Post in our forum for parents, teens - You! - at

Friday, April 03, 2009

New, holistic anti-bullying program for schools

Parents and educators may be interested in a groundbreaking new approach to anti-bullying instruction. Called "CAPSULE" for "Creating a Peaceful Learning Environment," the program focuses on the entire school community instead of just on aggressive kids and teaches the need to understand rather than react to others, ScienceDaily reports. CAPSULE creates "a climate where feelings [are] labelled and distress acknowledged as legitimate, with the ultimate aim of changing the way the entire school social system views bullying." The program has been tested in nine US elementary schools and the study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. "CAPSLE schools were compared with schools receiving no intervention and those using only School Psychiatric Consultation (SPC), where children with the most significant behavioral problems were assessed and referred for counseling." This may sound strange, but this approach reminds me of the kind, intuitive way British elementary school teacher Poppy handled a little bully in her class in the 2008 movie Happy-Go-Lucky. And, if not the CAPSULE program itself, similar listening skills reportedly have been applied by middle school principal Aaron Hansen in Ely, Nevada, Fox News reports.

Labels: , , , , ,

Webcams: Positive, negative

They're increasingly ubiquitous (many computers come with them built in), and people are using webcams for everything from face-to-face conversations with distant relatives to conducting live television interviews to documenting their love lives. WebProNews reports that Facebook receives some 260,000 video uploads per day, with 155,000 of them from webcams," which works out to about 59.6%. Here's a good example of the technology's upside that doesn't as readily come to mind: The Washington Post tells the story of how using a Webcam allows 7-year-old leukemia patient Becky "to join her first-grade class almost every morning in solving math problems, listening to poetry and working on group projects." She's one of six patients in Georgetown University Hospital's pediatric oncology program who are using a Webcam to keep up with school, and Becky's first-grade teacher told the Post that the Webcam has exceeded her expectations as an academic tool.


Thursday, April 02, 2009

Teens' online friends = offline friends: Study

Fresh evidence this week that most teens use the Web to socialize with their "real life" friends - "people they already know rather than strangers who might turn out to be predators," USATODAY reports. A study of students in grades 9-12 by University of California researchers "will be presented at a meeting of the Society of Research in Child Development" this week, and similar findings were "published last year in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology." Among the former's key findings: For 44% of youth surveyed, using social network sites "had no effect on their relationship with their friends and 43% said it made them closer; 5% had "friends known only from the Internet."

Labels: , , , , ,

Sign of the (videogame) times

Actually, it's a sign of the new-media times: A videogame magazine - Game Informer, circ. 3,517,598 - passed up Playboy, Time, Cosmopolitan, Sports Illustrated and came "strikingly close" to People in the readership rankings, BlastMagazine reports, citing BurrellesLuce research. One qualifier (better understood by gamers and GameStop customers): "It must be noted that GameStop is the proprietor of Game Informer and the mag is issued with every pressure- and fear-induced Edge Card sale. Nevertheless, GI is a quality 'zine with an educated staff of writers and hosts a plethora of valuable content."

Labels: , , ,

Now available: Tips to prevent 'sexting'

Hey, readers. Will you help us spread the word and make "sexting" a short-lived trend (by minimizing the number of children being prosecuted!)? We just posted our Tips to Prevent Sexting at They're based on solid research - conversations with police, prosecutors, and legal scholars at local, state, and federal levels). If we missed or muddied anything, feedback most welcome! In any case, we think that, once they have the facts, teens themselves will help minimize this problem.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Fight videos: The new '15 min. of fame'?

Of fame or infamy? Who knows how many such "brawls" are staged for YouTube, but eSchoolNews reports that growing numbers of students rush to the scene with videocams and phones when they hear "Fight! Fight!", and "some of those videos have been viewed more than a million times." The upside is that school authorities who miss the fight itself can use the YouTube version to ID participants, they told eSchoolNews.

