This is partially a rant and partially a list of resources to help protect your children safe online. I was “inspired” to write this post for two reasons, I was already accumulating the list of resources for keeping kids safe online and secondly, Good Morning America had an interview with a family that was victimized by cyber bullying where they got it all wrong. Here’s my two cents as a guy who isn’t as far out of the American public school system and isn’t too old to be baffled by the technology that kids (I hate the word ‘tweens’ and won’t be using it in this article.) are using. It includes these sections:
- The cold, hard facts
- Why my generation is the next “greatest generation”
- The problem with today
- A list of resources to protect your kid
- Where technology isn’t the solution
- The rant
For context, here’s an earlier video of the 11 year old girl, online pen-name Jessi Slaughter, featured on yesterday’s Good Morning America.
And here’s the problem (re-posted by another account since the original account, kerligirl13, has been closed):
Now watch the Good Morning America exclusive video that aired this morning.
The Cold, Hard Facts
12. Ability to Accept Terms of Service
You affirm that you are either more than 18 years of age, or an emancipated minor, or possess legal parental or guardian consent, and are fully able and competent to enter into the terms, conditions, obligations, affirmations, representations, and warranties set forth in these Terms of Service, and to abide by and comply with these Terms of Service. In any case, you affirm that you are over the age of 13, as the Service is not intended for children under 13. If you are under 13 years of age, then please do not use the Service. There are lots of other great web sites for you. Talk to your parents about what sites are appropriate for you.
Here’s the same line in Facebook’s Terms of Service:
Facebook users provide their real names and information, and we need your help to keep it that way. Here are some commitments you make to us relating to registering and maintaining the security of your account:
5. You will not use Facebook if you are under 13.
Neither YouTube nor Facebook are intended for children under 13. In fact, they ask you not to use the service. Since they can’t filter out visitors by age, this is about as much as they can do. If they were allowing under 13 year olds, then they would technically have to follow the terms set out in the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998, which is typically too much paper work to comply with.
Here are the interesting numbers to convince you to also be involved in your children’s online lives from Enough.org:
- 48 percent of students K-1st grade level interact with people on Web sites, while 50 percent indicate that their parents watch them when they use a computer, leaving the other half of those youngsters more prone to being exposed to predation behaviors or other threats posed by online strangers or even persons they know or regard as friends. (Rochester Institute of Technology, 2008)
- 63 percent of teens said they know how to hide what they do online from their parents. (Harris Interactive-McAfee 10/2008)
- 20 percent of teens have engaged in cyberbullying behaviors, including posting mean or hurtful information or embarrassing pictures, spreading rumors, publicizing private communications, sending anonymous e-mails or cyberpranking someone. (Harris Interactive-McAfee 10/2008)
- Of students aged 13 and 14 from schools across Alberta, Canada, 90 percent of males and 70 percent of females reported accessing sexually explicit media content at least once. (Thompson, Sonya. “Study Shows 1 in 3 Boys Heavy Porn Users”. University of Alberta Study, 5 March 2007,http://www.healthnews-stat/com…0&keys=porn-rural-teens.)
- Porn has become a major presence in the lives of youth, and while a majority of teens surveys said their parents expressed concern about sexual content, that concern has not led to discussion or supervision, and few parents are using available technology to block sexual content. (Thompson, Sonya. “Study Shows 1 in 3 Boys Heavy Porn Users”. University of Alberta Study, 5 March 2007, http://www.healthnews-stat/com…0&keys=porn-rural-teens.)
- Forty-two percent of Internet users aged 10 to 17 surveyed said they had seen online pornography in a recent 12-month span. Of those, 66 percent said they did not want to view the images and had not sought them out. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points. The results come from a telephone survey of 1,500 Internet users aged 10 to 17 conducted in 2005, with their parents’ consent. (Wolak, Janis, et al. “Unwanted and Wanted Exposure to Online Pornography in a National Sample of Youth Internet Users.” Pediatrics 119 (2007); 247-257.)
