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1 Tools for Adults to Help Kids Connect Safely June/July 2007 Issue Number 1 Table of Contents From the Editor Welcome to Cover Ask the Experts Let s Talk About Social Networking Page 2 Parents Corner Lost in Democracy: An Offline Shock Reveals an Online Dilemma Page 5 Youth Voices We Can Do It : Kids Keep Themselves Safe, with Guidance Page 6 Tech Tip No Static on the Mobile Phone To help teens avoid unsolicited sales, spam, or abusive flaming texts and IMs, you can contact your wireless provider s customer service or login online and block all text messages. Most providers also allow you to block specific phone numbers or addresses. From the Editor Why? In this, our debut issue, we re focusing on social networking. More than 17 million youth ages 12 to 17 regularly use the Internet and of these, more than half (55 percent) use social networking sites like MySpace or Facebook, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. The good news is online interactions rarely turn into real-world criminal incidents, according to the FBI. Most young people know about staying safe online and most take precautions to keep their profiles safe, according to Pew. Still, most kids admit that a motivated person could eventually identify them based on their profiles. What is Social Networking? A social networking site is a Website that lets users create their own pages and user profiles, post information, pictures and videos, and interact with each other sort of like a big party in cyber space where you can search for people according to their interests and other criteria and start up an online conversation. We re also including instant messaging (IM), mobile phone texting, and e- mail lists under the social networking umbrella; they too have an incredible reach among young people, allow instant connection and interaction, and carry many of the same risks as the Websites. As this month s Youth Voices writer Madison Brill told us: When I and my friends say Internet, we mean not only Websites, but also , IM, and [mobile] phones. The Benefits and the Risks These instant-interaction technologies can have tremendous benefits. Schools are increasingly using social networks in lessons, for clubs, and to reach students and parents. For shy or socially awkward young teens, these technologies can help them feel connected to their peers. But they also carry potential risks. The number of documented cases of online interactions turning into real-life predatory contact is small but may be growing. What s An Adult to Do? Children are often better versed in these technologies than their parents, guardians, and teachers, which can be intimidating. But helping kids get the skills they need to stay safer online is part of the job of being a parent, a teacher, or a school technology officer. Adults continued on page 2 About this Newsletter The National Education Association Health Information Network (NEA HIN), the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, and Sprint are pleased to bring you the first issue of, a bimonthly e-newsletter designed to give adults tools to connect with kids and help them stay safer online. Visit the page at to subscribe and access more tools, links, and activities. Share your stories and suggestions by ing

2 Tools for Adults to Help Kids Connect Safely ASK THE EXPERTS From the Editor Why? cont. from cover Let s Talk About Social Networking By Candace Bahk need to inform themselves so they can interact positively, and avoid reactionary or fear-based approaches that narrow the lines of communication. is here to help. In this and future issues, we want to offer tools to help adults and young teens engage in activities together to demystify technology and learn from each other. We re counting on you What are the Risks? Online predators. Many kids are eager for validation and acceptance, which makes them vulnerable to advances from predators. Nearly 20 percent of online teens say they ve received unwanted sexual advances, according to the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. It s a good idea to protect names, schools and addresses and to avoid posting videos and pictures, which can reveal a child s location. Cyber-bullying. This can take many forms, including sending threatening or harassing e- mails, texts, or IMs (called flames ), posting false information using another child s password, or changing passwords and altering or deleting information from someone else s site. Academic disruption. Social networking can be a useful academic tool, but it can also lead to problems with focus, attention, and schoolwork. A 2006 Kaiser Family Foundation report found that when students are studying on their to make this a vibrant resource for your home and school. We want to hear from you share your stories, contribute a column, ask the experts, and let us know what s on your mind! Visit or Caitlin Johnson, Editor in Chief and Paul Sathrum, Senior Project Coordinator, NEA HIN computers, they re actually doing something else IMing, ing, downloading files, or watching TV 65 percent of the time. Grades may suffer as social connections flourish. Damaging content. Any time information is transferred, there s the risk of inadvertently