Category Archives: Internet

It’s Not Easy Being a Good Parent in the Digital Age

I’m turning my blog today over to Kim Komando.  She is a nationally syndicated talk show host, focusing on the Internet and digital consumer electronics.  Kim and I whole-heartedly believe in protecting children and below she details some very important points parents need to be aware of in this digital age.

It’s Not Easy Being a Good Parent in the Digital Age
Kim Komando

I received a call on my national radio show a few weeks ago. A concerned father wanted to know about a particular site on the Internet where his 11-year-old son was chatting online. It seemed harmless. His son created a cartoon-like representation of himself called an avatar.

Dad approved of it. But soon, the son was buying virtual goods for his avatar. Dad took a closer look at what his little boy was about to purchase. Good thing; they were sex toys.

Far too often, parents don’t get involved with their children’s online activities until something bad happens. They dismiss the warning signs. They don’t monitor what the kids are doing because they don’t have the time, their child would never do that, or some other lame excuse.

I am still astounded by the parents who don’t want to invade their child’s privacy. They don’t think it is right to snoop on their child’s Web travels, e-mail and text messages. They usually liken it to reading a teenager’s hidden diary. “No one should do that,” they say.

If only it were that simple.

With the Internet now in our homes and on our phones, this wonderful digital world has brought the inappropriate and criminal elements directly into our lives. What seems harmless and fun can quickly turn into a pedophile’s dream and a parent’s nightmare.

For instance, you may be unaware of Web sites where kids use Webcams. In effect, they broadcast live video and audio from their bedrooms. The people using the live broadcasting sites can watch them. They can leave comments. You can bet pedophiles are watching them, too.

Pedophiles have actually helped kids set up sites. They have arranged credit card acceptance through online payment sites. The children perform sex acts, broadcast with Webcams. The pedophiles pay to watch.

The other day my 8-year-old son Ian received a text-message from his friend John. John wanted to know if he downloaded a particular free game from iTunes. The rule in my home is that before anything gets downloaded, Ian and I learn more about it. I need to approve it.

The game these two boys were talking about had a plot something like this: A convicted felon escapes from prison. He is roaming the streets of downtown Los Angeles. He needs to make money to survive and go on missions. To do this, he has to kill people.

Needless to say, that game didn’t make it onto his phone.

Social-networking sites are less dangerous. But you still have to watch what children say. They have profiles. Be sure they’re not including their phone numbers and addresses.

Again, the best protection is alert parents. Don’t wait for trouble! Be proactive!

Need some help? Here are tips to help you get in front of the issues.

* Find out if sex offenders live in your area http://www.komando.com/kids/tip.aspx?id=2306
* Cell phone plans that put you in control and even tell you where the phone is located http://www.komando.com/kids/tip.aspx?id=3861
* Figure out text messaging lingo http://www.komando.com/kids/tip.aspx?id=3496
* Control kids iTunes use http://www.komando.com/kids/tip.aspx?id=4092
* The free tool that I use to block inappropriate content in my home http://www.komando.com/tips/index.aspx?id=6501

The Kim Komando Show (www.komando.com) is the largest nationally syndicated weekend talk radio show. Kim Komando focuses on the Internet and digital consumer electronics. Komando also distributes the Kim Komando Digital Minute, a one-minute consumer update on digital news.  

Families Need a No Wireless Zone

“Technology is the Evil Empire, Bent On Destroying Family Intimacy!” That’s the headline I’d like to put on this post, but guns don’t shoot people – people shoot people – so technology is not destroying families. People are destroying their own families.

The technology I’m talking about is texting, video gaming, Facebook, email, Twitter, MySpace and more. Remember when the only complaint about lack of communication in families was when family members were all in separate rooms watching different television programs? Well, now, family members can all be in the same room, totally ignoring each other for the sake of fake friends and useless information, instead of for family conversations. Some family members even text each other from different parts of the same home, rather than walk the 15 feet, hug, and talk to each other.

I remember the not-so-recent TV ads that promoted a family eating dinner together. Now, if you showed an ad with a family at the dinner table, there’d have to be a sign nearby that said “No Wireless Zone.” I wonder what depth of interaction is being missed because one is getting superficial “quickies” from texting or emailing or Facebooking?  On the other hand, I already know that we’re less able to engage in reasoned, significant discourse and profound intimacies these days, because, from the age of 4 or 5, we’re geared toward the superficial, faceless exchange of comments on each other’s web pages.

Parents, you must get yourselves into gear and limit the amount of time per day donated to the wireless world outside of work. Otherwise, over time, there’ll be no need for lips and vocal cords and eye contact, and we’ll evolve into “thumbs only” beings who just peck away with a false sense of actually participating in the real world.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The good, the bad, and the ugly….

