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Friday, September 11, 2009

Teen drivers: Take a 'text stop'

That's the suggestion Det. Frank Dannahey, a longtime youth division officer who has a lot of experience with the texting-while-driving issue, gives teen drivers he knows. "Just like a rest stop on the highway, you could pull over, get a latte, and text yourself silly!!", he wrote.

Following the news that people who text on their cellphones while driving are 23 times more likely to crash than "nondistracted drivers" (see this earlier post), Detective Dannahey and other members of a great group of researchers and children's advocates recently had an email discussion about how to educate teens on this subject. One suggested that training include the gauge-your-distraction game written up in the New York Times recently. Another that teens be shown the very graphic, frightening accident video out of the UK that has been circulating the Net lately (and can be found, with a caveat, at the bottom of co-director Larry Magid's CNET post on the subject).

But I appreciated the tip from Dannahey combined with some wisdom from other discussants particularly in response to the graphic video suggestion. Patti Agatston, a counselor in the Cobb County (Ga.) School District, wrote that "those of us who work in the prevention field have learned that smashed up cars in front of high schools during red ribbon week and ... have had little impact in changing youth behavior. I have been in an audience where a health practitioner showed actual car crash slides with dead bodies and actually heard kids cheer. (Remember - they are often desensitized to violence and have watched many slasher movies, so the effect is not always as intended.)"

Stan Davis of Stop Bullying Now in Maine said that we do need to come up with "new ways to deal with [young people's] fear of being out of touch.... Just saying 'don't do it!' is not much help.... The other elements of success involve peers communicating a norm in a positive way, portrayal of the positive rather than the risky behaviors in media, and activities that give teens a chance to practice the safe behaviors and thus develop self-efficacy about them."

At face value, handing the phone to a "designated texter" in the car would seem like a good idea, but Detective Dannahey cautioned against training kids to pass their phones around. The person at the other end might feel misled about who the texter at the other end is. Even if meant as a joke, impersonation can lead to hurt feelings. And it can be abused, as we know happens in social network sites. Bad things can happen when kids pass around personal communication devices and the passwords into them. Passwords, especially, need to be private (see our tips for creating strong passwords). I loved this suggestion from psychologist Elizabeth Englander, who directs the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center in Bridgewater, Mass., that we teach our kids: "Rule your phone, don’t let your phone [or your friends] rule you."

While we're on the subject, reports that the Governors Highway Safety Association is now proposing banning texting while driving.

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US's first Net-addiction center

The Internet addiction center, called ReSTART, is in Fall City, Washington, about 30 miles east of Seattle. It offers a $14,000, 45-day program designed to help people (six at a time) end their addictions to "pathological computer use, which can include obsessive use of video games, texting, Facebook, eBay, Twitter and any other time-killers brought courtesy of technology," according to an article in the Washington Post. The founders, therapists, say they've been helping patients with Net addiction for years on an out-patient basis. "Internet addiction is not recognized as a separate disorder by the American Psychiatric Association, and treatment is not generally covered by insurance. But there are many such treatment centers in China, South Korea and Taiwan - where Internet addiction is taken very seriously - and many psychiatric experts say it is clear that Internet addiction is real and harmful," according to the article. Some sources say obsessive use of technologies is a sign of other disorders such as depression, anxiety, or "social phobic symptoms," issues that "make it hard for them to live a full, balanced life and deal face-to-face with other people."

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

YouTube now No. 4 on the Web

Online video is just huge and growing. YouTube is now the fourth most visited site on the Web, globally, according to, citing comScore figures for this past July. YouTube had 120.3 million viewers in July, over one-third of the US population, and in that one month, they watched 8.9 million videos. "What may be more shocking is the average number of videos per viewer: 134.9. That’s nearly five YouTube videos per day." Here's The Guardian on how peace recently broke out between YouTube and the music industry. And here's on how one teacher made the case for using YouTube at school.

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comScore: Teens flocking to Twitter now

"As the Twitter audience has mushroomed in recent months – to 21 million US visitors in July 2009 – the younger age groups are the ones flooding in the fastest," the comScore blog says about the micro-blogging service. In fact, people under 35 are "fueling Twitter's continued growth," with July usage spread evenly among the 12-17, 18-24, and 25-34 age categories, blogger Andrew Lipsman shows very visually with his growth charts.

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

President Obama to US students: Practice new-media literacy

Work hard to find and pursue your unique contribution was the basic message I heard the President tell American students this week – what I think the US's founding fathers and mothers meant by "pursuit of happiness" in their historical context. More to the point for NetFamilyNews and its readers, though, was something he said in the Q&A session with students after his 19-min. speech at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Va., that Reuters zoomed in on: that they need to be careful about what they post in social network sites because what they upload "could come back to haunt them in later life," according to Reuters. "The presidential words of advice follow recent studies that suggest US employers are increasingly turning to sites such as Facebook and News Corp's MySpace to conduct background checks on job applicants."

