Keeping Kids Out of High-Tech Trouble (page 3)
Consider the following actual excerpts from various media reports:
- A high school freshman has been suspended over the posting on MySpace.com of a 15-second video recorded in a high school classroom. It is the second time this month that high school students in Morris County were suspended over postings on MySpace.com. The video was posted on the popular social networking website by a user whose profile describes him as a 14-year-old from Flanders. The video caption explains that the clip features a substitute teacher’s reaction to a student who asked whether the substitute “does coke.” 2
- The use of modern means of interpersonal and mass communication has become an essential part of being young. Technology has enabled two people to connect with each other virtually anywhere and at any time, a privilege that, according to new research, is often abused by youngsters and cutting into their sleep time. A study published in the September 2007 issue of the journal SLEEP finds that cell phone use after bedtime is very prevalent among adolescents, and its use is related to increased levels of tiredness after one year. 3
- A high school senior who threatened the lives of at least two other students is set to face criminal charges as an adult, authorities said. Patrick, 17, was arrested after he allegedly warned a friend in MySpace.com postings and cell phone text messages to prepare for “bloodshed and a lot of people crying.” Police believe the teenager intended the warning for his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend, who are also students at McAllen Memorial. Officers would not say Tuesday whether they had found any evidence that Patrick had intended to act upon the threat. In an e-mail message sent through MySpace.com, authorities say Patrick told his friend that he was not angry at his ex-girlfriend for leaving him, but that he wanted to get even. After the initial messages, the teen sent two text messages to his friend, saying that his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend were going to learn the meaning of pain, the affidavit states. 4
- A 67-year-old man who says he doesn’t even like watching movies has been sued by the film industry for copyright infringement after a grandson of his downloaded four movies on their home computer. The Motion Picture Association of America filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against Fred Lawrence of Racine, seeking as much as $600,000 in damages for downloading four movies over the Internet file-sharing service iMesh. The suit was filed after Lawrence refused a March offer to settle the matter by paying $4,000. 5
- A 15-year-old girl was back in Vermont Thursday, two days after going to Maine with a man she met on the Internet, police said. Ashley, of St. Albans, was found at an interstate rest area in Maine, with Chad, 18, of Rangeley. Police say the two met on the Internet. Investigators are trying to determine how long the two had been corresponding. 6
- A suspected sexual predator made a date with a teenage girl but instead met up with the Fort Myers Police Department. Jack Rojas is the 25th man caught in an undercover sting designed to catch sexual predators. Police say Rojas insisted on meeting the undercover officer pretending to be a teenage girl. 7
- A 17-year-old student who posted on his blog site that he was being bullied and threatened by the Plainfield School District will face an expulsion hearing this week, a local attorney said. 8
- Nicole was just 12 years old in the summer of 2004 when she started chatting online with a 27-year-old man who called himself “Michael.” The pair talked multiple times a day on the computer for weeks, until Michael thought it was time for them to meet in person. Nicole managed to keep her dangerous new “friend” a secret from her mother; it was a terrifying secret that Nicole says nearly cost her her life. Lucky for Nicole, her mother wasn’t fooled long. 9
- Franklin County authorities are investigating a text-messaging chain reaction in which high school students were passing around pornographic images by cellphone. Students at Franklin County High School were sending around pornographic images of one or more minors, said Maj. Josh Carter of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office. “It was a domino effect,” Carter said, adding that at least 15 students — and possibly many more — forwarded the image. 10
- A high school teacher was charged with sending nude pictures of herself and sex-related text messages to the cell phone of a 14-year-old student. Beth Ann hester, a 26-year-old health and physical education teacher at Moon Area High School in suburban Pittsburgh, was charged with sexual abuse of children, statutory sexual assault and related counts. Chester sent three pictures of herself, two of them naked, to the boy’s cell phone, police said. The student replied with a naked picture of himself, authorities said. 11
- Hate groups are slowly but increasingly using the World Wide Web to appeal to women and children, according to a report by the Anti Defamation League, an organization that fights bigotry and has been monitoring the use of the Web by hate groups since 1995. The report, found that in the past two years, hate sites have added special pages aimed at broadening their influence. “It’s a way to bring people into the movement,” said Jordan B. Kessler, the author of the report, “Poisoning the Web: Hatred Online.” Sites aimed at teen-agers, in particular “skinhead” pages featuring music with a white supremacist message, have been around for several years. Three sites found in the group’s survey, however, were clearly aimed at a younger crowd, Kessler said. 12
- San Francisco just launched the nation’s first text-messaging program aimed to shoot instant cellphone messages to sexually active young people seeking advice about sex and health. The service focuses on everything from what to do “if ur condom broke” to whom to call “if ur feeling down ... like u wanna xcape ur life.” 13
