The Internet Parent
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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Accountability for Public Behavior

Remember -- YOU are the parent!

It's so important to keep your kids away from dangerous weapons, to teach them how to use them safely, and to keep a close eye when they're playing with dangerous weapons, because lots of people can get hurt...

I came across this article - "Administator Sues Students over MySpace Page" -- by Karla Yeh at the Student Press Law Center. I'm glad it's showing up on a law site, because its an indication of just how serious an issue we're dealing with. And it will only get more serious.

From the article:

Clark High School Assistant Principal Anna Draker sued two of her students last month for libel after they allegedly made personal attacks against her using the Web site claims Benjamin Schreiber and Ryan Todd, both 16 years old, created a MySpace profile for her and posted false information, including doctored photographs, fabricated quotes and information indicating Draker was a lesbian.

Draker is suing both kids for libel, and the parents for negligence. One child is also charged with computer fraud, which is a felony.

So here's a perfect example of what I've posted previously:

  1. Parents are responsible for the family
  2. Parents are responsible for their children's behavior in public
  3. Internet behavior is public behavior.
Don't wait for your family to become a victim of your child's unsupervised public -- Internet -- behavior. Take action to educate and protect your kids.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

What IS Happening on MySpace?

What's the difference between theory and practice? (Read on for the answer...)

A new book is out, called "MySpace Unraveled: A Parent’s Guide to Teen Social Networking". Written by CBS News technology analyst Larry Magrid, and editor Anne Collier, it comes with a good pedigree. And no doubt is worth the read. I haven’t read it yet, but I caught an excerpt published at on September 7th.

The article/excerpt illustrates some very important concepts that adults need to understand about MySpace. It’s a place of identity exploration, community, fun, and typical teenage hijinks. All true, and all, realistically, an inescapable part of the teenage experience.

And it’s more than that - it’s a training ground for kids who are growing up in a world where social networking will be a fundamental part of their lives.

The article goes on to cite the necessity for parents to examine MySpace from a kid’s perspective. I heartily agree. Until you get it into your head just what it is your child is doing and feeling and getting from their MySpace experience, you are doomed to fail in grappling with the deeper issues that lurk there.

Finally, the article talks about MySpace being like a modern version of the malt shop. Kids doing things in front of kids, oblivious to the outside world. “The more things change, the more they stay the same”, offer the authors. They say MySpace is “today’s fear of choice”, comparing it to rock-n-roll of the 50’s, pot-smoking in the 60’s, etc. “Today’s young people will survive this new ‘threat’”, say the authors.

Of course they will.

But all the theory of how social networking is a fundamental part of their future, and how identity experimentation is fundamental to their development, and how kids will always find ways to express themselves in ways that make their parents blush…All that must be contrasted with a reality check.

Within the same week, I found the following articles:

Principal Blames MySpace for Fights
ANNAPOLIS, MD -- September 12 -- Taunting on a popular teen Web site fueled the spate of violence at Annapolis High last week that put nearly 20 students in handcuffs, the school's principal said last night.

Donald Lilley told the school Parent-Teacher-Student Organization that insults flowed through social networking site over the summer and fanned tensions that spilled into the school from three public housing projects.
Those tensions turned into violence when students from the Robinwood, Newtowne 20 and Annapolis Gardens neighborhoods returned to class two weeks ago.

CHS Teens Charged with Beating Found on Remain in Custody
BAKERSFIELD, CA -- September 13 -- Five teens remain in Juvenile Hall on charges they beat a Centennial High School student, videotaped the attack, and then published it on the Internet site
The five teens were arrested once detectives obtained the videotape of them beating another teen girl.

Deputy District Attorney Cindy Norris said the assault on is severe.
“In my opinion,” Norris said, “it’s one of the worst assaults I’ve ever seen on videotape.”

Police: MySpace Fight Involved 150 People
VIRGIL TOWNSHIP, IL -- September 6 -- They logged on looking for a party, but they got a fight.
Police are investigating Wednesday a weekend brawl in Virgil Township some say was set up through It involved as many as 150 people.

Warning for Anyone Using
GRAPEVINE, TX – September 14 -- A warning tonight for parents. Why it's important to know what your children are up to on the internet….

Police in Grapevine, Texas are searching for a man who reportedly tried to lure a teenager out of her home this past weekend. They believe her page on, loaded with personal information, may have led the stranger to her home.

Porn and bullying common on MySpace and Bebo, says Which?
LONDON, UK -- September 14 -- Popular social networking sites such as MySpace and Bebo are putting children at risk of online bullying and inadvertently exposing them to pornography and unsuitable advertising, the consumer affairs magazine Which? has warned.

