ostracism can feel crushing and without the possibility of reprieve." [See also my blog post "Cyberbullying better defined."]

Meanwhile, preliminary results of another bullying project of researchers at the University of Ottawa and McMaster University show "that bullying can produce signs of stress, cognitive deficits and mental-health problems," the Toronto Globe & Mail reports. Lead researcher Tracy Vaillancourt said her team knows brains under bullying conditions are functionally different (act differently) but doesn't yet know if there's a structural difference, and to find out they'll do brain scanning of 70 victims they've been following for five years. Vaillancourt "says she hopes her work will legitimize the plight of children who are bullied, and encourage parents, teachers and school boards to take the problem more seriously."

Net access a basic human right: Study

Thu, 11 Mar 2010 17:00:00 +0000

The US's Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is not alone in saying everybody should have broadband Internet access. The UK government has promised to deliver universal broadband by 2012, and the EU is also committed to providing universal access via broadband. In fact, basic Net access is coming to be seen as a fundamental human right. "Almost four in five people around the world believe that access to the Internet is a fundamental right," the BBC reports, citing a survey of more than 27,000 people in 26 countries. The BBC said its survey found that 87% of internet users view Net access this way, and 70% of non-users do. "International bodies such as the UN are also pushing for universal net access," the BBC adds, pointing also to Dr. Hamadoun Toure, secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union, as saying the Net is now basic infrastructure, such as "roads, waste [removal] and water" because the ability to participate is essential in a "knowledge society." How about you – do you see Net access (among many other things, of course) as a basic right for everybody? Pls comment here or in the ConnectSafely forum. Meanwhile, "the internet is among a record 237 individuals and organisations nominated for this year's Nobel Peace Prize," the BBC reports in a separate article, beating last year's record of 205 nominations. [See also "UN Child Rights Convention: How about online rights?"]

How Americans 13+ use their cellphones

Wed, 10 Mar 2010 18:22:00 +0000

Text messaging is by far the No. 1 activity of US mobile phone users aged 13 and up, according to the latest figures from comScore. Though talking on the phone isn't even on the list (presumably all cellphone users do that), comScore's January figures show that 63.5% of mobile subscribers send text messages. The other mobile activities on the list are "Used browser" (28.6%), "Played games" (21.7%), "Used downloaded apps" (19.8%), "Access social network site or blog" (17.1%), and "Listened to music" (12.8%). Social networking by phone was the biggest growth area between last October and January, at 3.3% growth over the three months.

Can the social Web be policed?

Tue, 09 Mar 2010 20:55:00 +0000

In "Cyber-bullying cases put heat on Google, Facebook," Reuters points to increasing signs around the world that people want to hold social-media companies responsible for their users' behavior. "The Internet was built on freedom of expression. Society wants someone held accountable when that freedom is abused. And major Internet companies like Google and Facebook are finding themselves caught between those ideals," it reports. Back before social networking, when people harassed or fought merely over the phone, people didn't hold phone companies accountable for settling the disputes. In the US, the Communications Decency Act extended that "safe haven" to Internet service providers, and courts have included social-media companies in that category ever since. Here's the view from Australia, where the Sydney Morning Herald reports some cruel defacement of tribute pages in Facebook have gotten Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to consider "appointing an online ombudsman to deal with social networking issues." [Maybe that's where we're headed: countries having ombudsmen able to decide if complaints in their countries should be "escalated" to their specially appointed contacts at social sites at home and abroad? But what about sleazy social-media operations that fly under the radar or refuse to deal?]Certainly it's understandable that people expect more from social network sites than they do from phone companies because bullying is more public and harder to take back, but is the expectation logical? That's an honest question, not a rhetorical one (please comment here or in the ConnectSafely forum), because what does not seem to be different in this new media environment is how arguments and bad behavior get resolved: by the people involved. It may take time with complaints sent from among tens and in some cases hundreds of millions of users, but fake defaming profiles and hate groups do get deleted by reputable social network sites like MySpace and Facebook. Deleting the visible representation of bullying behavior, however, doesn't change much. Bullies can put up new fake profiles as quickly as – often more quickly than – the original ones can be taken down. Of course we should expect companies to be responsible and take such action, but can we reasonably blame them if doing so has no effect on the underlying behavior? What court cases like the one in Italy against Google executives for an awful bullying video on YouTube that the court felt wasn't taken down fast enough (see the article in the Washington Post above) illustrate are: humanity's struggle to wrap its collective brain around a new, truly global, user-driven medium where the "content" is not just social but behavioral – and the full spectrum of human behavior at that.If you do, please comment, but I know of no real solution to social cruelty on the social Web as yet except a concerted effort on the part of the portion of humanity that cares to adjust to this strange, sometimes scary new media environment by adjusting our thinking and behavior. That includes teaching children from the earliest age, at home and school, social literacy as well as tech and media literacy (social literacy involves citizenship, civility, ethics, and critical thinking about what they upload as much as download) – as well as modeling them for our children. Can it be that universal, multi-generational behavior modification is not just an ideal, but the only logical goal? What am I missing, here?[...]

