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What Kids Reveals Online

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WHAT KIDS REVEALS ONLINE  Yesterday, a friend friend asked me to check out her her eldest daughter’s Xanga site, to look for privacy or security problems. The teenager hadn’t posted anything compromising her identity. But her friends were another matter. Many of the teenagers revealed quite a bit of personal information, such as IM handles, that could be misused by predators.. predators I spent a goodly chunk of the last two days navigating Xanga blogrings, seeing what kind of stuff kids post and investigating how much personal information that they reveal. What I discovered deeply disturbed me, and I really wonder how many parents are totally t otally clueless about what kids do on these social networking sites.

My response is to write two related posts, this first one offering background on kids’ online behavior and some of what I saw on Xanga.  The second will explain what what precautions parents parents should take with respect to their kids’ online behavior. Unfortunately, this is my second attempt at post number one and it’s Unfortunately, nowhere as good as my first effort. I had written more than half of the post, but hadn’t saved a draft copy to the blog server, when one of these kids’ Xanga sites locked up my browser. I lost hours work, and will never be able to exactly recreate what had been written. I consider the fiasco to be interference. If there is evil in the world, it’s working on these kids. I don’t see lost writing and wasted hours as coincidence.

 Your House House is the Mall Few really understand howto significant a role the Web plays in , how parents their kids socialize. According a Kaiser Family Foundation study study,


86 percent of kids 8 to 18 report having access to an in-home computer; 35 percent have computers in their bedrooms, which may not be closely monitored by parents. According to a December 12, 2005, Business Week story, Week story, “ The MySpace MySpace ”: “Fully 87 percent of 12-to-17-year-olds 12-to-17-year-olds use the Internet, vs. Generation”: Generation two-thirds of adults, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project.” Overall, kids tend to multitask, simultaneously conducting media and communications tasks, such as watching TV while using the Internet, or talking on the phone while instant messaging. It’s not unusual for my 11 year-old to simultaneously IM and Webcam or IM and chat on her cell phone. More importantly, the Internet plays a central role in how kids socialize. According to the Business Week story, Week story, “Computer use for activities such as social networking…has soared nearly threefold threefold since 2000, to 1 hour and 22 minutes a day on average.” The kids hang out as easily online as the mall, with IM being one major activity. Interconnected Chains But social networking is much bigger than IM, particularly with the soaring popularity of sites like MySpace or Xanga, which mix various online activities, such as blogging, sharing music or playing games. Among those activities, blogging is a growing phenomenon, but with unique appeal for kids. Blogs provide online journals, where kids can express their character through how they chose to skin their space or by what they post there. In many ways, the blogs replace lock-and-key diaries with a more public  journal, although although I question question how many kids kids really understand understand how public public are the posts. Even mom and dad can read them. More disturbing, on their blogs, kids can express themselves with great disregard for the potential consequences of what they reveal. Those consequences consequences could range from publicly injuring someone’s feelings to revealing personal information exploitable by predators. Blogging is just one part of social networking, while significant, nonetheless nonetheless.. Social networking sites truly test the concept called “six degrees of  separation,” which Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy proposed in the t he 1929 short story “Chains.” The concept proposes that no two people are separated by more than five intermediaries, which works out to six degrees of separation. Columbia University’s “Small “ Small World Project” Project” seeks to test the theory. Social networking sites seek to even reduce the number of degrees of  separation by making it easy for people to create communities extended from people they know or around commonalities, such as hobbies and other interests.

Blogrings of Separation My exploration of Xanga focused on blogrings, which are groups of  subscribers formed for just about any reason. I found an odd assortment of blogrings with shared members extending out from my friend’s daughter. Many of the blogrings formed around similar religious or philosophicall beliefs, such as sexual abstinence before marriage, or philosophica