- One in five young people has been bullied by mobile phone or via the Internet, a study suggests. Children’s charity NCH surveyed 770 youngsters and found 14% of 11- to 19-year-olds had been threatened or harassed using text messages. Bullies had used images taken with mobile phone cameras to intimidate or embarrass one in 10 young people. This included singling out overweight or spotty youngsters and recording and sharing acts of playground violence. The findings follow reports of so-called “happy slapping” attacks - where assaults on children and adults are recorded on mobile phones and sent via video messaging. 14
- Hot, steamy and now downloadable: “Aural sex” shimmies into the podcast as “podnog-raphy” trend takes off. It didn’t take long for sex to rear its heavy-breathing head in the world of podcasting. Now, in addition to free audio shows on music, politics and sports available for downloading onto your handy-dandy MP3 players, you can access old-fashioned — or not so old-fashioned — sexcasts as well, for repeated aural pleasure. “Is it surprising? Absolutely not. It’s inevitable,” says Mike McGuire, a technology analyst at GartnerG2 in San Jose. Anytime a new technology emerges, he says, sex quickly gets in on the action. Also known as “podnography,” sexcasts are audio clips that anyone can record by using a computer. 15
- Lee Waters, a high school teacher in Orlando, Fla., was the subject of an Internet offense last month. A student posted a picture of Waters on a Website and attached to it demeaning sexual comments. School officials suspended the student and Waters filed a lawsuit against the youth in an effort to make a statement about the seriousness of Internet pranks. In another case, Swissvale police brought harassment charges against a Catholic school boy who posted a phony profile on MySpace.com in which he indicated a schoolmate was homosexual. 16
These are a few of the literally thousands of stories where kids, using the Internet to have fun and meet “friends,” found themselves in more trouble than they could have imagined. According to Michael Josephson, founder of the CHARACTER COUNTS! Coalition, computers and the World Wide Web have literally changed the world by giving us access to myriad types of information, opening foreign and novel places for our perusal and letting us meet all kinds of people, almost instantly. 17 Most of the information is useful and interesting, or at least trivial and harmless. Most of the people in chat rooms are ordinary kids simply looking for a new friend or exchanging information with old ones. And, he says, that’s the problem – and it’s a growing one. He goes on to note that chat rooms and e-mails can be a virtual fantasyland. You can pretend to be anybody or anything you want. Unseen and anonymous, you can be “cool” in a chat room. That’s awfully appealing to an awkward, isolated and “misunderstood” youth. And it’s also appealing to predators looking for children to exploit: lonely children, children looking for excitement, children looking for affection, children susceptible to a fantasy.
It can happen when children are at home, in their rooms, all during the aura of silence and safety. The truth, however, is that if we are not careful, strangers can “virtually” enter our homes and groom our child to be the victim of a kidnapping, sexual assault, molestation, or other incomprehensible act. We may reduce our anxiety about the potential risks by telling ourselves that only other children are vulnerable, that it could not happen to us. Or, you might convince yourself that your child is smart enough to ward off any suspicious activity. However, Internet predators and scammers are equal opportunity victimizers who sense vulnerability and are good at making their mark. All children are susceptible no matter what their level of intelligence. They are children. Those who intend to do harm rely on “creeping complacency.” They slowly massage the egos of our children, befriend them, and create a veil of trust only to violate that trust when the opportunity is right (i.e., they have minimal chance of getting caught).
Where is the fence?
Kids see the virtual world of cyberspace as a continuation of the real world. The conversations they have in the school lunchrooms and hallways frequently continue at home in chat rooms and via cell phone messaging. This is different than how most adults see the Internet – as a separate and different world requiring different rules of engagement. As parents and caretakers, we need to treat how our children are online no different than how they behave offline. We train them to look both ways before crossing the street, not to steal things from stores, to get permission to talk to strangers. We make certain that our children use seat belts and provide them with direct supervision when in public. These types of efforts must continue and be extended into cyberspace.
In the real world, we can set up physical boundaries to help us contain our children to spaces we deem safe. When we take them to the park, we make sure our kids stay inside the fence. When we visit a video store, we stick with the children’s section and we don’t let them venture into the back room where the adult videos are. Schools have hallways, some have fences, and they all have procedures for making sure that kids get from one place to the other while being supervised and monitored. At home, we activate our alarm systems at night to ward off intruders. Other boundaries in the form of rules exist. We don’t allow our children to play beyond a certain perimeter in our neighborhoods or communities. We wouldn’t take them with us to a night club where adult activities take place. There are laws in place so that our children cannot simply go to a convenience store and purchase alcohol, tobacco, or adult magazines. If an underage child or minor takes a flight, an attendant escorts him the entire way and checks for identification when delivering the child to his destination. Technology has at least blurred if not eliminated these real world boundaries. The Internet and other high-tech gadgets has essentially introduced a high-speed interstate upon which we all travel yet a driver’s license is not necessarily required. Road signs are unclear or non-existent. The small number of “rules of the road” are not typically enforced and the “strip joints” are right next door to the ice cream shops. Very few people verify a “driver’s” age and traffic occurs at all hours of the day and night. The Internet connected computer in particular has become a potential “back door” for children (and others) to enter or exit our homes as they please.
