SafeKids/NetFamilyNews 3/10/06 issue

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  • Date: Wed, 15 Mar 2006 23:51:19 -0500

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Online sex & child protection: Latest research

I recently received a heads-up about online sexual behavior from
subscriber Jerald Block, MD. With his permission, I'm featuring it
this week because 1) parents should have the latest information, and
2) nowhere have I seen the most recent studies pulled together in one
place, much less so succinctly. Do note what he says about "open
family communication"; it's an important message and reinforces what
became clear as I worked on my 2/3 editorial about Web 2.0, or the new
online realities we all face <>.

Dr. Block is a practicing psychiatrist who deals with addictions
(including Net-related ones). He's also on the faculty of Oregon
Health & Science University, president of SMARTGuard Software
<>, and author of "A (Virtual) World
of Their Own: Computer Gaming and Your Patients"
<>. Last
week he spoke on "Addictive Behaviors and Computers" at Oregon
Psychiatric Association's winter conference
<>. Here's what he wrote me
(he later kindly emailed me his sources, footnoted below)?.

"Anne - Just finished a lecture on Virtual Sex
<> and, as a
result, I read much of the more recent and obscure literature. I
wanted to update you.

"In the past I wrote you that I think the issue of real-life sexual
contacts with children was overestimated and that the risk was
actually rather small. I think I was wrong.

"In the US, in one study it appears that 7% of kids aged 10-17 meet
with a stranger in real life after talking with them via the
computer.[1] In Nordic countries, another study documented a 14%
incidence [in ages 9-16].[2] In Singapore, a 16% incidence [with

"Equally alarming - when the kids do meet in real life the stranger
[they "met" online], they often go alone (23%), without notifying
anyone (10%).[4]

"Finally, in the two studies that looked at this [5], filters did NOT
make any difference. Nor did examining the browsing history or sitting
next to your kid on the computer.       However, one study (Kienfie) showed
that two household rules did make some difference:

"1.  You cannot have face-to-face meeting with people you meet online.
"2.  You cannot arrange to meet strangers online.

"More generally, open family communication seemed to be essential
(rather than more covert spying and the such). Parents should know
that the average age of first sexual intercourse is now around 15.8 years old.

"In adults, it seems that a surprising number of virtual contacts are
converted into real life contacts. In one STD [sexually transmitted
diseases] clinic, 15% of heterosexual patients had sought online
virtual sex; 65% of these converted the contacts to real-life ones."

The studies Dr. Block reviewed

1 Wolak, J., Mitchell, K.J., Finkelhor, D.: "Close online
relationships in a national sample of adolescents," Journal of
Adolescence 37:441-55
2 Staksrud E.: "Parents believe, kids act" <>
3 Albert Kienfie Liau, Angeline Khoo, Peng Hwa Ang: "Factors
Influencing Adolescents Engagement in Risky Internet Behavior,"
CyberPsychology & Behavior 8(6):513-20
4 Wolak study (No. 1 above)
5 Kienfie study (No. 3 above) AND Michele Ybarra, Kimberly Mitchell:
"Exposure to Internet Pornography among Children and Adolescents: A
National Survey," CyberPsychology and Behavior. 8(5):473-86
6 Berne J., Huberman B.: "European approaches to adolescent sexual
bahavior and responsibility," Advocates for Youth, Washington, D.C.,
1999 <>
7 Sylvain Boies, Gail Knudson, Julian Young: "The Internet, Sex, and
Youths: Implications for Sexual Development, Sexual Addiction &
Compulsivity," 11:343-63 (2004) <>.

+ = + = + = +

Web News Briefs

1. In game chat: Pedophile case <>,
which tracks social and legislative developments in the videogame
world, reports another case of alleged child harassment in game chat.
It's the second I've seen reported (see "Teen exploited in online
gaming" . "A 52-year-old man who helped manage the Green Berets, a
competitive videogame clan, was busted by police in London, Ontario,
following accusations that he solicited obscene pictures of
[10-to-13-year-old] boys he recruited for the Green Berets'
Counter-strike team," according to GamePolitics. He reportedly told
them to lie about their age and used the Ventrilo game chat program to
encourage the boys to send him nude photos, promising them computer
gear and "clan leadership positions" in return (or getting kicked off
the team if they didn't comply).

2. Teen blogging & politics

The politicization of teen social-networking has begun. "Jeanine F.
Pirro, the Republican candidate for attorney general [of New York],
has begun an attack on," the New York Times reported
&en=8c7b45caafadab0f&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss>, "saying
that it represents a threat to child safety." According to the Times,
"Ms. Pirro said that her motivation for taking on the issue was a
result of the work she did in her 12 years as district attorney as a
zealous pursuer of sex offenders." Meanwhile, Reuters reports that US
attorney Kevin O'Connor announced federal charges against two men for
using MySpace to meet with teenage girls
<>. Mr.
O'Connor said "MySpace was not at fault and that full blame lies with
the two defendants." But Connecticut Attorney General Richard
Blumenthal "has called on MySpace to tighten access to the site and
improve its age verification system," Reuters added. "MySpace and
Blumenthal's office are in negotiations over the attorney general's
request." Here's a Business Week interview with Blumenthal about

3. 'Auteurs' at your house?