Labels: ,

Sexting, the video version

This story illustrates how child porn law applies to a lot more than still photos on phones. Police in Massachusetts are "investigating charges" against three teens who they alleged recorded video of two engage in sex and distributed the video to junior high students, WCBV TV Boston reported. In addition to child-pornography charges, statutory rape and wiretapping charges are being considered, police said (the latter if audio was involved). "Police said the video was taken at a home, not at the school. The alleged victim, a girl under 16, told them she did not realize she was being captured on cell phone. She went to police with her parents when she realized the video was circulating," WCBV added.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Conficker worm help (aka April Fool's worm)

It has been all over the news today, so a quick summary on what to do if you're concerned about family computers getting infected: You can see if your computers are ok by checking if they have MS08-067 installed. How? The exact steps depend on what version of Windows is on the particular PC, but they go pretty much like this: Go to Start > Control Panel > Programs > View installed updates. If you see among them "Security Update for Microsoft Windows (KB958644)," your machine's all set. That update was issued last October, so if your family's doing automatic security updates, everybody's fine. If you don't see that update in the list, go to, search for the MS08-067 security update, and install it. Here's CNET's live blog on the Conficker worm, TrendMicro's guide, Symantec's guide, and's Larry Magid talking about it on NPR's Talk of the Nation.

Labels: , , ,

Major update on Net predators: CACRC study

As scary as some of the reports covering it may make it look, there's a lot of good news for online youth in the much-anticipated new study from UNH's Crimes Against Children Research Center, "Trends in Arrests of Online Predators." I hope the news coverage doesn't focus solely on the nearly five-fold increase in online predator arrests since the CACRC's last such study in 2000, but even if it does, that finding points to great preventive police work throughout the US (in 2006, 87% of those arrests involved police posing as teens, not real young people, the study found). Those arrests likely prevented crimes against children, and they're sending the message that cops are out there patrolling "the neighborhood."

But there's a lot of other positive news in the report. For example...

  • Between the CACRC's last study of Net-related predation arrests and this one, there was only a "modest" increase - 21% - of arrests of offenders soliciting young people, its authors report, "from an estimated 508 arrests in 2000 to an estimated 615 in 2006," at a time when the number of US 12-to-17-year-olds online went from 73% to 93%, or more than 25 million, in 2006, and when their Internet use was getting a lot more social.
  • Overall sex offenses against youth declined during this period, and Internet-initiated child sexual exploitation constituted only 1% of overall child sexual exploitation.
  • Despite all the hype about registered sex offenders, only a tiny percentage of the arrests surveyed were of registered sex offenders, which indicates that, while blocking them from sites may reduce, it by no means stops sexual solicitation (and we already knew that a significant percentage of the solicitations come from peers).
  • Not good news, but a notable finding in the study is that there has been "a significant increase in arrests of young adult offenders, ages 18 to 25," which also challenges the image of "predators" presented in the news media.

    What about social networking?

    Now let's zoom in on what the authors say about online social networking - not just because it's so important to our kids (and statistically of growing use to us too), but also because of all the hype and news coverage about predators in social network sites since 2005:

  • "There was no evidence that online predators were stalking or abducting unsuspecting victims based on information they posted at social networking sites.
  • "The nature of crimes in which online predators used the Internet to meet and victimize youth changed little between 2000 and 2006, despite the advent of social networking sites."

    Going even further, USATODAY later cited the view of study lead author David Finkelhor that "ongoing studies show that being on a social networking site doesn't create risk for sexual victimization."

    Where the risk is

    The key to cutting through all the hype and really protecting kids from online predators is in understanding where the risk really lies. Since social networking hit the public radar screen in late 2005, the misconception has grown that the problem lies in a particular technology or "place" online. Dr. Finkelhor put it this way in an email the day the study was released: "The SNS [social-network sites] issue like the age authentication solution is all about mistaking the problem as one of 'access'," he told me. "It’s not about access. It’s about what kids do when interacting online: behaviors."

    As for what those behaviors are, Dr. Finkelhor spelled some of them out in a CBS/CNET interview for Larry Magid, my co-director: talking about sex with strangers in a lot of different places online, especially chatrooms about sex and romance, and getting into sexual relationships with people met online (see also "Profile of a teen online victim" from a talk Finkelhor gave in 2007).

    "I think the messages [about online safety] need to warn kids about the very risky things they can do in their adolescent naivete and interest in exploring the world," he told Larry. Finkelhor added a risk-prevention behavior that both the Internet industry and all child safety advocates can help promote: "We also need to encourage other people online, the bystanders, people who know these young people or see these interactions on various sites, to report it, to caution the kids about what they're doing, to intervene, to begin to feel they need to take some action to short-circuit what they're seeing might happen." Watching each other's backs, I'm hearing Finkelhor suggest. One of the country's top experts on online safety is pointing to the need to foster digital citizenship.