This comes after Computing Which? set up an account pretending to be a 14-year-old and found "numerous examples" of pornography, bullying and unsuitable advertising on the site, which allows users to create their own web pages, chat to friends and share photographs.

The adult researcher who set up a MySpace account as a teenager was able to do so without proving age or identity. The sites claim to monitor uploaded images, but researchers came across pornographic photographs on both "within minutes".

Study shows too much 'sex' on
FRESNO, CA – September 15
A new study reveals the ‘sexier’ and more dangerous side of
A Fresno State professor studied 700 web pages to discover more than half of users surveyed had some kind of sexual content on their individual pages.

In fact, she says the worst content was found on the younger users sites. She found sexual material on 71% of pages belonging to 14 and 15 year olds.

So, what’s happening on MySpace? What are YOUR kids doing? And who are they being influenced by?

The authors of "MySpace Unraveled" give a nod to proper parenting and the reality that content on MySpace can live on forever. But unless the rest of the book steps down from the theoretical benefits of MySpace, and wrestles with its gritty reality, I’m afraid it all comes down to:

What’s the difference between theory and practice? Of course. “In theory, there’s NO difference.”

We have to live with “practice”. And so do our kids.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Unmaking a mistake

Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune posted a column (registration required) entitled "Time to reboot a parenting plan that backfired". Eric made the mistake of putting a computer in the bedroom of his 16-year-old son. Oops. Grades slipped. Behavior changed. Isolation and distance increased.

What to do?

Well, Eric, you have found yourself in one of the classic Internet Parenting dilemmas. We're all struggling with this kind of problem. You close your column with reluctance to "succumb to using adversarial Internet-filtering and monitoring technology that he's probably smart enough to circumvent anyway..."

Let's start with some basic observations:
  • The entire range of human behavior, from the most inspired and noble, to the most depraved and dispicable, is available on the Internet.
  • Internet behavior is Public behavior. Anything you say and do on the Internet (and anywhere you go, for that matter) needs to be considered something you are doing in public.
  • The Internet is forever. Anything you say and do, and anywhere you go, can inconveniently become part of the endlessly swirling and loosely controlled "public record".
Now, think about your relationship with your son. What is your job? What is any parent's job? Let's split it into two pieces:
  • Teach your kids to make good judgements, be responsible for their actions, do what's right.
  • Provide a safe environment for them to learn to do that.
How do you do these two things? A variety of ways, including supervision, conversation, rules and limits, etc., etc.

Let's look at these two sets of observations together and see where it leads.

One part of fulfilling your job as a parent is to supervise your son, so you can "teach and coach" good decision making, and so you can "block and redirect" to keep him safe should he careen towards an abyss. Less and less as he gets older for sure, but certainly, when the stakes are high and he's treading into unfamiliar territory.

Would you agree that at least some part of THE ENTIRE RANGE OF HUMAN BEHAVIOR qualifies as unfamiliar (and high-risk) territory? OK, then that means you need to be supervising your son while he's on the 'net.

How about public behavior? You expect your son should know how to behave in public by now, right? OK, but what if he doesn't realize he's in public? Would you make it your job to alert him to that fact, and help him adjust his behavior accordingly? Internet behavior is public behavior. Anything you do on the Internet is something you are doing in public. Yet, contrast that with the "experience" that you are doing it in the privacy of your home (or in your son's case, behind the closed door of his bedroom) and you'll see why kids don't get it. This devilish paradox is probably the most important epiphany you and your child need to reach.

And, as a "public record", the Internet is equally misleading. Your son and his peers have no doubt indulged themselves in MySpace or Xanga or other social networking sites. Here's the thing -- they don't think that's "public" or permanent. What have they posted? Is it something they would want a prospective employer to see? MySpace is a misnomer. MyBillboard is more like it. Or, perhaps, more honestly, "My-File-Of-Youthful-Indescretions-And-Juvenile-Behavior-

If the world had a permanent public record of what your son was "into" five years ago, would he want it on display somewhere, searchable and indexed for easy access?

You, as a parent, have a long history of managing your son's public behavior, and he has a long history of acknowledging your right to do so. Use that NOW. The Internet is not "just for cool, teenage friends of mine". It's used by everybody -- friend, creep, teacher, suit. It's the biggest public square ever to exist. Is what he's doing something you and he would be happy for the world to see? For the neighbors to see? For his college admissions board to see?

The bottom line is -- you are well within your rights, and frankly, I'd suggest obligated by your responsibilities, as a parent to introduce supervision into your son's Internet experience. And if you can't do it by standing over his shoulder (even while the computer is no longer in his room), you'll have to get some software to help. It's not "Spying". It's "Supervising" and "Coaching".