downloading inappropriate files, viruses or malicious scripts that can damage a user s computer. Teens need to know what to watch for and how to avoid the bad stuff. Legal and financial pitfalls. It s also important to talk to kids about safeguarding financial information, or avoiding illegal file-sharing. The cartoon teens in these pages are characters from the NetSmartz Workshop s NS Teens site. Watch them in action at If adults want to learn how to connect with kids and help them be safer online, we need to understand what really matters to them and keep the lines of real-world communication open. By middle school, most children have an online life, which means everything they do in the real world learn, hang out, chat, and even bully they can do online as well. Social Networking is growing in popularity. About 71 percent of teens have created a profile on a social network site, up from 61 percent last year, according to the 2007 Teen Internet Safety Survey, Wave II by Cox Communication and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Sites like MySpace and Facebook log millions of repeat visits each day. So what exactly is the draw for kids who spend hours a day browsing other people s profiles and stay up late designing their own? For Emily, a freshman in high school in Virginia, social networking offers a glimpse into the lives of her peers, and a way to stay up on the newest trends. People post their favorite colors, what music they re listening to it s just fun to see what other people are into, she says. Translation: teens like learning about other teens to find out what s in and what s out. Social networking is a way to get that information on a daily basis. Social networking sites may be to today s youth what tree houses, forts, or phones were to us: a place where kids can get away from their parents, be themselves, or pretend to be somebody else. For adults, understanding the 2

3 reasons kids use these sites is an important first step in helping kids make safer, smarter choices online. The Feeling of Being Liked Tayler, a Washington State senior in high school, says she checks her profile frequently. It s that feeling of excitement that comes from seeing I have a message or comment waiting for me to read. It s the feeling of being liked, I guess. Children whose parents talk to them about safety are more likely to exhibit responsible online behavior. - Teen Internet Safety Survey, Wave II For many young people, social networking can be an emotionally satisfying experience. When they leave comments or messages on friends pages, they usually get one in return, and it reinforces feelings of friendship and popularity. This can be especially powerful for shy youth, or those who feel uncomfortable or disconnected in social situations. I just moved here and don t know that many people yet, so Facebook helps me keep in touch with my cousins and friends back home, says 14-year-old Alec from Maryland. Real Benefits, Real Consequences Social networking is a tool to communicate with friends both near and far. It can also promote creativity and self-expression, sharpen communication and writing skills, and provide kids an opportunity to develop a personal identity and share it with others. Online relationships can help kids overcome difficulties they might be having, whether it s teenage angst or a more serious issue. There is always someone to talk to online, and the lack of face-to-face contact can make kids more comfortable opening up to others. But this is where the slippery slope begins who are these friends they are opening up to? Do they know them in real life? Recognizing and addressing the potential risks can help make social networking a safer experience for children. Simple Steps to Safety Friends lists. Many kids feel that their friends list is a reflection of their popularity, so they add people they don t really know in order to gain status. Privacy settings can keep strangers from accessing profiles but if kids add people they don t know as their friends, they re giving away access to personal information. Teach them to have a friend policy and not to add people they don t know in real life to their friends lists. Blogs. The term comes from Web log and refers to a journal or personal essay, an online diary of sorts. Blogs are popular with kids, and most social networking sites have space to create a blog. Unfortunately, not everyone reading about a child s personal feelings, frustrations, and dreams has the best intentions in mind. Predators can use a child s insecurities or ambitions to bond with the child, and potentially coax him or her into an inperson meeting. A good rule of thumb for a teen: if you don t want just anyone reading your journal or diary, it shouldn t be posted online. Photos and videos. According to the Teen Internet Safety Survey, Wave II, 64 percent of teens post photos or videos of themselves. Often, kids don t realize that they re inadvertently putting themselves at risk with the images they post online street signs, a license plate in the background, or a school name can give away a child s location. Kids are also posting sexually provocative or inappropriate pictures continued on page 4 3