Probably. They're everywhere. Content is no longer king, conventional
media people everywhere are finding out. "The customer is king," the
BBC staidly put it
<>, referring to
uploaders, auteurs, or basically everybody on the Web., one
of the oldest teen cybersocializing sites, used the word "auteur" in
its relaunch press release
ews_view&newsId=20060306005413&newsLang=en>. It sort of means
"author," but takes it further to suggesting a creator's control over
all aspects of, say, a movie production. That's pretty much what Web
users (including kids) now have, with zillions of sites (including,,,, etc.) providing
"storage" or hosting of all manner of media, virtually all of it
home-made, by anyone who wants to register (for free). It's Web 2.0,
now upon us. But even auteurs aren't king, really. Community
is, I think ­ witness the popularity of everything from eBay to
Craigslist to MySpace. Auteurs aren't happy without a community with
which to share their creations (and inner-most thoughts). Evidence:
The Los Angeles Times reports
"Oscar-winning director Steven Spielberg, actor-producer Ashton
Kutcher and reality TV impresario Mark Burnett are ? grappling with a
fundamental question: What defines a hit on the Internet?", and both
the L.A. and the New York Times report that Yahoo has figured it out
00&en=59d13f05f026e6e3&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss>. While, it
did invest heavily in professionally created TV on the Web, Yahoo is
now focusing more on "user-generated content." Business Week ran that
story too <>.

4. Study on online dating

"Thirty million Americans say they know someone who has been in a long-term
relationship or married someone they met online," according to the
latest Pew Internet & American Life study
<>, which adds
that 60 million "know someone who has at least dabbled in the online
dating scene." But online dating isn't all upside. In its coverage of
the study, USATODAY
report that opinions on Net dating among the 145 million US Internet
users in general are an even split: 44% agree "it's a good way to meet
people," 44% disagree. But the percentage on the positive side is only
growing. "Online daters are generally younger and more likely to be
employed," Pew says. The project only surveyed adults, but it was "the
youngest cohort (18-29 years old)" that "has the largest percentage of
online daters within it." And with the number of teens using
social-networking sites (nearly 14 million under 18 on
alone), online dating and socializing
is quickly becoming part of everyday life. An interesting finding in
the Pew report that bears this out is reflected in a chart on p. 20
showing "Dating-Related Activities Online." Maybe social-networking is
more for teens and 20-somethings and online dating is more Gen X and
older? But wait, there's more: what USATODAY
m> describes as "team online dating," which is like merging and with and "The
result? TeamDating and eTwine in the USA and Compa in the UK. Users
can sign up in groups of two or more and correspond with other duos,
trios or quartets. The goal is to take the two cyber-squads offline,
to the promise of mingling - and mating - opportunities.

5. More earbud ear-risk news

USATODAY adds a few more voices to the growing discussion about what
earbuds are doing to ears
The article leads with a family of iPod lovers, the 43-year-old dad of
which cranks the music up for hours every day, to drown out power
tools at work, to ski to, and to listen while working at his computer.
He's "concerned about hearing loss and already experiences ringing in
the ears, called tinnitus, which is a symptom of damage. But he says
he has no plans to cut back on his MP3 use." It's sustained use at
high volumes that audiologists warn against most. "Using earphones for
hours at high volumes basically causes 'shock and awe' to delicate
hair-like cells deep within the inner ear that help the brain process
sound," USATODAY cites one doc as saying, adding that "after years of
abuse, those structures won't function anymore." A nice addition is
the sidebar, showing the decibel levels of various everyday
sounds - e.g., moderate rainfall, 50; conversation, 60; lawnmower, 90;
movie theater, 118; earbuds 120 (basically the same as "live music
concert" at 120+). The sidebar says anything over 85 exceeds what
experts are calling "safe." Apple must be quietly scrambling to find
safer, better-designed earbuds.

6. '25 to Life' game boycott

Democrats in the Michigan House of Representatives have called for a
boycott of the "25 to Life" videogame, "in which players try to kill
police officers to win the game," the Detroit Free Press reports
016>. "The call for a boycott joins a national campaign by the police
organizations to keep children and families away from the game." "25
to Life" is rated Mature/17+ by the Entertainment Software Rating
Board <>, which says "titles in this category may
contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content, and/or
strong language." Gaming news site reports
<> that the
National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund "has collected more
than 220,000 signatures protesting" the game.

7. Major videogame study coming

Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), and Dick Durbin
(D-IL) have persuaded a Senate committee to approve what could be a
milestone study by the Centers for Disease Control of the "impact of
electronic media use" on children, CNET reports
50.html>. "It appears to be intended as a way to justify" restrictions
such as those imposed in legislation the senators have introduced
against sales of violent videogames to minors." CNET adds that "a
string of court decisions have been striking down antigaming laws
because of a lack of hard evidence that minors are harmed by violence
in video games."