    Related links

  • "Social norming for risk prevention"
  • MySpace's PR problem
  • "Social media literacy: The new Internet safety"
  • "Pennsylvania case study: Social networking risk in context"

    Labels: , , , , , ,

  • Teen sexting prosecutions: Negative reactions

    A federal judge has barred a Pennsylvania prosecutor from filing child pornography charges against three teenage girls in a sexting case. "US District Judge James Munley said he was issuing a restraining order on Wyoming County District Attorney George Skumanick because his proposed action would violate freedom of speech and parental rights," Reuters reports. The ruling came after the ACLU last week said it would sue District Attorney Skumanick for his approach to child-pornography law (see my item on this). Also last week, Maureen Kanka, "the mother of the New Jersey girl whose death inspired Megan's Law," criticized "prosecutors who charge teenagers with child porn for distributing nude photos of themselves," the Associated Press reported. Apparently she was referring to a New Jersey case in which a 14-year-old girl was charged with distributing child pornography for posting nude photos of herself on MySpace. Kanka said the prosecutors "are harming the children more than helping them."

    Labels: , , , ,

    Monday, March 30, 2009

    Undercover Mom in ClubPenguin, Part 6: Old-fashioned pretend play in a new-fangled world

    by Sharon Duke Estroff

    During my time on Club Penguin, I became a regular at the local pizzeria. I liked it because of the cliché Italian piano music, the cozy candle-lit tables, and the fiery brick oven; but mostly because of the friendly waiters and waitresses who never, ever delivered my pizza.

    Sure, I was initially stumped over how I could have given my order to 16 separate penguins and not have as much as a slice to show for it, but then I realized that these avatars/kids were only pretending to be waiters and waitresses. And they thought I was pretending to be a customer. We were playing the old "let's pretend" game in a new sort of setting.

    Mom Break: Charming? Yes. Strictly worry-free? No. After all, it may walk like a penguin and talk like a penguin, but that doesn’t mean it's a penguin. Unlike traditional imaginative play, kids didn’t dream up this bustling restaurant scene on Club Penguin; graphic designers did it for them. The storylines were fueled not by children’s imaginations but by the robotic clicks of a computer mouse.

    I’ve learned during my years of studying child psychology that childhood is a learning process by design, and old-fashioned pretend play is an essential, integral part of the curriculum. Dress-up games and tea parties aren’t just remnants of the retro-childhood, they're the building blocks of imagination and the means by which children weave together all the elements of life as they experience it. As traditional low-tech playtime progressively gives way to high-tech virtual playtime, the concern over its impact on millennial children is real and far-reaching. It's up to us millennial parents to maintain a consistent balance for our kids between real and virtual fun.

    That said, I want to end this one on a positive note: Unlike the cyberbullying and romancing I describe in earlier Undercover Mom installments, I ultimately found the pretend play in the pizzeria to be more refreshing than concerning. You see, while those cyber-waiters and -waitresses might not have delivered my pizza, they served up something far more delicious to me: precious glimmers of hope that in every age and every generation, in this world and the virtual one, childhood will prevail.

    Note from editor Anne Collier: Here are views from another respected source, Izzy Neis, a long-time moderator of kids' virtual worlds and online communities....

  • How children use (and implement) their imaginations in ClubPenguin
  • How young CP users' own seemingly impossible idea - actually tipping the iceberg - compares to Izzy's amazing experience of children's imaginative play and storyline creation on the beach

    A conclusion Izzy posted last spring: "Basically, kids want to be included in the magic, they want to build empires from scratch, they want to emotionally invest themselves in seemingly-silliness, etc. It’s fun. It’s a release. It’s escapism – all the while feeling included and excited. I see this play pattern/behavior all the time on Club Penguin. From 'snowball' wars ... to parties in the igloo (much more fun in theory and planning and rounding up than the actual dancing part). Club Penguin provides tools… triggers… that allow the users to 'go to town' - making up their own rules & play. Club Penguin tries to support by facilitating pieces of storyline - just enough of a taste that the users will run away with the end."

    Here's an index to all issues of Undercover Mom to date.

    Labels: , , ,