You could say that the President of the United States is promoting new-media literacy – the kind of media literacy that employs critical thinking about what we say, upload, and produce online and with digital media as much as what we see, download, and consume. I use "new-media literacy" interchangeably with "social-media literacy" (see this post), but really we're also talking about a new kind of media literacy (unhyphenated) that employs all the old media-literacy skills while embracing new (interactive, multidirectional) media delivered on multiple devices and platforms; the old one-to-many mass media still exist, are definitely in the mix, but we are not truly media literate any more if we are mindful only of what we're consuming. Media use is behavioral now, too, right? I'm glad that smart student asked Obama "for some advice on becoming US president." Social media are a factor now, and the new media literacy is protective of reputations, prospects, friendships, and safety, as well as good for social and cognitive development.

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

UK youth want online-privacy advice

Ofcom, the UK's communications-industry regulator, found that 54% of UK 11-to-16-year-olds want more advice about online privacy. In other findings, 28% believe "information is needed on how to keep security information such as passwords and PIN numbers safe"; 22% "want more information on how to avoid inappropriate content online"; and 20% "want more advice on how to deal with cyberbullying." They're saying this even though nearly 75% of 7-to-16-year-olds "say they have received some information about staying safe online" (23% "say no-one has talked to them about online safety). Meanwhile, Ofcom's US counterpart, the FCC, is looking at the possibility of a universal rating system for Americans, covering TV, videogames, and mobile phones, reports - a somewhat limited sense of "universal," to my mind. The Entertainment Software Rating Board, provider of videogame ratings, says universal ratings would only confuse consumers, as well as violate the First Amendment, DMW adds. [Here's Bloomberg's coverage.]

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More on sex-offender registry flaws

California's sex-offender registry is growing much faster than the number of law enforcement people who can monitor the people on it, the Wall Street Journal reports. Not all offenders on the list pose the same level of risk, and law enforcement people say that much more helpful than a list of every possible level of offender on it would be one listing only the highest-risk offenders. "California's sex-offender registry has ballooned to more than 90,000 people now from about 45,000 in 1994," the Journal reports, adding that a December study of some 20,000 RSOs on parole found that only "9% posed a 'high risk' of reoffending, and 29% posed a 'moderate-high' to 'high' risk." Meanwhile, "law-enforcement officials and academics say vast resources are spent monitoring nonviolent offenders rather than keeping closer tabs on more-dangerous ones."

In "Prevention of childhood sexual abuse," soon to be published in The Future of Children, David Finkelhor refers to sex-offender registries as representing one of the main strategies our society has for preventing abuse and points to its flaws. It's "based on an overly stereotyped characterization of sexual abusers as pedophiles, guileful strangers who prey on children in public and other easy-access environments and who are at high risk to re-offend once caught. In reality," says the director of the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center, "the population is much more diverse. Most sexual abusers are not strangers or pedophiles; many (about a third) are themselves juveniles. Many have relatively low risks for re-offending once caught." Dr. Finkelhor adds that possibly the greatest shortcoming of current "offender management" efforts is that "only a small percentage of new offenders have a prior sex offense record" that would have put them in sex-offender registries. As if to confirm the findings in the Wall Street Journal piece above, Finkelhor "recommends using law enforcement resources to catch more undetected offenders and concentrating intensive management efforts on those at highest risk to re-offend." This preview of Finkelhor's article is at [See also my earlier post about a recent report on this in The Economist.]


Monday, September 07, 2009

Echometrix: Monitoring *and* selling kids' chat

With its Sentry Parental Control Software, Echometrix sells what kids say online in the name of protecting them. Once installed, Sentry – like other products in its category – monitors kids online activity and communications for risky speech and behavior and sends parents alerts upon detection. What isn't like most other such products is how the company packages the kid communications (in aggregate) into a product it sells to marketers, reports's Larry Magid in Echometrix CEO Jeffrey Greene, told Larry that "the company doesn't collect or report the names or any identifying information about the children" but "says that it delivers the unsolicited raw conversations in real time. It gives marketers immediate, unique information about what teens are saying in their own words." Here's how Echometrix describes itself in its blog: "a leading developer of opinion mining and sentiment analysis applications for user-generated digital social media content with specialty industry focus. We have specialized in delivering brand metrics, real-time business intelligence and consumer market research for the teenage consumer segment." See a detailed commentary on this in Amy Jussel's Shaping Youth blog. And here's the story in Yahoo Tech news .

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