4 Tools for Adults to Help Kids Connect Safely PARENTS CORNER Let s Talk About Social Networking cont. from page 3 of themselves to be adult or get attention. They may not realize that anyone can save their picture and use it to exploit or embarrass them. Kids should never post a picture that they wouldn t want posted around their school for anyone to see. The bottom line: keep talking. That same survey found that children whose parents talk to them about online safety are more likely to exhibit responsible online behavior. Real-life consequences can be serious; let s help kids avoid the potential risks of social networking by opening up the lines of communication. Candace Bahk is the Content Manager for the NetSmartz Workshop with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. TIPS FOR KIDS: Smart Social Networking Keep your personal information private Only add friends you know in real life Set your profile and blog to private Use a nickname that doesn t identify your location, gender, or age Alter your pictures and videos before you post them to remove identifying information Profile and photo share only with people on your friends list Lost in Democracy: An Offline Shock Reveals an Online Dilemma by Kate Mattos Parents are increasingly using social networks to keep kids safer online and in the real world, but sometimes you need structure to succeed, as parent Kate Mattos discovered. I opened the drawer of my jewelry box and my stomach dropped: there was nothing in the drawer, nothing. A black hole of stolen jewelry. I checked the next drawer, and the next. They too were empty. I had been burgled. Later that bright spring morning, the police came and took my report. That s when I learned that there had been other burglaries in my safe, suburban neighborhood. The burglar typically struck in the morning, shortly after people had left for work. With 30 or more homes hit in the area, why had I not known? Don t post your plans or whereabouts on your site Ignore harassing or rude comments posted on your profile Never post sexually provocative photos Find more at My next step was one that would not have even been possible 15 years ago: I got on the Internet. I checked the police department Website and found a running list of burglaries in my area. I ed my civic association leadership to tell them about it. Next, I sent a note to my middle school PTA listserv. I knew that parents occasionally leave sick children home alone while they spend a few hours at work what if the burglar entered a home with a child in it? Or a child came home early and surprised the villain in the house? Almost as soon as I hit send, PTA listserv exploded. Parents were sympathetic, curious, worried. They wanted to know when it happened, what was taken, and how I was. I learned about the burglaries in an adjacent quiet leafy neighborhood so many, in fact, that the civic association there had put out articles and held a meeting about the problem. Worried about the kids, the school principal e- mailed with me, noting that the school was distributing a handout urging parents to follow safety guidelines, such as ensuring that children don t walk home alone. Teachers sent s and asked how my child was handling the situation. I was grateful for the support, but I began to notice something. Here was all this advice in a chattering listserv, but not one expert leading the discussion. What was the best way to navigate all the considerate suggestions and caring advice? No one was a home security specialist or a police officer someone who could take all the collective concern to the next level of action and protection. No one to give us next steps and solutions. 4

5 Almost as soon as I hit send, PTA listserv exploded. Parents were sympathetic, curious, worried. Welcome to Democracy Make no mistake: I love the fact that at 11:00 at night I can reach out and find support. I love the power of finding out more with a click of the mouse. Networking proved to be an extraordinary way to get connected to people who really do care about me. This e-conversation was a communitybuilder. And I did get, I think, good advice. But I came to strongly believe that the outpouring of counsel must be tempered by expertise. I needed to learn about the best ways to protect myself and my family and about the after-effects of a burglary, the loss and deep uneasiness. I needed to know how to help my child develop the skills to stay safe. The reality is that I got that offline, from the police, a security company, and an expert at work. I thought about my sixth-grader and the way she uses social networks. She often gets real information from her friends through their communications. They trade stories some real, some not about what lurks on the Internet, on the streets, or in the school. No one is monitoring those conversations. No expert is there to help give facts or guide their conversations. For many online lists and social networks, open discussion in which everyone is equal is the point and indeed, the value. But in some cases, especially when it comes to safety (for children or adults, online or off), it can be useful to include reliable authorities to move things to the next level. Here are a few suggestions: Include or nominate leaders and experts who can speak with authority on certain topics and