To Spy or Not to Spy? The Parent’s Dilemma   View Comments

Posted at 10:57 pm in Digital Age Parenting,Uncategorized

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I’m fascinated by the drive of many parents these days to aggressively monitor their children’s activities on the Internet  by installing monitoring software, regularly reviewing websites their children visit and/or reviewing text messages. Let’s start by taking a survey:

I go through the pros and cons in my own mind:


  • As a parent I would get information about how my child is behaving online so I can provide guidance.
  • As a parent I want to insure my child is not exposed to porn, cyberbullying or hate-sites that I think may influence my child negatively. I could divert this exposure or intervene in a cyberbullying cycle if I were aware.
  • If my kid was involved in sexting, I could head it off at the pass and do some educating.


  • If my kid felt invaded, he would find a way to hide his activities and then I’d lose my ability to be helpful.
  • I might drive a wedge in our “real world” relationship as well, causing sneaky behavior there too.
  • I could incite all-out rebellion prompting some real nastiness.

If you are toying with the decision “to spy or not to spy,” perhaps some comments by Anne Collier, Co-Director of’s statement on youth and social media will be of use:

After a full review of the youth-online-risk research, two key conclusions of the Harvard Berkman Center task force on which ConnectSafely’s co-directors served were that:

Not all young people are equally at risk online, and if any generalization can be made it’s that…A child’s psychosocial make-up and home and school environment are better predictors of online risk than any technology the child uses.

I realize that Collier’s comments do not directly address how extensively a parent should monitor however it does provide key information to consider: How is your child doing in the “real world”? As a quick checklist, consider the following questions to ask yourself:

  • Are my child’s social relationships easy-going or turbulent? (Online “friendships” are likely to take on a similar pattern.)
  • Do I feel good about the crowd my child hangs out with? (A kid’s online associations are typically reflective of offline associations.)
  • Does my child generally demonstrate empathy? (This may provide some assurance that he would overcome what Larry Magid, Co-Director of refers to as “dis-inhibition”, e.g. “the lack of visual cues reduces empathy.”)
  • How is my child’s impulse control? What is the likelihood that he will react vs. pull back from an online provocation?

The decision to monitor won’t be the same for every parent. There are clearly risks for both action and inaction…mostly depending on the individual child.



ConnectSafely Publishes “A Parents’ Guide to Facebook”   View Comments

Posted at 11:41 pm in Uncategorized
Facebook logo

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve just completed reading A Parents’ Guide to Facebook published by ConnectSafely and am very impressed. Though given the writers, Anne Collier and Larry Magid, I guess a well articulated read would be expected. Collier and Magid are co-directors of ConnectSafely; Magid has an extensive media background as an on-air tech analyst for CBS News and is a columnist for both on and offline news organizations while Collier is an author, writer and journalist as well.

The free PDF offers a thorough, well balanced explanation for parents about what they need to know to help guide their children in their use of Facebook. Not only are kids of the “eligible” age of 13 signing on to Facebook, so are some 7.5 million children younger than 13 according to a Consumer Reports survey released on May 10:

Of the 20 million minors who actively used Facebook in the past year, 7.5 million of them were younger than 13, according to projections from Consumer Reports’ latest State of the Net survey.  Facebook’s terms of service require users to be at least 13 years old.

Also among this group of minors using Facebook, more than 5 million were 10 and under.  Consumer Reports survey found that their accounts were largely unsupervised by their parents, exposing them to malware or serious threats such as predators or bullies.  The report on Internet security, which includes the full survey results and advice for parents of Facebook users, is featured in the June issue of Consumer Reports and on

Even parents who are already active Facebook users should read A Parents’ Guide to Facebook. It provides a fresh perspective as it relates to our children’s use of social networks in general. Additionally, there are clear, easy-to-follow directions about appropriate privacy settings for kids and how to create them including screenshots of the Facebook settings pages. If you’re only interested in learning about appropriate settings, ConnectSafely has a website page Recommended Facebook Privacy Settings for Teens.

Ironically, but not surprising, ConnectSafely has its own Facebook page. If you’re like me, you’ll feel compelled to “like” it once you’ve checked them out.

Written by Marla on May 12th, 2011

“The Shallows” is Deep and Wide   View Comments

Posted at 12:44 am in Book Review

The Shallows, What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr is among my favorite books on the topic of the digital age. A Pulitzer Prize finalist, the book offers an intricate weave of the history of the written word, the popularization of books and “deep reading” with a review of neuroscience research that examines reading and the impact the digital age has wrought on our cognitive functioning.