mundane common interests like watching anime. In my exploration of  more than 100 blogrings, many selected randomly rather than extended from interconnected chains, the majority of participants were teens. Among my friend’s daughter’s blogring friends, the majority disclosed too much personal information. Worst: Posting IM handles. Parents sometimes ask me about chat rooms and instant messaging, about which there is much confusion. They aren’t the same. Chat rooms are open areas on Websites or online services where anyone can enter. IM is more like your home, where you invite people to come in. Chat rooms are like public places where almost anyone can enter. I would discourage every parent from letting kids use chat rooms, for they are notorious sexual predator hangouts. I usually recommend IM, because people typically only chat with people that they know. IM is very different from a chat room. But kids disclosing IM handles changes the situation. Remember, most of  these blogs are public. Anyone, not just the kids’ friends, can look at them. The blogger’s profile—where an IM handle often is revealed—are publicly accessible, too. A kid could post his or her phone number on a school bulletin board for a friend, but anyone could see it. Posting an IM hand in a publicly available profile is similar. Kids don’t often think about the consequences. And why should they? Human beings crave free communication and socialization. Parents, however, should think about the consequences and seek to protect their kids. Concern: I really see nothing to prevent predators from joining a blogring, pretending to be, say, a 13-year-old girl. More disturbing the predator could directly IM kids. December 19, 2005 New York  Times story, “ Through His Webcam, a Boy Boy Joins a Sordid Sordid Online World,” World,” tells of what can happen to kids that go wrong online. As a parent, I was disturbed to realize that kids aren’t the only ones networking online. Predators also socialize online, passing around information about potential victims. Parents Shouldn’t be Clueless I’m not suggesting that parents should restrict kids from using social networking sites. But there should be oversight. And kids should never reveal identifying information or ways they can be reached, like IM handles or cell phone numbers. Sites like Xanga do offer layers of  protection. Kids can form social groups with some restricted access to outsiders. Information Information is public to invited participants, but to no others (by the way, parents, make sure you sure you have access). Parents also need to better monitor what these kids are doing on social networking sites. I checked out one Xanga blogring today promoting the use of alcohol. All the participants were teenagers, many in eighth or ninth grade. One 14-year-old boy’s Xanga blog had a Care Bear with the words “potty head” across the belly; the boy participated in the proalcohol blogring. In my next post, post, I will offer suggestions on how parents can protect their kids, while still allowing them to socialize online. Also, I will discuss ways parents can help protect the computers their kids use from viruses and spyware infections, which present different risks.


Do you have a story of online risk or privacy that you’d like told? Please email Joe Wilcox: oddlytogether at gmail at gmail dot com. com.

Is Your Child Online?  AT ANY given given moment, m millions illions of youths youths are online, whe whether ther at home, at school, at a friend’s house, or—if they have Internet access on a handheld device or cell phone—almost anywhere. If you are a parent, you are faced with a sobering reality: Your children are probably more comfortable in this new cyberworld than you are, and they may even know how to keep you in the dark about their online activities. Is this cause for concern? Absolutely. Is the situation hopeless? By no means. True, it may seem that when it comes to the Internet, your child is the native and you are the tourist. Still, you can learn the lay of the land. And you do not have to become an expert at all things electronic in order to keep your child safe. This series of articles will provide you with some helpful tools. First, though, let us take a look at some of thedangers thedangers your child may encounter online.

In Canada nearly half of all youths with cell phones can access the Internet with them


What Parents Should Know

FOR a time, it seemed that Internet safety was simply a matter of  computer location. Keep the computer in a public area, it was thought, and your children will be less likely to veer toward the dark side of  cyberspace. While that notion is still valid—common sense dictates against giving children Internet access in the privacy of their bedroom —it is not the final word in safety. These days wireless connections make it possible for youngsters to take the Internet with them wherever  they go. Even many cell phones are equipped with online access. Then there are Internet cafés, Internet kiosks, libraries libraries,, and the old standby, a friend’s house. With so many options, it is easy to see how a youth’s online escapades can slip past a parent’s radar.


Consider some of the online activities that many youths are attracted to and their potential dangers. E-MAILS 

What are they? Written messages that are sent electronically.

What is the appeal? E-mail is a fast and inexpensive way to correspond with friends and family.

What you should know. Unsolicited e-mails, often called spam, can be more than just a nuisance. Often they t hey contain suggestive or  blatantly obscene content. Links inside messages may prompt the user—including an unsuspecting child—to volunteer personal information, which can lead to identity theft. Replying to such e-mails —even with the firm request to stop sending e-mails—will confirm that the user has an active e-mail address, which may lead to further  unsolicited e-mails.

In India the sharp rise in the number of Internet users—up 54 percent in just one year—is largely attributed to youths



What are they? Collections of electronic pages created and maintained by organizations, educational institutions, businesses, and individuals.