8. Tracking videogame politics

Earlier this week I blogged about the beginning of teen
social-networking's politicization. Well, videogame politics have been
tracked for a year by Philadelphia Inquirer game columnist Dennis
McCauley at, MTV News reports
<>. This
month Dennis added a new page to his blog: a US map that tracks state
and federal legislation against violent videogames
<> (currently there's
legislative activity in 20 states). But he started the blog "in an
effort to track not just game legislation but many of the serious
social issues related to gaming," according to MTV.

9. 'Spying' on IM-ers?

It's the other kind of "domestic surveillance," as Washington Post
columnist Ruth Marcus put it
6030601238.html>, and parents of teenagers all know it's just as
controversial as the NSA kind. Ruth feels nostalgia for less
"ethically ambiguous" times, e.g., the pre-instant-messaging and
MySpace era, and some parents are heaving sighs of relief that their
kids went off to college before they had to deal with these issues. A
lot of parents shared their views on monitoring and how best to
protect online kids during a discussion tied to Ruth's column
2006030600950.html>. Only one mom pointed to one of the biggest risks
to social well-being, reputations, and futures that online
communications present teens: how hard it can be to take something
back. Whether it's a comment emailed/IM'd/posted unthinkingly or a
photo uploaded impulsively, it can
be copied and pasted to "places" where it can never be taken back.
Whether or not and for how long it's re-posted, -emailed, -uploaded,
-IM'd, -texted, or shared around global file-sharing networks (and
stored on millions of hard drives) depends on the whim or good graces
of friends, ex-friends, and strangers. In the vast majority of cases,
nasty re-publishing doesn't happen, never will, but it can, and kids
and parents need to know this. Your thoughts on this are welcome, via
anne@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx or

10. Parents on MySpace

I'm not talking about parents spying on kids' MySpaces ­ but about
*parenting* groups on MySpace. I decided to look into it when Maggie
in Vancouver posted in our NetFamilyForum(.org) about her own MySpace
profile and her group's page, MySpaceMoms2006. Unfortunately, the link
she posted didn't work, but clicking around MySpace Groups, I found
dozens of geographically based parent solidarity and networking groups
for moms (not so many for dads) in the East Bay, Tampa Bay, Tulsa,
Vancouver, mid-Michigan, southern Maryland, New York City, Phoenix,
and so on (there were also groups for single, teen, and stay-at-home
moms, a group for "the alterna-parent crowd - Punk, Goth, DeathRock,
Metal, etc.," and a "Daughters Against Moms on MySpace" group). This
week Vancouver-based The Columbian
led with the story of how one mom of a toddler was helped with a scary
poison-control issue by another mom she met in
MySpace. "The two Vancouver mothers are part of a growing group of
parents who are raising children away from family or supportive
friends. For this generation, that grew up with Internet access, cell
phones and e-mail, meeting friends and getting advice online is not
only easy, it's the norm."

11.'s relaunch

It's not publicizing the move as such, but (which was hosting
teen social-networking long before anybody heard the term) has a
unique solution to the downside of the teen online social scene. It's
segmenting itself. It has relaunched 10-year-old for 18+
users and unveiled for 13-to-17-year-olds. "To provide value
to its original audience, Bolt Media today also launched,
enabling kids, tweens, and younger teens to create content, meet
people, and play games in a safe, no pressure, and age-appropriate
environment," the company's press release says
ews_view&newsId=20060306005413&newsLang=en>, adding that Bolt2 "is
organized around games, pop culture and self-discovery" (here's early
coverage at
It'll be interesting to see if MySpace and other such sites make
similar moves.

Meanwhile, apparently to capitalize on both social-networking and
media-hosting trends, is folding the two terms into "creative
networking." Its relaunch includes "unlimited storage" of videos,
photos, tunes, and blogs in its users' profiles. The site claims to
have grown 300% in 2005 to 10.8 million visitors a month. Because of
children's age-old desire to be older than they are, it'll be
interesting to see if teens stick with, but it doesn't
appear there are any new limits on their networking and uploading.
Besides allowing users to make their content "private" instead of
"public," the only readily apparent safety features are requirements
in the Member Code of Conduct
<> and Terms of Service
<> that members not
falsify information they provide at registration and not to "transmit,
solicit or post extremely sexually explicit messages, text or photographs."

12. Swapping tunes, supporting musicians may be a sign of the music piracy tide turning. Or at least
its marketing message is. On its About Us page
<>, the new music site,
which fully launches this summer, says it's completely legal and,
"while there is no obligation to do so, 'la la' is setting aside 20%
of trading revenues for musicians." It just may help make supporting
musicians more cool than illegal file-sharing. The San Jose Mercury
News <>
calls lala "a mix of social networking, Internet swap meet and music
store. It's meets eBay meets iTunes." It also represents
another trend and buzzword for Web 2.0: "mash-up." Its founders say
they're mashing together community, search, and retail (new and used)
so people can "discover music the old fashioned way - through
conversation," like in those local independent music stores depicted
in the book and movie "High Fidelity." and

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