That was the title of a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western (I loved all of them), but in this case, I’m referring to the Internet, but in the same way that I would refer to guns or electricity.  Do you think I’ve blown a mental fuse?  No.  Here’s my outlook:

Right now, the governments of China and Iran are working ceaselessly to block web access to its populace.  Why?  So information the government “does not want you to know about” won’t get in, and the truth of what is going on inside these totalitarian regimes will not get out.

Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and their ilk have revealed the atrocities against the people of Iran protesting the sham presidential elections.  Beatings and murders have been viewed around the world, as people have had the courage to use cell phones and such to take the governmentally prohibited pictures.

This, obviously, is a case of calling the Internet GOOD.

On the other hand, we have people in the United States of America (where communication is completely open, some say to an unfettered fault) using the Internet for pornography.

This, obviously, is a case of calling the Internet BAD.

Internet sites have been used to defame and harass people.  Internet sites are being used to “publish” speculation, opinion, and downright meanness as “fact.”  Internet sites have been used to troll for victims in order to rob, rape, and murder.  Internet sites have been used to incite violence, threaten, and frighten.

This, obviously, is a case of calling the Internet UGLY.

Electricity and guns can be thought of in the same way:  you can get electrocuted by dropping a hair dryer in the tub when you’re in it, or electricity can be used to run a ventilator and save lives.  Guns can be used in robberies and murders, or they can be used by the free to ward off tyranny and other assailants.

Objects have no moral value – the way they are used is the issue – and that assessment is in the hands of the user.  We all have the ability to choose right from wrong.  Our choices, though, generally depend greatly on the human atmosphere around us.  For example, we are more likely to be able to do atrocious things if we’re part of a group.  We wouldn’t dream of doing them alone.  Yet, there are those who can perpetrate evil all on their own.

We are more likely to choose good when we are surrounded by people supportive of “good,” and judgmental of “bad.”   However, when the cultural atmosphere dissipates with respect to values and moral judgment, it’s easy for an individual to operate out of the moment without regard to circumstances or their soul. 

It takes a strong person to choose good for its own sake.  There is often little reward or regard given to them.  There was a time when a child, seeing a dollar fall from an elderly gentleman’s pocket, would race to give it back to him.  He would then get his picture on the front page of the local paper – rewarding him for character.  Now, that same child would probably not even entertain the thought of returning the money.  What for?  Look around that child – parents cheat, politicians cheat, entertainers and sports stars cheat.  What’s the motivation?

The good, the bad, and the ugly – two out of three are on the wrong side.  You choose every day which side to be on.  Now, go do the right thing.

The Dangers of Teen Sexting

In the more than three decades I have been on the radio and in counseling practice, the saddest experiences (and the most difficult to be helpful with) are those where parents call to tell me their child is dead.  The child may have been the victim of an accident, war, a crime, an illness, or a suicide.  No matter which, the pain is unimaginable and the duration is infinite.  It is against the “order of things” for our children to die first; and it is against the order of things for us to feel incapable of protecting our children from everything, anything, and anyone. 

The hurt and rage a parent feels is understandable.  A desire to do something with that hurt and rage is also understandable. It is generally difficult to get a sense of closure or justice or revenge.  And so many parents believe that, if they can get one or all of those, the pain goes away.  It doesn’t….not really.

An 18 year old young woman in Ohio sent nude pictures of herself to a boyfriend.  Apparently, this “texting” of private parts is quite the rage in the youth population.  At some point, the relationship ended, and he, I guess, thought it would be amusing to send the photos to other students at the school.

In May, 2008, the young teen went on a local Cincinnati television station to warn other teens against sending personal body part or naked photos to others, lest they also go through the harassment that she got, as students – mostly girls – called her a “slut” and a “whore.”  In spite of her noble efforts to warn other young people, and the gratitude she got from innumerable parents, two months later, she decided to kill herself, apparently as a way to avoid the painful embarrassment.

“Sexting” (as it’s called) is a growing problem that has resulted in child pornography charges being filed against some teens across the country, because sending sexually charged pictures of minors is a crime  One national survey found that 39% or more of teens are sending or posting sexually suggestive messages, and 48% report receiving them!

This young woman was humiliated by the daily snide remarks, and she started skipping school.  Her mother drove her to school to make sure she got there.  Then, after attending the funeral of one of her friends who committed suicide, this young, tormented woman hanged herself in her bedroom.

Of course, the focus for her mother is an attempt to punish those students or the school with lawsuits and criminal charges.  The mother is understandably beside herself and wanting to lash out in rage.  However, the fault doesn’t lie in the stars.  The openly sexual environment that children are exposed to makes these behaviors (like oral sex in middle school classrooms and bathrooms across the country) seem like the norm for the day.  Girls have always wanted to make boys love them, and cell phone texting technology just gives young people another avenue to express their hopeful desperation to be wanted and loved.