Noticing his own cognitive short circuiting since falling into the digital abyss with the rest of us, Carr took a step back (and a break from the digital playground) to explore related neuroscience research. His hunch: our hyper-focus on the Internet may be having an actual physiological impact on our brain functioning. His conclusion: our hyper-focus on the Internet is having an actual physiological impact on our brain functioning.

The book, an extension of his 2008 article published in the Atlantic, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” validates what most of us realize but have trouble acting on: regularly unhook from your computer, get some balance in your life and ignore book reading to your peril. If you’re looking to broaden or deepen your thinking, deep reading that comes from sitting with a page without links on it trumps the constant interruptions and the increasingly short packets of online information.

One could argue that Carr’s presupposition biased his work but then, ’tis the author’s right to take a position and back it up with aggressive fact gathering and intelligent analysis – which Carr has done beyond any doubt. The beauty of this book is the author’s ability to edify in compelling prose. While a history of the written word and a review of related neuroscience could sound like a sleeper, this is a fascinating page-turner.  Carr does a great job of summarizing research in plain-speak and strikes the perfect level of technical detail. This was perhaps the most fluid and engaging non-fiction book I’ve had the pleasure of reading. Kudos to Carr for his skill and diligence in the writing.

Related Reading:

Yikes Are We Already Cyborgs?

Yikes! Are We already Cyborgs?   View Comments

Cyborg Ninja

Image by ケーちゃん via Flickr

The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, a one man show by Mike Daisey scheduled to play at the Seattle Repertory Theatre April 22nd to May 22nd, is nothing short of extraordinary. Having seen the show in D.C., I have become an ardent Daisey fan: he is a locomotive of energy, vacillating from humor to seriousness and back again in a heartbeat. The combination eases the audiences’ digestion of the profound facts he shares about the hidden toll our electronics take on people we never see in China’s factories.  By way of example, his highly conspicuous debut at the gates of China’s Foxconn factory in Shenzhen, in a Hawaiian print shirt, is hilarious. (Daisey is not a small man.) While the audience is laughing out loud, Daisey quickly juxtaposes this image against those of frowning gun toting guards at the plant and nets attached to the building to catch those jumping off the top.  Foxconn is the world’s largest producer of electronic components. Some of its most well known products include the iPod, iPad and iPhone – hence the focus of the play and its title. Note,  Apple’s are by no means the only electronic products produced at Foxconn.

I’ll give away only one more Daisey sound byte and leave the rest for your viewing pleasure in Seattle. In his detailed depiction of his own obsession with computers he jokes that although we don’t look like the cyborgs of our imaginations – no robotic attachments to our bodies – our cell phones and laptops have nontheless become extensions of ourselves. In essence we have become cyborgs but in a less obvious manner than sci-fi movies would have led us to expect. I’m here to tell you this ain’t no joke.

Nicholas Carr in his book, The Shallows, What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, reviews a broad swath of research related to neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to develop new neuronal connections. One compelling piece of research Carr refers to, published in 2008 is titled “When Pliers Become Fingers in the Monkey Motor System”. Though the title of the research is self-explanatory, note Carr’s summary:

“ …the rakes and pliers [that monkeys used in the experiment] actually came to be incorporated into the brain maps of the animals’ hands. The tools, so far as the animal’s brains were concerned had become part of their bodies. As the researchers who conducted the experiment with the pliers reported, the monkey’s brains began to act ‘as if the pliers were now the hand fingers’.”

While Daisey’s humor may raise the fleeting thought that our electronics are extensions of ourselves in a crazy sci-fi sort of way, Carr provides ample evidence in the form of research that allows us to extrapolate the same conclusion.  Though they may not be attached to our bodies, our brains don’t know the difference and consider our electronic “tools” , keyboards, laptops, cell phones, etc.,  to be part of us – for better or for worse.

Announcing Teleclass: Steering Your Child down the Digital Highway   View Comments

Posted at 3:06 pm in Digital Age Parenting
Parents Can Prevent Cyberbullying

Parents Can Prevent Cyberbullying

Many parents find out after the fact that their child has behaved badly or become the victim of others’ bad behavior. You know what I mean:

• Insults and gossip

• Ganging up on a poor victim

• Suffering from someone else’s cyber-bullying and then retaliating or escalating the problem

• Invading someone’s privacy by taking or sending inappropriate pictures

• Sexting (taking a sexually-explicit digital photograph of themselves or of someone else, and sending it via cell phone or the Internet.)

I’ve established a new teleclass to accommodate parents who don’t have time to go to school meetings at night, who want to ask questions related to their children’s particular situations and who don’t want to spend hours on the Internet researching the current digital scene accessed by kids these days.