Cellphones & school: A great mix

Tue, 09 Mar 2010 18:35:00 +0000

Today, two views on mobile learning: that of an 18-year-old social entrepreneur and school-reform activist in Georgia and that of a research guest-blogging at O'Reilly's Radar....If you have any doubts about mobile learning at school, I have two suggestions: 1) Take about 5 minutes to watch college freshman Travis Allen of Fayetteville, Ga., demonstrate how iPhones can be used in school, from classroom applications to keeping track of homework to student-teacher-parent communications in a video on YouTube, and 2) check out the iSchool Initiative, a nonprofit organization Allen founded as a "partnership of students, teachers, school administrators, and software application developers" designed to help all parties "comprehend each others' needs" and help students themselves advocate for the intelligent use of technology at school. It all started, Allen says in his blog, when his parents got him an iPod Touch for Christmas of 2008. Now at Kennesaw State University, he says the Initiative has "three primary objectives: raising awareness for the technological needs of the classroom, providing collaborative research on the use of technology in the classroom, and guiding schools in the implementation of this technology." He's not alone. See, for example, this tutorial on YouTube from Radford University in Virginia showing teachers step-by-step how to create a quiz on the iPod Touch so the class can take the quiz and together go over the results in the same class. Why cellphones, not textbooks?Qualcomm has been looking into just that question, funding field research such as Project K-Nect in rural North Carolina, where remedial math on iPod Touches has helped students increase proficient by 30%. Writing in Radar, Marie Bjerede, Qualcomm's vice president of wireless education technology, says the project has turned up four reasons why it helps to teach with cellphones:1. Multimedia in their hands. Each set of math problems starts with a little animated video showing how to work the problem. "You could theorize that this context prepares the student to understand the subsequent text-based problem better. You could also theorize that watching a Flash animation is more engaging (or just plain fun)," Bjerede writes.2. Instruction is personalized. So "students need to compare solutions" not answers. "How did you get that" replaces "what did you get?" 3. Collaborative math. "Students are asked to record their solutions on a shared blog and are encouraged to both post and comment. Over time, a learning community has emerged that crosses classrooms and schools and adds the kind of human interaction that an isolated, individual drill (be it textbook or digital) lacks and that a single teacher is unlikely to have the bandwidth to provide to each student."4. Unanticipated participation: "Students who don't like to raise their hands use the devices to ask questions or participate in collaborative problem solving [with blogging and instant messaging]. There appears to be something democratizing about having a 'back channel' as part of the learning environment."Related links A teacher's iPod Touch proposal (to her school tech director) is linked to in this blog post about her – Sonya Woloshen, a new teacher who uses mobile and other technologies in the classroom but whose focus is on "the meaningful engagement of students ... learning transferable skills and teaching each other as they learned," writes blogger and Vancouver, B.C. vice-principal David Truss. Here's another educat[...]

Drivers, don't text!: New campaign

Mon, 08 Mar 2010 19:00:00 +0000

With its "Txtng & Drivng ... It Can Wait" project, AT&T just joined Verizon Wireless in campaigning to stop the practice of texting while driving. AT&T's campaign, aimed at teens, is using "television, radio, print, the Internet, shopping malls, even the protective 'clings' over the front of new cellphones, to target young drivers," USATODAY reports. Verizon Wireless launched its "Don't Text and Drive" campaign last year. Persuading drivers not to text may take time. USATODAY cites the view of Peter Kissinger of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, saying that the national Click It or Ticket seat belt campaign worked "because it has a law generally accepted by the public, a visible enforcement component and a big public awareness effort." USATODAY adds that, in 2008, the latest figures available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, "5,870 people died and more than a half-million were hurt in crashes involving a distracted or inattentive driver," and "young, inexperienced drivers are disproportionately represented among these drivers." US 13-to-17-year-olds send or receive an average of 3,146 texts a month, or 10 an hour, on average, for every hour they're not either sleeping or in school, according to Nielsen numbers I recently blogged about. Let's hope that includes every hour that 16- and 17-year-olds aren't driving.

Fresh debate on effects of violence in videogames

Fri, 05 Mar 2010 23:45:00 +0000

The long debate over whether violent videogames increase violent thinking and behavior in players has heated up as the result of a study published in this month's issue of Psychological Bulletin. A Washington Post blog does a great job of presenting both sides of this latest iteration, represented by the study's authors, led by psychologist Craig Anderson at Iowa State University, and the researchers who are the main objects of the study's criticism: Christopher Ferguson and John Kilburn of the department of behavioral applied science and criminal justice at Texas A&M International University. Anderson's study analyzed previous studies of 130,000 male and female players of various ages in the US, Europe, and Japan. In an accompanying commentary in Psychological Bulletin, Ferguson and Kilburn write that the study shows a bias in the studies it selected for review and "found only a weak connection between violent video gaming and violent thoughts and deeds." Check out the article for some other important views on the subject, including that of Cheryl K. Olson and Lawrence Kutner, co-founders and directors of the Harvard Medical School Center for Mental Health and Media, who "studied real children and families in real situations" and published their results in the 2008 study "Grand Theft Childhood," which I blogged about here. [See also "Play, Part 2: Violence in videogames" last July and "Videogames & aggression: New study" about an early stage of Anderson's research.]

Kids experiencing less bullying, sexual assault: Study

Thu, 04 Mar 2010 23:16:00 +0000

Schools, keep up the good work! A new national study by the Crimes Against Children Research Center found that bullying, sexual assault, and other violence against US children ages 2-17 "declined substantially" between 2003 and 2008, the University of New Hampshire's CACRC reports. The study's lead author, David Finkelhor, credits schools' and other prevention efforts to reduce bullying and sexual assault as part of the explanation for the declines, though adding that "children's victimization is still shockingly high." In the past year, physical bullying decreased from 22% of youth to 15%, and sexual assault from 3.3% to 2%, the CACRC study found. Certainly we all have more work to do – and not just schools: The authors "did not find declines in physical abuse and neglect by caregivers, but [they] did find a decline in psychological abuse. Thefts of children’s property also declined, but robbery was one of the few offenses to show an increase." This page at the UNH site has a link to the full study, "Trends in Childhood Violence and Abuse Exposure," in Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. Here's coverage today in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution; thanks to Cobb County School District risk-prevention specialist Patti Agatston in the Atlanta area for pointing the Journal-Constitution article out. Later added: the Wall Street Journal's coverage.