It was pathetic and stupid of her to send the picture; it was unconscionable of her ex-boyfriend to expose her to ridicule; it was disgusting for girls (competitive little witches that some can be) to make fun of her; it was brave for her to use her experience to warn others; it was too bad her family didn’t get her mental health support or transfer her to another school; it was a deadly coincidence that her friend committed suicide; it is an unspeakable anguish that she thought this was the best solution for a “temporary” problem.

I hesitate to write “temporary” because, with the Internet, such photos are forever, and those who wish to cause hurt to others relish in exploiting such mishaps for their own pathetic ego gain.

Parents, many of your children have already done this via hand-held video cameras or computer cameras.  Many of your children have already been “embarrassed,” while others have become more popular.  Very few will kill themselves, but even then, something in them does die, as what is precious and private becomes entertainment for the immature and downright mean.  Parents, make sure your kids know not to become either.

Cyber Harassment

I’m just sickened to hear the news that Lori Drew was only convicted on three misdemeanor counts of unauthorized access to computers after she, her then 18 – year-old assistant, and her teen daughter plotted to humiliate a neighbor 13-year-old…who ended up killing herself because of the emotional pain she endured at their fingertips on the computer keys.

You’ve probably heard the story: the young girl committed suicide in October of 2006 after the end of her online relationship with a fictitious 16-year-old-boy created on a fake MySpace account.  According to various news reports, the trio used the account to contact and befriend Megan.  Within a few days, Lori Drew encouraged her daughter and her assistant to on-line flirt with Megan; they planned to lure Megan to a mall to confront her with the hoax and taunt her.

As things go and grow, another neighborhood girl got involved in the whole thing and sent Megan a message – as if she were the fictitious boy – that he didn’t want to be friends anymore.  Lori Drew’s assistant then, according to the District Attorney, wrote, “the world would be a better place without you in it.”

Twenty minutes later, Megan’s mother found her hanging from her belt in her bedroom closet.

I’m not a lawyer and I don’t really understand all the legal machinations about what criminal behavior this planned cruelty constitutes, but it’s clear that there’s no real punishment for people who misrepresent themselves on an internet chat site with the INTENT to do emotional harm to a child known to have several psychiatric disorders.  Federal and state laws appear to be mute on this issue, and while companies like MySpace have “Terms Of Agreement” (which is kinda what “caught” Lori Drew, because she didn’t abide by those terms), they don’t have much in the way of “teeth” – often the most they can do is terminate the service of the offender.

Imagine: one mother decided to drive another mother’s child to devastating emotional pain as entertainment; she includes her own young teen daughter and a young adult employee….and they all have a great time of it.  No one charged the assistant or the daughter, even though they were all complicit in the intent to do emotional harm.
 
I hope there is a civil court for something like wrongful death so that these people pay some price for their evil cruelty.

Now – add to that the parental responsibility of more supervision of this vulnerable, fragile, emotionally compromised child…her parents had reversed the lock on her bedroom for her “safety,” as they were aware that she had problems.  Children without psychiatric issues ought not have unsupervised access to the internet or text messaging or any form of communication without parental oversight.  Children with psychiatric issues are at more risk. 

Recently, another teenager, this one 19, overdosed with several medications to kill himself while his computer stayed on so that everyone on the net could watch him die.  There was a huge rageful response to folks waiting 12 hours before reporting this situation to the net site or the police…who came too late.

It seems that he’d done this before, so many folks thought he was playing “wolf,” others just didn’t care, some showed concern, and others just “egged” him on….the same way folks on the ground often “egg on” a person threatening to jump from a tall building.  There are always creeps about.

What was curious to me is that the reports of this event include that the boy died in his father’s room and on his bed; that he used a combination of prescription and illegal medications.  Again we have a pathetically ill young man without proper supervision by those who could understand and help him.  It sounds like he needed hospitalization.

The Internet gives young folks the attention and pseudo-importance they naturally crave.  It is also a conduit for evil…the same way electricity is neutral…unless you try to electrocute somebody with it.

Parents have to be less casual about the evil that comes through all these technological marvels of communication.

Older Brains Helped By An Internet Workout

According to a study being released in November’s American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, Internet web searching may just enhance brain activity and keep your elderly (55-75 years of age) brain working at top function.

The study compared 24 subjects between the ages of 55 and 75, and discovered using MRI scans that reading a book helped stimulate certain areas of the brain that had to do with language, memory, and visuals.  They also found that searching the Internet created these same stimulations, but activated more of the frontal, temporal, and cingulated areas of the brain – areas that have a lot to do with decision-making skills.