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EMAIL EGOS:WOULD YOU RECOGNIZE YOUR ONLINE KID?

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by Jean Reidy

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Jason is the most popular, athletic and intelligent boy in eighth grade. So he says. Lisa is being scouted by modeling and talent agents. She has several boyfriends waiting in line, but for now, is totally devoted to Jason. So she says. She calls Jason a “hottie”. He ends their chats with casual “I love you’s”. Jason and Lisa are both 13. They’ve never met. They’ve never talked on the phone. They were introduced online by Jason’s cousin, and email each other daily. In phone conversations with girls he knows well, Jason is shy and fumbling. But online, he’s articulate, witty and confident. His cousin describes Lisa as reserved. Online, she’s forward and romantic. Emailers of all ages may take on different personae when communicating online. So what do parents need to know about their kids' online personalities? Dr. Gerald Goodman, professor of psychology at UCLA, an authority on Internet talk and email intimacy, says that kids may use email to indulge one of their most basic and powerful drives — acceptance. People, in general, want to be liked. And for kids, the urge is particularly strong. They can use email to try out different ways of being, in a psychologically safe environment, with little risk of rejection. Dan, age 15, never eats lunch with the boys in his class. Yet he instant-messages with them endlessly from home. Does email embolden kids? Children are generally boldest in the communication medium in which they feel most comfortable, says Dr. Laurence Miller, professor of applied psychology at NYU, and authority on children and computers. They take greater risks on the Internet because they disconnect between online and offline worlds. Online, kids find friends who share their interests or communicate like them, without distractions or prejudices caused by physical appearances. In addition, emailing kids need not think on their feet, thus minimizing one of their greatest fears — their fear of sounding foolish. Consequently, an adolescent boy who freezes when approaching an attractive girl in person might communicate fluidly with her online. And if the email conversation grows awkward, he can disconnect quickly to save face. Kids will forfeit honesty for acceptance or avoidance of rejection, says Dr. Goodman. So, while they may not intentionally change their personalities, the Net allows them to lie a little. Preston Gralla, father of two and author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Protecting Your Children Online, believes that online role-playing is a modern manifestation of how kids have always behaved. "It's a normal part of growing up," says Gralla. "Children need to try on different personae as a way to understand who they are, what they feel and think, how they fit in the world, and how to relate to other people. It gives them a sense of empowerment." But what if your kid takes the power too far? Rob, a polite boy, age 14, forwards, to 12 friends, a vulgar spoof on chain letters, intended to be humorous. He substitutes his own name throughout the letter, so that receivers will believe he authored it. Rob's parents and parents of the recipients are outraged. Parents must instill in kids strong values and good sense so that they can make sound and safe judgments, says Michael S. Josephson, an Internet fan and founder of the Character Counts Coalition. Kids need to know that valued traits, such as trustworthiness, respect, responsibility and caring, apply to email, too. Josephson urges parents to teach kids to be accountable for online actions, and not to hide behind the anonymity possible with email. Should parents monitor kids' emailing to spot trouble? Absolutely. But to what extent? With software available to record every activity on a family computer, spying has never been easier. And while constant monitoring might be justified if dangerous email activity is suspected, experts worry that extreme surveillance might fracture a healthy parent-child relationship. Mark Brasche, founder of SurfSafely.com and author of Child Safety-Net: How To Protect Your Children from Harm Online, agrees. Get to know your children's online friends, he suggests. "I can put a face to every name in their (his kids') buddy lists," says Brasche. Look in from time to time while your kid is on the computer, and let him know that email sessions are subject to parental eavesdropping, Brasche urges. ——————————————————

Chat Rooms: Keeping them safe for kids

By Christine Cristiano

Online chatting gives children the opportunity to interact and communicate with other kids from all parts of the world. However, like any activity that combines kids and the Internet, there are dangers associated with online chatting. Predators are drawn to online communities like chat rooms because it gives them instant access to thousands of victims and their email addresses. There are many factors to consider when allowing your child to participate in or join an online chat room community:

Choosing a Reputable Online Chat Room Your first step should be to ensure that your child is aware of the basic Internet safety rules and that there's always the potential for encountering a cyber predator. Explain to your child that they're never to give out any personal information about themselves including their name, address, phone number, email address or school they attend. They should never respond if asked their nsl — name, sex and location. This is a common question asked in many unmonitored chat rooms. A reputable kids' chat room should be designated solely for kids and only contain chat services. It should contain limited advertising and the advertising should be in the form of sponsorship. Avoid sites if the advertising takes the user off-site, where a child's safety could be jeopardized. Chat sites that include enhanced services, such as bulletin boards, private messaging and forums, should also be avoided because predators looking to connect with minors frequent these types of sites. A safe chat room for your child should be monitored by screened adults or a channel operator and use visible and invisible monitors. The monitor's job is to oversee the activity in the chat room and ensure that all chatters are adhering to the appropriate behavior. A visible or ‘foreground’ monitor is identifiable by a specific user name and is easily recognized by fellow chatters. The visible monitor is able to see what's going on in the room, interact with the kids by answering their questions, and help keep the chat room buzzing with activity. Invisible or 'background’ monitors are an effective security tool because they can observe the chat room activity unnoticed and detect undesirable behavior or safety problems. A chat room that uses both visible and invisible monitors is most effective at ensuring your child's safety.

Set Behavioral Codes of Conduct Choose a chat room that has a set behavioral code of conduct for all visitors, and enforces it. It should have a clearly defined policy of what's acceptable and what's not. There should also be clear, detailed consequences for violating the behavior policy. The chat room should have policies in place for dealing with habitual troublemakers, and those who try to evade the word filters and use offensive language. An effective policy is one in which the parent is notified of the behavior or language in question, and the user's visiting privileges are revoked. A chat site programmed with word filters is an excellent tool for filtering out undesirable language that may originate from other chatters. When an offensive word is used, it's blocked before it's displayed to other chatters.

Association Endorsement Any chat room or website your child visits should adhere to FTC guidelines for compliance with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), rules for website operators to ensure your child's privacy is protected. The site's privacy policy must be available through a link on the website's home page and any area where personal information is collected from children. Furthermore, the privacy policy should state that any information collected will not be sold, rented or passed onto a third party. Look for an endorsement from watchdog organizations such as safekids.com or cyberangels.com.

 


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