The Bigger Picture
Because of the widespread media coverage, I am guessing that you are thinking mostly about social networks such as MySpace.com and the issue of sexual predators in chat rooms. For sure, these are worth our attention. Although, I also fear that these issues are overshadowing what I believe to be even more pressing issues that deserve our attention such as:
- access to pornography
- high-tech cheating and plagiarism
- distraction from academics
- disclosing too much personal information to the world
- inappropriate content (racism, hate, pro-suicide, eating disorder)
- electronic gaming and violence
These are issues not nearly covered by the media as much, yet they interfere in our children’s lives every day. GuardkingKids.com covers these and a number of other areas that could lead to trouble among kids in an attempt to widen the scope of your understanding. MySpace.com is a big world although only part of a much bigger world we call the Internet. That Internet is now accessed not only by computers but many other gadgets such as iPods, cellular phones, gaming devices, and handheld personal digital assistants.
Decisions... decisions... decisions
I believe that parenting has always been a tough job although I think you would agree (even the elders I talk too agree) that it is tougher now than ever before. The world is truly getting smaller and moving faster, in large part due to technology that has bridged great divides and has afforded the power of large companies to the individual. The world is changing and its changing fast. As parents we want to help our children take advantage of these tools in a way that bests advances their development. There are more “bases” to cover in the course of supervision. There are many more options for us to consider when making decisions about how our children achieve. More now than ever before, we need to stay focused and goal oriented in a world that is chaotic and uncertain. We need to realize that “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” Just because you can watch 300 channels of television, doesn’t mean you should increase the amount of time you watch television. Just because you can share your information with the rest of the world in the blink of an eye doesn’t mean that you should. Just because you can receive a call from anywhere and at any time doesn’t mean you should answer it.
Granted, much of technology has a high “cool factor” and can be a lot of fun. There’s lots of bells and whistles out there although those bells and whistles can call unwanted attention to ourselves and can easily distract us from other more important endeavors. We have to make informed choices about the role that technology plays in our lives. One of the things I know about effective decision making is that the quality of the information is key. What you don’t know can hurt you.
Michael Josephson who I mentioned earlier provides an eloquent and critical piece of advice for us: Like it or not, we parents have to get involved with what our kids are viewing online. We have to find out how the Web and Instant Messaging works. We have to see what websites our kids are visiting, what files they’re downloading, what their Instant Messaging jargon, shorthand and slang means. We have to take control of how the Web is being used in our own homes. We have to, because we’re parents, and because it’s the right thing to do.
1. Tyler, J.M., & Sabella, R.A. (2004). Using technology to improve counseling practice: A primer for the 21st Century. Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.
2. Mendez, Z. (April 21, 2006). NJ student suspended over MySpace video. New Jersey Daily Record.
3. Adolescents’ use of cell phones after bedtime contributes to poor sleep. (September 1, 2007). American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Available online: http://www.physorg.com/news107857517.html
4. Roebuck, J. (May 1, 2007). Teen arrested for Internet threats. The Monitor. Available online: http://www.themonitor.com/onset?id=2061&template=article.html
5. Associated Press. (November 2, 2005). Grandpa sued over grandson’s downloads: 67-year-old man refuses $4,000 settlement offer. Available online: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9896986/
6. Associated Press. (April 27, 2006). Girl home after running away with Myspace.com correspondent. Available online: http://tinyurl.com/2nm3je
7. Sutta, D. (May 8, 2006). Another suspect charged in child predator sting. Available online: http://www.nbc-2.com/articles/readarticle.asp?articleid=7000&z=3&p=
8. School Punishes Student For Blogging From Home. (May 25, 2006). Available online: http://rhymeswithright.mu.nu/archives/178392.php. Also, see the student’s letter to the school district online at http://tinyurl.com/32ehuh
9. America’s Most Wanted. (December 30, 2006). A new “Friend” online. Available online: http://www.amw.com/fugitives/case.cfm?id=38571
10. Williams, R. (January 16, 2008). Cellphone porn at school investigated. Roanoke Times. Available online: http://www.roanoke.com/news/roanoke/wb/147238
11. Associated Press. (January 7, 2008). Teacher accused of sending nude cell phone pics to student. Available online: http://tinyurl.com/3a3ztk
12. Mendels, P. (June 22, 1999). Hate groups target children and women online, report says. Available online: http://www.rickross.com/reference/hate_groups/hategroups39.html
13. Kornblum, J. (May 7, 2006). Text messages give ‘411’ on teen sex. USA Today. Available online: http://tinyurl.com/2tq2h7
14. Warning over ‘bullying by mobile’. (June 7, 2005). BBC News. Available online: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/4614515.stm
15. King, D. (August 11, 2005). Hot, steamy and now downloadable: Aural sex shimmies into the podcast as ‘podnography’ trend takes off. San Francisco Chronicle. Available online: http://www.sfgate.com/c/a/2005/08/11/DDGIHE5CTJ1.DTL
16. Kennedy, K. (April 23, 2006). Not-so-MySpace any more: Schools are banning popular social web site, prosecuting students’ speech. The Ledger. Available online: http://tinyurl.com/2vhh6a
17. Josephson, M. (February 7, 2006). The parental authority to be involved. Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. Available online: http://da.co.la.ca.us/pok/parentalcon.htm
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