April/May Phone Dates and Times:

  • Saturday April 16: 10:00-11:00 PST
  • Saturday April 23: 10:00-11:00 PST
  • Saturday April 30: 10:00-11:00 PST
  • Saturday May 7: 10:00-11:00 PST

The topics addressed will include:

Call #1: Rules at Home and Important Talks to have with your Child

Would you give your child the keys to the car without driving lessons? Of course you wouldn’t. But every day parents provide their children access to the Internet and social media sites without elaborating on the “rules of the road”. In our first call we’ll discuss basic principles, values and manners you should impart to your child before providing them with Internet access or a Smartphone. It’s never too late to impart these guidelines though– even if your child has been texting for years and spends hours a day on the Internet you can have an impact on his or her behavior.

Calls #2 & #3: Laying the Foundation for your Child’s Safety and Reputation in the Digital World

Privacy, safety and reputation are interwoven issues in the digital world. In these two calls we’ll discuss:

  • The real risks of revealing too much both on social media sites and via texting
  • Photos and tagging
  • Sexting
  • How to shape and monitor your child’s digital behavior

We’ll also address concerns that some parents have about intruding on their child’s privacy. Again, we’ll review what parents should impart to their children about these topics.

Call #4: Cyber Bullying Prevention

More common than cyber stalkers, cyber bullies can wreck severe emotional damage on others as illustrated by teen suicides in 2010 headlines around the country. In this call we’ll discuss why digital communication creates a false sense of anonymity, how to develop your child’s digital sensibilities and what to do to prevent digital “scuffles” from spiraling out of control.

Why I decided to do this:

Last year, there were several teen suicides related to cyberbullying. The turning point for me was when Tyler Clementi, a gay Rutgers college freshman jumped off a bridge because his roomate and another student video taped him in a sexual encounter and then broadcast the video. As I said in my blog Mourning Tyler Clementi, there is a compelling onus on parents to pro-actively involve themselves in their children’s “digital development” to shape kids’ online ethics so these incidents of cyberbullying stop. Since then, I’ve focused on this topic, gathering information, reading books, listening to experts in the field and pulling together information parents need to take appropriate action with their children in this critical area.

Steering Your Child down the Digital Highway is a great way for parents to get up to speed on these topics.

Go to for full details and to enroll in the sessions.

Can’t wait to talk with you there!

Written by Marla on April 5th, 2011

Tagged with cyber bullying, sexting, Tyler Clementi

Sexting in Eighth Grade. OMG!   View Comments

Posted at 4:19 pm in Digital Age Parenting

Jan Hoffman a New York Times writer offered up an incredible article this past weekend about an eighth grade girl in Washington who passed a naked photo of herself to a boyfriend. They broke up, he passed the photo to her ex-friend, who then sent it on to her list of text friends. The rest was predictable to informed adults; a great deal of heart ache and devastation ensued as the girl’s photo was passed around various middle schools in the area and three kids ended up in court.

I emphasize the words informed adults. The problem is that despite recent headlines there are many who don’t know about this risk or who know but have not addressed these risks head on with their kids. And to be fair, eighth grade may seem too young to some parents to consider their kids at risk and the topic may not be comfortable to address for some parents. But address it they must.

Not only are the emotional scars deep and long lasting for the person whose photo is ciruclated, laws are now evolving in many states that classify sexting as child pornography when the child photographed is under 18.  If the kids involved in the Washington incident had been convicted of disseminating child pornography, they could have been sentenced to up to 36 weeks in a juvenile detention center according to Hoffman. States vary in their laws and the legal landscape is still very much under construction. However what is clear is that the risks and penalities, emotionally and legally are steep for both victim and perpatrator.

Written by Marla on March 30th, 2011

White House Panel on Bullying   View Comments

Posted at 12:53 am in Digital Age Parenting

In the context of increased attention on cyberbullying and the many tragic outcomes of the past year, President Obama and the First Lady introduced a White House Conference on Bullying today. President Obama who mentioned frequent childhood taunts about his big ears,  commented in his opening that he wanted to “…dispel the myth that bullying is a harmless rite of passage.” The President and Mrs. Obama underscored their concerns as parents about the devastating and long lasting effects of bullying. The conference was multi-faceted including a panel presentation, questions and answers with Health and Human Welfare Secretary Sebelius and a live interactive session with the public via Facebook. Following are highlights from the panel discussion.

