Thursday, December 15, 2011

Michelle on Obama on Facebook: "Why would we want to have a whole bunch of people who we don't know knowing our business? That doesn't make much sense."

Honestly, this is refreshing to hear from a fellow parent of tween girls. In the Obama family's only print interview of the season, People magazine asked them about their social networking and television usage. First Lady Michelle Obama says of their decision NOT to let First Tweens Malia and Sasha Obama use Facebook, "Why would we want to have a whole bunch of people who we don't know knowing our business? That doesn't make much sense."

Their tweens are young yet, and Facebook's stated policy is that a user must be 13 or older - but that hasn't stopped millions of tweens from actively using Facebook.

With the winter break upon us, tweens will be online in droves - here are our tips for keeping your tween safe online this season:

Our House Rules for Digitally Literate Girls:

(You can read the full interview with Gayle Trotter that ran in the Alliance for Women in Media "Special Report on Digital Literacy for Women and Girls" here.)

Gayle: How can you let girls become digitally proficient without being exposed to the trash on the Internet?

MsTwixt: In a word: slowly. Kids should be taught to go online in stages appropriate to their age, and parents need to monitor their children’s activity online.

Here are some tips for parents:

· Create a family technology policy. Articulate clearly what your expectations are with respect to how mobile phones, television viewing, Internet browsing, YouTube watching, texting, etc., are acceptable for your family. You should share and discuss this policy with your kids so that they are clear on the behavior expectations and the reasons why. The ethics you enforce in real life absolutely extend to your kids' digital lives.

· Trust but verify. There are settings on every major browser that enable “safe search” — which is essentially search result listings of questionable sites or sites with adult content being blocked from display. Clearly this is a form of censorship, and it’s not too different from the settings on one’s cable box that block out channels based on a parent’s preference.

· Parents should check the browsing history on all computers in the home regularly. Not only is this a list of where your kids have gone online, but it provides insight into the kind of information they are looking for and what they really use the Internet for (so you can tell if “online research” includes Facebook or not).

· Parents should “Google” their kid’s names a few times a year to keep tabs on what information strangers can find about your child.

· With mobile phones, most major carriers offer text plans that not only help you to budget text usage but also monitor the texts. Some carriers charge a fee while others do not — it varies a great deal. You can also look for a plan option that backs-up the information on a phone (very helpful for the address book feature) and monitor photos taken with the phone.

· One rule in our household is that all browsing MUST happen at the dining table or living room; computers are not allowed in bedrooms. Publicly viewed screens have a “fresh air” effect on browsing.

· If your kids are under the age of 13 and want to join Facebook, consider setting up a Facebook account for the entire family instead of each member of the family. Check your privacy settings frequently on Facebook (the default settings change often).

· Another household rule with mobile phones that you might find helpful: store all phones in a central place (i.e., NOT in the child’s room). Not only does it help to mitigate the morning scramble and ensure sleep, but it prevents the late-night, unmonitored text sessions.

· An ostrich strategy won’t work when it comes to technology. If you don’t know how to text, learn; if you don’t know what Facebook or Twitter are, spend some time poking around on those sites; and if you don’t know what you don’t know, ask other parents what they’re monitoring online.

· Some of the best ways to parent include modeling the behaviors we want to see in our children. While we often think of that in the context of manners, speech, and ethics, the same applies to online behaviors.

· Focus on the positives of technology and what it offers to your kids; girls especially need to be comfortable with technology in today’s world.

Tips for teaching kids to go online safely:

· Kids need to know that just because they read something online, it is not necessarily true. They should learn which sites are trusted for research information and to check the footnotes, bibliography and sources for any online research.

· Kids should keep a running list of online bookmarks for any research project. Sites such as Delicious make this easy to both save and organize, and it’s incredibly helpful to have a list of their sources available with a single click.

· Avoid using both their first and last name together for any login, username, or screename.

· NEVER enter their address online – this should ONLY be done by a parent.

· Sit down together in front of the computer to research something. This summer we were looking for a new tank filter for our turtle, and this exercise was really helpful for our girls to see how we searched for information, the kinds of terms and phrases we used, and which sites we chose to visit and which ones we chose not to and why. The parent should narrate what they’re doing and thinking at each step in the process. We do exactly this kind of task-based testing in the development world when developing applications, and it is extremely valuable. This same exercise can also be done when going onto the family Facebook account and reading through Wall posts, viewing photos, finding friends, etc.

· If your child really wants to explore a social network online, there are kid-only sites such as Everloop, Imbee, and Togetherville that are tailored just for them. Parents can feel secure in knowing that these communities have live monitoring and are COPPA-compliant (COPPA is the Child Online Privacy and Protection Act).

· Kids should understand that information posted online has a very long “half-life.” This means not only that anyone can find that goofy photo they took with their friends junior year, but that photo will come up when someone searches for them 5 or 10 years from now — and folks they care about (such as college admission officers, job interviewers, scholarship committees, coaches) will most assuredly search for them online. This is a tough reality to confront as it means that all of the trials and tribulations of growing up and the mistakes that come with it are on public display. We can’t stuff that genie back in the bottle, but being cognizant of it is vital.

· Be picky. Kids should be very selective in which sites they chose to use for research and which communities they choose to join. Discuss with them the merits of one social network over another, why one source for research is better than another, etc. With such vastness of information, it's important to learn to filter it well. They should be selective with their time and what information they share online — VERY selective.

Photo: The White House's official family portrait taken on December 11, 2011.

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