What is the appeal? Millions of sites are available, providing youths with endless opportunities to shop, do research, connect with wit h friends, and play or download games and music.

What you should know. The Web has been exploited by all manner of unscrupulous individuals. Many Web sites feature explicit sex, and these are easy for the unwary to stumble upon. In the United States, for example, 90 percent of youths surveyed between the ages of 8 and 16 said that they had unintentionally encountered pornography online—in most cases while doing homework! The Web also provides easy access to sites that promote teen gambling. In Canada, nearly 1 in 4 males surveyed in grades 10 and 11 admitted to having visited such sites, and experts are understandably concerned because of the highly addictive nature of  online gambling. Then there are so-called pro-ana Web sites that glorify “the anorectic lifestyle.”* lifestyle.” * Meanwhile, hatemongering sites target minority religious and ethnic groups. Some sites teach how to make bombs, concoct poisons, and conduct terrorist operations. Depictions of extreme violence and bloody gore are prevalent in online games.

* Many pro-ana sites and organizations claim that they do not promote anorexia. Some of these, however, present anorexia as a lifestyle choice rather than as a disorder. Forums on such sites provide information on how to conceal one’s actual body weight and how to hide irregular eating habits from parents.



What are they? Electronic spaces for live text conversation, usually centered around a specific topic or interest.

What is the appeal? Your child can communicate with a number of  individuals whom he or she may never have met but who share a common interest.

What you should know.Predators commonly frequent chat rooms hoping to lure a child into an online or even a face-to-face f ace-to-face sexual encounter. Consider what happened when one of the authors of the bookWhat book What in the World Are Your Kids Doing Online? was researching Internet safety. As part of her research, she posed online as a 12year-old. “Almost immediately,” reports the book, “she was invited by someone into a private chat room. She claimed she didn’t know how to get into it, and her helpful new friend walked her through the process. Then he wanted to know if she wanted to have [online] sex.” INSTANT MESSAGES 

What are they? Live text conversations between two or more


What is the appeal? With instant messaging, a user can choose which of his friends he will converse with, selecting from a contact list he has created. Not surprisingly, a Canadian study reports that 84 percent of 16- and 17-year-olds instant message their friends and that they do this for more than an hour a day.

What you should know. Instant-message conversations can be distracting if your child is supposed to be studying or engaging in another activity that requires concentration. In addition, how can you be sure with whom your son or daughter is communicating? After all, you cannot hear the conversation.



What are they? Online diaries.

What is the appeal? Blogging gives youths the opportunity to write about their thoughts, passions, and activities. Most blogs allow space for readers to leave comments, and many kids are thrilled to know that someone has responded to their writing.

What you should know. A blog is open to the public. Some youths carelessly reveal information that can be used to identify their  family, school, or home address. Another factor: Blogs can harm reputations, including the blogger’s own. For instance, some employers consult an applicant’s blog when considering whether to hire that person.

“A parent may see a Web cam as an easy and inexpensive way for a child to communicate with friends or relatives, but a predator sees it as an open window into a child’s bedroom.” —Robert S. Mueller III, director of the Federal Bureau of  Investigation ONLINE SOCIAL NETWORKS 


What are they? Sites that allow youths to create a Web page and enhance it with pictures, videos, and blogs.

What is the appeal? Creating and enhancing a Web page enables a young person to express his or her identity. Online social networks allow young ones to meet many new “friends.” “A social networking sitepeople is like can an online What know. party,” you says should a girl named Joanna. “Some very scary show up.” The personal information posted on social networks can be exploited by unscrupulous youths and adults. Thus, Internet safety expert Parry Aftab calls such sites “one stop shopping for sexual predators.” Furthermore, Internet friendships tend to be superficial. On their Web pages, some youths accumulate a number of online contacts whom they have never met face-to-face, simply to appear popular to others who visit their site. In her book Generation MySpace, Candice Kelsey writes that it really comes down to “judging a person’s social stock value merely by how many other people like him or her.” She adds: “This commodities-trading style of relating reduces our children to nonhuman entities and places an inordinate amount of pressure to represent themselves in whatever way will gain them more friends.” Thus, What in the World Are Your Kids Doing D oing Online? asks a valid question: “How do you make it clear that children need to develop empathy and compassion when the electronic world allows them to meet and discard people at the drop of a hat?”