Valerie Jared, Senior Advisor to the President, moderated  panel  with four guest professors from the University of Wisconsin Criminal Justice Department, the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, the University of Connecticut Center of Behavioral Education and Research and the School of Psychology at the University of Nebraska. The four focused on causes and effects of bullying.

There was consensus on a link between bullying and school climate. Associate Professor of Mental Health at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Catherine Bradshaw is also the Associate Director of the John Hopkins Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence. Dr. Bradshaw explained that children’s perception of the school climate and staff has a lot to do with how they intervene when observing bullying and how they respond when they are bullied. If kids feel that teachers turn a blind eye to bullying, they don’t report it. Her bully intervention research indicates that training teachers how to intervene, how to talk to students about bullying and how to report problems to the administration are significant in creating a climate in which students feel comfortable reporting bullying to teachers. Students also need to be trained in the same manner and engage in programs and curricula that promote social-emotional skills Dr. Bradshaw said.

Cyberbullying by Cellphone

Panel member Dr. Justin Patchin, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Wisconsin, also acts as Co-Director for the Cyberbullying Research Center. Dr. Patchin underscored that the majority of teens are responsible and safe online however 1 in 5 teens have experienced cyberbullying ranging from minor to very serious threats. He commented on the many states that have established laws against cyberbullying but noted that states don’t provide guidance to schools about what to do or how to do it. Also, he noted that states don’t allocate resources to enforce these laws – a problem I think we can agree is rampant especially with state funding cuts affecting school budgets.

Dr. Sue Swearer, Associate Professor at the University of Nebraska School of Psychology addressed the “social ecology” in which bullying unfolds. Having studied both perpetrators and victims, she finds that children who are bullied at home or in the neighborhood may go to school and bully others.

In addressing the topic, Dr. George Sugie, Professor of Special Education at the University of Connecticut and Director of the Center of Behavioral Education and Research, reiterated the need for schools to set climates that establish bullying behavior as “totally unacceptable”. Echoing Dr. Swearer’s observations, that bullies are often struggling with risk factors at home, he recommends targeted mental health interventions for these children.

Additionally on the home front, Dr. Sugie stressed it is important for parents to be online and “friend” their kids on Facebook. My favorite take-away from listening to this transcript: Dr. Sugie highlighted the advantages for kids to “friend” parents; it is a way to gain their parents’ trust by demonstrating that they behave responsibly. Tell that to your kid when they don’t want to “friend” you!

Written by Marla on March 11th, 2011

Are Schools Meeting Digital Age Challenges?   View Comments

Posted at 10:59 pm in Digital Age Parenting

Linda Burch, Common Sense Media

Children growing up in the 21st century are swimming in different waters than those who grew up prior to 1995 when the first internet browser made the World Wide Web accessible to all of us. Today’s fifteen year old has never known a world that didn’t have Internet access. As with anyone born in the territory they now occupy, these kids are considered natives, in this case digital natives.  Schools for these children however are built upon an industrial age paradigm not a digital age one according to Ian Jukes, Ted McCain and Lee Crocket authors of “Living on the Future Edge, Window on Tomorrow”.

Mr. Jukes, known for his extensive background as an educator, school administrator, university instructor and international consultant, was a keynote speaker in December 2010 at the California School Boards Association annual conference held at San Francisco’s Moscone Center. In their book Jukes, McCain and Crocket contend that because of the onslaught of new technology, teachers who have grown up prior to the digital age are left scrambling not only to master all things digital and to utilize them in a way that enhances learning but also to think ahead to what the world will be like when students graduate and shift into the workforce. Anticipating children’s future lives in a world of non-stop innovation and preparing them for that world is the challenge of education today according to Jukes, McCain and Crocket.

One aspect of that preparation is school curriculum addressing digital citizenship. In fact digital citizenship not only addresses children’s future, it addresses their present. Common Sense Media, based in San Francisco, is one organization that is taking aggressive steps to develop digital citizenship curricula for schools. A non-profit organization that, from an independent point of view, informs and educates parents about media and technology in children’s lives, Common Sense Media is well situated to address the topic.

The Common Sense Media Curriculum covers: privacy, identity and self expression, connected culture, respecting creative work and credibility and trust according to Linda Burch, Co-Founder and Chief Education and Strategy Officer and Rebecca Randall, Vice-President of Education Programs. Each of these topics will be further explained in the next article: “Digital citizenship: What is it anyway?”