guide the discussion (reining it in if it becomes speculative or off-topic). Help youth understand the differences between experts in online forums (often wellintentioned contributors) and those whose credentials can be verified and who have authority to speak to an issue. Remind kids that you can read their online communications. (Yes, it can be done!) Then, help to interpret speculative or faulty information. Place computers where you can monitor what children are doing. At home, I keep computers out of bedrooms. Kate Mattos is Communications Counsel for the National Education Association and the mother of an 11- year-old daughter. What to Do if You Suspect a Child is at Risk Online Know the danger signs these can include: spending lots of unsupervised time online; having pornography on his or her computer or wireless phone; hiding the screen or shutting it off quickly when adults are near; receiving mysterious gifts or packages; and becoming withdrawn from family or classmates. Talk openly with the child about your suspicions; tell them about the dangers of computer-sex offenders. Review the contents of the computer or phone. If you don't know how, ask a friend, coworker, or other knowledgeable person. (Parents/guardians) Monitor access to electronic communications chat rooms, instant messages, phones and . (Teachers) Raise your Concerns with the child s parent/guardian. Contact your local or state law enforcement agency and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children s CyberTipline at If you suspect a child has received a sexual solicitation or pornography, keep the computer or phone turned off in order to preserve any evidence for law enforcement use. Don t attempt to copy any of the images and/or text found on the computer. Adapted in part from A Parents Guide to Internet Safety, developed by the FBI and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. 5

6 Tools for Adults to Help Kids Connect Safely YOUTH VOICES RU IM Savvy? A Brief Glossary of IM/Text Speak We Can Do It : Kids Keep Themselves Safe, with Guidance by Madison Brill So you know what LOL means* but when it comes to cell phone texting and instant messaging, do you really have the 411? 404: means, I don t have a clue 411: means, info 4EAE: forever and ever 9: parent is watching 99: parent no longer watching A/S/L: age, sex, location BF/GF: boyfriend/girlfriend BFF: best friend forever Brb: be right back E2eg: ear-to-ear grin F2T: free to talk KPC: keeping parents clueless LMIRL: let s meet in real life MOOS: member of the opposite sex NAYL: in a while P911: parent alert PAW: parents are watching POS: parent over shoulder PRT: party ROTFL: rolling on the floor laughing SOS: same old stuff WYCM: will you call me? WYRN: what s your real name? *laughing out loud. Of course. :-) Tech Tip >>For Parents: What s in a name? Ask for a list of your child s friends and their screen names, so you can keep an eye on who your kids are hanging out with online. With the right guidance and open lines of communication with trusted adults, teens can keep themselves safer online, says Madison Brill, a 13-year-old who prides herself on her online savvy and independence. First of all, the Web is not the only place you need to be careful in this electronic world; you have to make sure you re protected when you use an instant message program such as AIM, MSN, or ichat on a computer or wireless phone. Most early teens use these services as much or more than telephone calls to connect. It s one of the easiest ways to communicate and talk to friends and on the surface, you may not realize you are putting yourself at risk when you are IMing someone. A friend of mine got an IM from someone she did not know. Her first reaction was to ask who this person was. They did not respond, but tried to start a different conversation. The next thing my friend did was IM me and ask for my advice. Block the person on AIM and make sure they don t bother you again, I told her. I also told her that she should tell her parents because even though it didn t turn out to be a big situation, I think it s important to tell someone about it and how you handled it, in case it happens again. Online safety is a really serious matter, but teens can monitor themselves very easily and quickly, with help from parents and teachers. I feel there are three simple rules for early teens to check their Internet Safety, whether they re on the Web or IMing. (These are true for adults too!) 1. Check the site s background. Sites like Facebook or MySpace are commonly used and have good reputations, but other sites will require you to learn more about what they offer and who normally participates in the site before you join it. 2. Protect your personal information. How secure are you on the Website, and is it a public site or private site? If you put personal information on these sites, will they protect this information from getting out to just anyone? 3. Check your permission. Are you allowed to be using this site? Most early teens are hesitant to ask parents because they think the answer will be no! They want to be able to decide things for themselves but it s important that your parents know what you re doing because you may not be aware of all the dangers. Many kids feel pressured to be part of a social network site because they want to be in with their friends but they don t think about how dangerous some of these sites can be. Like everyone, I ve heard the stories about scary adults trying to get in contact with kids. You roll your eyes at these stories, thinking, This won t happen to me, and that you won t be stupid enough to post personal information or pictures. But as you get more involved in these sites, you can begin to convince yourself that it will be perfectly safe to add something else, something small like, let s say, your cell phone number. Things can eventually get out of hand and you don t realize how much information you have allowed others to see. Know Who You re Talking To Teens need to know that if they have 6