- The largest group of viewers of Internet porn is children between ages 12 and 17. (Family Safe Media, December 15, 2005).
Why my generation is the next greatest generation
“The Greatest Generation” is a term coined by Tom Brokaw, my favorite news host, used to describe the the generation growing up in the Great Depression and fighting or working on the home front during World War II. I certainly do not mean to disparage Mr. Brokaw but I strongly believe that my generation is The Next Greatest Generation. Born in the 80’s we’ve seen it all, we’re still excited to see the next big thing (unlike many younger than us), and we can still wrap our minds around it (unlike many older than us).
Remember blowing into an NES cartridge to get it to work? Yeah, that was my generation troubleshooting at age 5.
We’ve suffered through and appreciated all of the latest technologies. The 14.4 Kbps dial-up modem and the potentials of the Internet were great, the noise of a connecting dial-up modem became a part of pop culture, and the 28.8Kbps and 56K modems were hungrily adopted when they became available.
I had a Cybiko in high school for playing games and wirelessly chatting with friends. Facebook was launched while my generation was in college. We were some of the “elite” who had access to the system first and we despise that it opened to high schools and then the public. I didn’t have my own cell phone until I was 22 and graduated college. Now I have a smart phone that can do more than I possibly could have imagined when I graduated high school.
I started out on the Commodore 64 with cassette tapes and 5 1/4″ floppies and moved my way up through a Packard Bell running Windows 3.11 to building my parents a computer from a barebones kit to building my own PCs from hand-selected parts. This generation can see trends a mile away; both sizes of floppy disks to the Zip disk to CDs to DVDs to Blu-Ray and the now defunct HD-DVD. Where are we headed next? People in my generation are starting to decide and lead those possibilities.
My generation is taking the ideas, the inspirations, and pursuing our dreams to come up with the next big thing. I am not saying that the generations older than us are old and useless. Quite the opposite in fact, the older generations paved the way for us. It was their creations we grew up admiring and inspired by, and they serve as our mentors today. We took what they had for granted and came to understand that we could bend computers to our will. We learned to create content, program computers, and learn more about technology that would increase our capabilities. Similarly, the generations after us took our creations and advances for granted, learning that they could and how to consume all of the new content.
The problem with today
The problem with today is that we are between generations. Many parents don’t understand the full potential, for good or harm, that computers and the Internet provide. We make an “expert” out of what should be common sense with Parry Aftab, Internet Security Expert, promoting her websites and books on Good Morning America. Simply stated, use common sense and everything will be all right. If your child makes a post on the Internet and gets made fun of, don’t reply to the instigators and stop using the service if it’s making you uncomfortable.
As you can tell from the video I labeled as ‘the problem’, her father doesn’t understand the Internet and Internet culture. Don’t yell at this amorphous creature that is “the Internet” and expect it to be intimidated or disciplined. What do you mean you told the cyber police? What exactly are they? Do they exist? I didn’t think so. Instead of yelling at the Internet you just calmly unplug your daughter’s computer and tell her to wait a few years before she goes around making online videos threatening to put a glock in people’s mouths and make a “brain slushy”.
The Internet is uncontrollable and you’re best off not angering them, particularly if you’re an outsider and don’t understand what you’re talking about. Preventing this whole incident from occurring is your job as parents. Perhaps you should teach your daughter to not make a video of herself at the age of 11, post it on the Internet for all to see, and expect nothing to happen as she threatens others and brags about how she is perfect and the prettiest. Junior high is petty, the Internet throws anonymity into the mix. Be smart and you won’t have problems like this.
“I work, how am I supposed to watch everything my kid does online?”
First, put some effort into it. It’s pretty easy to find the resources online or in books offline. Parenting a child online isn’t much different than parenting them offline. Do you let them just walk downtown by themselves? Do you ask where they plan on going when they do go somewhere? Do you ask where they went when they get back? A little conversation might tell you a lot about what’s going on in their online lives as well.