In June of 2010, the organization launched free of charge its first Digital Literacy and Citizenship Curriculum aimed at middle schools.  It trained teachers in many states and districts over the summer, with an official introduction to the public in September. By September 2011 it aims to have a full K-12 curriculum available for implementation. The number of Bay Area schools that have signed up to access its parent program and/or digital literacy and citizenship curriculum represents 4% of the over 10,700 schools across the country and internationally that have registered on its network. Signing up for access however does not insure that a program is implemented in any given school. For obstacles to implementation, see upcoming articles in this Digital Citizenship series.

For information about Common Sense Media’s Digital Citizenship Curriculum go to

Hactivism?   View Comments

Posted at 7:54 pm in Digital Politics

Today was the first time I’d read the term “hactivism” to describe Wikileaks shenanigans. It surprised me to see the combination of the word “hacking” – an illegal and presumably anti-social act – with the word “activism”.  I understand that activism can come in all forms and one man’s (or woman’s) activism could be another’s terrorism but as a boomer the term activism always had positive associations to me. So what’s your take? Can hacking be considered activism?

Written by Marla on January 3rd, 2011

Tagged with Activism, digital age, Digital Nation, digital world, Hacktivism, internet, Julian Assange, Wikileaks

Mourning Tyler Clementi   View Comments

I am heart-broken. It hit the news yesterday that Tyler Clementi, a gay Rutgers student, committed suicide last week in reaction to his roommate and another Rutgers student surreptitiously capturing a sexual encounter on a webcam and posting it on the Internet. I could cry.

The tragic loss of human life and the torment for his family (as well as the perpetrators’) can only be devastating. As a society, there are two challenges we’re left with, both of them enormous and urgent:

  1. How to change attitudes about gays. This is a topic which, though I am passionate about, I will rely on others to articulate.
  2. How to socialize the generations that have grown up digital to discern right from wrong in utilizing the tools at their fingertips. This one I’ll tackle here.

One can only wonder what the perpetrators, Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei, were thinking. Their high school photos in the press look clean cut and charming. If they got into Rutgers, they can’t be dumb. So were they completely lacking in conscience? NPR interviewed Justin Patchin, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center for insight into the thought process behind cyberbullying. To summarize his comments: adolescents don’t see it as wrong and don’t recognize the harm that will come from posting certain information on line. How could kids be so crass?

Let’s look at the adolescent brain for an answer. According to The American Medical Association, Amicus Brief to the Supreme Court in 2005, which abolished the death penalty for crimes committed by adolescents under the age of eighteen, the brain research presented demonstrated that adolescents’ “brains are physiologically underdeveloped in the areas that control impulses, foresee consequences and temper emotions…” and the brain does not mature until the early 20’s.  That would certainly account for cyberbullying.

Looking at kids’ brain development isn’t an attempt to downplay how heinous this crime was. Ravi and Wei cannot be forgiven. It is however, my attempt to pull our collective attention above the agonizing storm of this incident to navigate the waters ahead.

Young people’s physiological limitations coupled with the uncontrolled digital playground they have at hand requires far more aggressive teaching from parents and educational institutions – from grammar school through college – as well as more built in constraints on the part of social networking sites. Laws need to be established that deal aggressively with online bullying.

The speed of technological change has leapt ahead of parental and educational systems’ ability to train appropriate social behavior. The digital age combined with adolescent brain development limitations has carved a moral canyon that requires bridging with a great deal more than the duct tape that is currently in place.  We don’t give 14 year olds a driver’s license because we know they’re too immature to drive. We try to limit adolescent drinking by establishing the legal drinking age at 21. Yet, a five year old can access the Internet and use an iPhone. Am I proposing an Internet license for kids to get online? Actually, that would be nice, but I’m afraid it’s way too late for that. Nor can we rely on new laws to whip adolescent behavior into shape.

So what can we, as individuals, do to shift our culture? What we’ve always done…educate at home and at school.

Student Education: Many educational institutions from grammar school through college should have digital citizenship as a fundamental part of their required curricula. Does yours? Find out what has been conveyed to your kids at school. If not, call the principal and/or bring up the topic at the next PTA meeting. If that doesn’t work, bring it to the school board.  If your school already addresses digital citizenship with students that’s great.  However, it does not mean that parents can wash their hands of the topic.  The conversation needs to start at home and be reinforced at home.

Parent Education: Parents need to take the initiative to educate themselves. First, they need to get up to speed on what their children are doing in the digital age. Then they need to provide early and ongoing direction and intervention to teach right from wrong.

Let us use the pain we feel at the tragedy of Tyler Clementi and others who have recently committed suicide as a result of cyberbullying, to prompt dialogues with our kids and take appropriate action. Please, let’s work in concert with other parents and in each of our homes to prevent this from happening again.