It's also your job.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

A Prisoner of your Seductive Nectar

You're Never Too Young to be an Addict...

Here's an abridged post from the K9 Web Protection Users Forum that I felt might be illuminating to share. The writer, a kid, entitled it "A Prisoner of your Seductive Nectar".

Parents, you are not alone in facing these kinds of frightening challenges. Kids, if your parents are showing you this, you are not alone either.

We don't have a Surgeon General's warning on porn like we do on cigarettes.

But we should.

So my Mom absolutely loves your program. She actually can keep control of me now!

So, yeah, I used to be a very avid viewer of Pornography, and I'm not embarassed about it either. 90% of all males masturbate...But I can't see the harm in visual aid, rather than imagination? I think people [complain about] sex so much in the Media. That makes the problem worse. It makes sex taboo. It makes it a forbidden fruit.

Now that Pornography has been taken away from me. I want it more than ever before.

The more people hide from sex, the more Taboo it gets.

Sex is a natural thing. People fantasize all the time. It's something you really can't get around as a human being. I don't think Pornography is going to encourage them at all. Because it's already hardwired into our heads that at this point in our lives sex is a big thing. (The hormones and what-have you).

I donno where I was going with this. Probably more of a selfish joust against my keepers. But still. Censorship isn't the way of the future. Knowledge is power. When you know about something, you gain control of it.

I look at Pornography, but I also learned all about Sex in School from Sex Ed. Just like every other kid in the US. I've seen what herpes can do. All of those delightful STD's. As do many other kids.

I don't think Pornography is going to really effect people's choices. If they want sex, I don't think Pornography really makes a difference.

Goodness I've gotten a little carried away. How many times can I rephrase the same point? (*Laughing*)

I'm curious as to your replies.

My reply:
You're right about sex. It's a natural thing. And a very powerful thing.

And pornographers know just how to manipulate your sexual attention and desire. Especially if you're a teenager, just going through that "raging hormones" thing.

There's the old saying "Sex sells." Imagine how effectively "sex sells" when it's selling sex. The pornographer is hijacking the most powerful wiring you have, driving your brain to produce chemicals that push you into a cycle of craving and satisfaction over and over again.

You say,
"Now that Pornography has been taken away from me. I want it more than ever before."

And then you say

"Knowledge is power. When you know about something, you gain control of it."

It sounds more like you've lost control than gained control. Your desire has increased. Like a junkie who needs a fix.

The knowledge you need is that the pornographers are manipulating you! And that it's possible that you have become addicted to the natural high you get from viewing it. Nature doesn't deliver the kind of intense stimulation, the kind of potent high that you get from Internet porn, from a real sexual relationship, because real sex with a real person in a real relationship takes a lot more work than just clicking and surfing and fantasizing. So you're chain is being yanked, your wires are being crossed, and the folks who are doing it aren't in it for your benefit. They're in it for the money. If they can get you hooked early, they will.

You say,

"I don't think Pornography is going to really effect people's choices. If they want sex, I don't think Pornography really makes a difference."

Can't you see that it already has? It's already twisted and pushed you and countless others into behaviors and cravings that for many have escalated beyond an occasional indulgence, beyond a hobby, into a compulsion and an obsession? Why are you still hunting for porn? Why is your craving stronger than ever? Because, perhaps, you've become addicted. Have you noticed that it's hard to get the images out of your head? That even when you don't want to think about it, you still do?

That's one of the reasons parents try to keep their kids away from porn. Sex ed is nothing like porn. Intimate relationships that include sex are nothing like porn. Porn is about whipping you up, and calling you back again and again.

K9 isn't about making sex taboo. We've just recognized how addictive pornography can be, and we want to help parents keep it away from their kids, so their kids don't become victims.

Just like the tobacco industry, the porn industry knows that its product is addictive. Just like the tobacco industry, they want to get you hooked when you're young. And just like the tobacco industry, they don't really care what it does to you. They argue that "people have the right" to this kind of material. But they won't be accountable for its addicitive nature, and the social costs associated with those addictions. Why should they be, when we as a society don't demand it?

Kids, if you follow what I'm saying, and you think it might have some truth, and you want help to get "un-addicted", there are resources out there that can make a difference. It's never too late to try to overcome an addiction. Do some research. If you think you might be addicted, ask for help.

And parents, don't ignore the problem. You wouldn't just ignore it if your kid (or your neighbor's kid) was hooked on cocaine, speed, or heroin, right? This kid's on to something when he talks about sex being "taboo" -- sex and pornography as a topic for discussion among neighbors certainly is taboo. But we all owe it to our community's mental health to help raise awareness, even if it's a little uncomfortable.

Step out and get involved.