These six examples are just some of the Internet activities that fascinate young people today. If you are a parent, what can you do to protect your children from online dangers?


What Parents Can Do  AS A parent, which which situation w would ould make you m more ore nervous—knowing nervous—knowing that your son or daughter had the keys to the family car or knowing that he or she had unrestricted access to the Internet? Both activities involve a measure of danger. And both require a level of responsibility. Parents cannot forever restrict their children from operating a vehicle, but they can make sure that their children are taught to drive safely. Many parents take a similar approach to use of the Internet. The following Bible principles will help. 13:16)) “Everyone shrewd will act with knowledge.” (Proverbs 13:16 Parents whose children have Internet access need to have a basic


understanding of how the Internet works and what their children are doing when instant messaging, browsing Web pages, or engaging in other online activities. “Don’t conclude that you are too old or  uneducated to learn,” says Marshay, a mother of two. “Keep up with the technology.”

Experts believe that up to 750,000 predators may be online on a daily basis, trolling Internet chat rooms and dating services “You shall put a railing around your [flat] roof, so that no one may fall from there.” (Deuteronomy 22:8 22:8,, The Amplified Bible) Bible) Internet service providers and software programs may offer parental controls that act as “railings” to block inappropriate pop-ups and access to harmful sites. Some programs can even help prevent children from revealing personal information, such as their name or address. It should be realized, however, that such parental controls are not foolproof. Also, many older children who are computer literate learn how to bypass them. “One isolating himself will seek his own selfish longing; against all practical wisdom he will break forth.” (Proverbs 18:1) 18:1) A study in the United Kingdom revealed that nearly 1 in 5 youths between the ages of 9 and 19 had Internet access in their bedroom. Having the computer in a busy area helps parents to keep tabs on what their  children are doing online and may encourage the children to avoid undesirable sites.

In the United Kingdom, 57 percent of youths between the ages of 9 and 19 who use the Internet weekly have come into contact with pornography; however, only 16 percent of parents believe that their child has seen pornography on the Internet “Keep strict watch that how you walk is not as unwise but as wise persons, buying out the opportune time for yourselves, because 16)) Decide when children can the days are wicked.”( wicked.”(Ephesians 5:15, 16 use the Internet, the length of time they can be online, and the type of  sites they can and cannot visit. Discuss your guidelines with your  children, and make sure that they understand them.


Of course, you cannot monitor your children when they are outside the home. It is important, therefore, to instill proper values in your children so that they will make wise decisions when they are not in your  2:12) Spell out clearly what the consequences presence.** (Philippians 2:12) presence. will be if your rules regarding the Internet are broken. Then enforce those rules. “[A good mother] is watching over the goings-on of her  household.” (Proverbs 31:27 31:27)) Monitor your children’s use of the Internet, and let them know that you will be doing so. This is not an invasion of privacy. Remember, the Internet is a public forum. The Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States recommends that parents maintain access to their children’s online accounts and randomly check their e-mail and the Web sites that they have visited.

Can you teach your child how to use the Internet responsibly?

“Thinking ability itself will keep guard over you, discernment itself will safeguard you, to deliver you from the bad way, from the man speaking perverse things.” (Proverbs 2:11, 12 12)) Monitoring and tracking will go only so far. The values you teach—and the example you set—will go much further in protecting your children. So take time to discuss with your children what can happen on the Internet. An Internet. An open line of communication with your children is your best defense against online dangers. “We talked to both of our boys about ‘bad’ people on the Net,” says Tom, a Christian father. “We also explained what pornography is, why it should be avoided, and why they should never communicate with strangers.”

In the United States, 93 percent of youths between the ages of 12 and 17 use the Internet


 You Can Protect Your Your Children Protecting your children from online dangers takes effort, and electronic access to media is constantly changing. New technologies may bring unique advantages and unprecedented risks to children. How can parents prepare their children for future dangers? “Wisdom is for a protection the same as money is for a protection,” says the Bible. —Ecclesiastes 7:12. 7:12. Help your children to become wise. Also help them to understand how to avoid online dangers and use the Internet responsibly. Thus, the Internet can be a tool that will not threaten the safety of your children.

* Parents should remember that many youths can gain access to the Internet via cell phones, other handheld devices, and even some video-game consoles.

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