7 Balancing Trust and Fear: A Parent s Perspective By Gary Brill an account with social networking sites, blogs, forums, or IM providers, they should always be careful about whom they talk to and even more careful about who they share personal information with. Don t take chances. There will be times someone you don t know may message you or leave you a comment. When this happens, ask a friend or a family member you are close to. I sometimes test the person. See if they know people you know. See if they are familiar with the schools in your area. Can they name teachers you can check up on? Tell someone. If any of the answers to your questions don t sound right, notify someone for your own safety. If a person keeps sending you things and it becomes more a problem, it is time to tell your parents or even your school. Never be scared to speak out about it, because even if you might get in trouble for visiting or using a Web page you are not supposed to, you re keeping yourself safe and unharmed. Madison Brill is a 13-year-old seventh grader in New York City. Gary Brill s Safety Checklist Gary Brill, father of this issue s Youth Voices columnist Madison, has some tips for parents, based on his own experience living with an Internetsavvy kid. Would you read your child s diary, listen in on their phone conversions, or follow them when they leave the house to see what they were doing? With today s computers and technology, you can do these things and more. You can easily read your child s s, monitor their Instant Messages, view their internet history, check their MySpace or Facebook pages, read their Blogs you can even go as far as tracking their movement with a GPS in their phone. The BIG question is: should you? Most of us live in homes where children know as much or more than their parents about computers. Should a parent be fearful of what they don t know? Is it fair to the child to have stricter rules just because the parent is not computer literate? Here are some tips for parents/ guardians and other adults: Ask yourself, what did my parents do? What were the consequences of The wireless Internet goes off every night at 9:45. I review the Internet history periodically. I run a spyware check weekly. I delete the cookies and temporary files from the computer weekly. I talk to my daughters about what they re doing with computers. my behavior? Bring this luggage to the table, discuss it with your kids. If you are not computer literate, learn or ask other parents. It should be one of the most topical conversations you have with other parents. Get involved early with your child, and listen when they ask for additional privileges. Don t make them fearful to have an open conversion with you. Learn from your children. If they ask to do something you re not familiar with, go online and learn. Ask your child if you can talk to other friends who are doing what your child wants to do. Speak to their parents. Test the waters with a trail period. Tie the additional privileges to doing more chores around the house; take the privileges away if they don t behave. Remember, just because you agreed to one request, doesn t mean you have to agree to the next. Be proactive; when you read about a new computer trend ask your child about it. The old adage is true: trust works both ways. If you constantly accuse your child of doing something they have not done, they may eventually feel compelled to just go ahead and do it if they re being blamed for it anyway. (Does that logic ring any bells from your childhood?) Gary Brill lives with his family in New York City. 7

8 Tools for Adults to Help Kids Connect Safely Sprint: Bringing You Tools for 4NetSafety This publication is part of Sprint s 4NetSafety project, a comprehensive program for young people ages 9 to 14, and their parents, guardians, and educators. It is meant to be a companion piece to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children s NetSmartz tweenfocused site ( which uses animation and comic book-style characters to model safer online practices. You ll find more tools, links, and activity ideas on the page at You can also sign up for the e-newsletter and view the archives. Don t Just Read Interact If you have a story to share, or a question for the experts, we want to hear from you. We re counting on you to help us make this newsletter a vibrant, informative tool for engaging positively with the teens in your life! To write a column or share an idea or question, Caitlin Johnson at