“You’re not a parent. You don’t know what it’s like.”
You’re correct. I’m not a parent but it hasn’t been long enough for me to forget being under my parents’ roof and rules. I’m not accusing you of parenting incorrectly, I’m just saying the rules have changed and parents need to take a proactive approach to protecting their children in today’s tech-driven world. I also have a niece and brother-in-law in this age range that I care about very much so I have an idea about the awkward stage of life kids are in.
“What can I do to protect my kids then?”
A Windows standard user account specifically for your child. If you put a password on the account, it should be something you and the child know. The other accounts should also have passwords that the child doesn’t know so they are always running under their configuration. Then use one of the following…
OpenDNS, which I’ve written about before (part 1, part 2), allows you to filter out content at the DNS level. Since my previous articles, OpenDNS has made it even easier for parents to protect their children with FamilyShield. It blocks adult websites and means to get around the filtering as well as phishing and malware sites. It’s free and so is OpenDNS Basic but FamilyShield has most of the settings pre-configured for protecting your family.
K9 Web Protection – K9 is free for home use and protects your computer from malware while allowing you to filter categories of content on the Internet to allow or block. Setup K9 and secure it so your child can’t disable it or get around it.
Windows Live Family Safety is a part of Windows Live Essentials and is free. It allows you to create Windows accounts for each child and configure each differently for filtering and reporting. Family Safety allows you to filter out websites, see reports of their activity, and monitor who they’re in contact with.
Where technology isn’t the solution
You have to be involved with your kids’ lives. Websites for kids pop up all the time. If you can establish a few safe ones, you’ll be ok. If a kid at school got a Facebook account, you can bet you’ll be asked soon.
Monitoring the use of the Internet is one thing but supervising is even better. While you’re there with your kids you can give some good tips on how to safely browse the web and protect them from over-sharing their information. Some might not even realize it but having a screen-name or e-mail address that is their full name and year of birth (like Janie.Starr1999@yahooligans.com) tells a lot of information to a predator online.
In my opinion, you should be up front that they’re being monitored or filtered. If you have to bring up evidence, it’ll be a separate battle that you’ve betrayed their trust and you’ve been spying on them, even if it’s for their own good.
Perhaps your child shouldn’t have a cell phone or if they do maybe text messages should be blocked from their line. It would probably save you money as well as protecting them from one means of cyberbullying
Listen to the girl. I don’t mean to insult her but she is a child. She sounds like a child, she has the mind of a child. She shouldn’t be responsible for making decisions involving her online life. She has had that responsibility and we can see what resulted.
She also has a real issue with foul language which contradicts the request for people to be polite to her. If you want the Internet to not bully you, you should not make threats, flip them off, tell them to die, or use vulgar language.
Listen to the father. He doesn’t grasp technology. You can’t yell at the camera and make threats to the Internet like you could go to the school to protect your kid from other bullies. If the comments on YouTube were getting too mean then the child should delete the previous videos, stop making new ones, and stop visiting the site. At the very least, the account should be set to private and the videos should only be accessible to people explicitly allowed access.
Use common sense.
As a parent you need to be involved in a child’s online life as well as their offline life. If you can’t be, then some restrictions should be put in place. For example, if you’re worried about them getting online where you can’t control, then they probably shouldn’t have a smart phone that lets them get online anywhere.
Use a web filtering product. I use OpenDNS at home with just myself and my wife because there are plenty of bad things out there that I don’t want to see. OpenDNS helps protect against malware, phishing, and some other categories of things we don’t visit.
I hope this was of some aid. If you have other products you’d like to recommend, please use the comments. If you have contrary opinions, also please share them. I’d love to learn more about what works and what doesn’t and other thoughts on the matter that yesterday’s Good Morning America segment brought to the surface.