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So last week, Facebook announced that it’s changed its rules about how it handles the accounts of 13-17 year olds.  Instead of only allowing those account-holders to share their posts and information with just their own friends, and friends of friends (as it has always been)  they will now be able to share with everyone (as twitter, instagram, etc already allow.)

The response has been pretty hysterical, with headlines like “Facebook  Teens Exposed to the Entire World.” in the UK.  And “Facebook loosens privacy restrictions for minors amid cyber bullying concerns” (is there a correlation? I don’t think so) on the ever hysterical Fox News.

As the co-founder of KidzVuz, a website for kids 7-13 that is COPPA compliant, and super serious about kids’ privacy, I’m going to surprise you:  I think the loosening of the restrictions will end up being a good thing.

But notice I’m saying it will END UP being a good thing.  In and of itself, exposing kids’ private information to the world at large is not so good.  (Though the default setting will still be to share with only friends and friends of friends; you’ll have to actively opt-in for public sharing)  Kids this age don’t have the best filter when it come to what and what not to share.  They’re teenagers, after all.  And yet I still maintain that ultimately, Facebook has done us all a favor.

Look, it’s not Facebook’s fault that the law is ridiculous.  It’s not Facebook’s fault that the FTC has decided that 13 year olds are able to agree to Terms of Use.  That they no longer need to be protected from behavioral tracking.  That they are allowed to post videos of themselves for the world to see.

I mean,  who decided 13 was the age when a kid becomes an adult?  Is everyone at the FTC an Orthodox Jew?  Are they down there in Washington thinking “Well, they’ve had their Bar Mitzvahs! They’re adults!”

The truth is, kids need to be protected well past the age of 13.  Cyberbullies. Online predators. Themselves.

My hope is that Facebook’s acknowledging that the law allows them to allow kids to put themselves at risk will wake people up.  And right now, when teens are leaving Facebook in droves for newer, hipper online climes, that acknowledgement will do less harm than it might have.  Maybe when a giant like Facebook takes full legal advantage of a ridiculous law, people will notice, and do something to change the law so that it protects kids better and longer than it does right now.

Maybe the next time I go to a Bar Mitzvah, I pray for that.

 

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Another child committed suicide this week in the aftermath of bullying. Can Miss America doing something about it?

It’s happened again.  A child cyber-bullied into suicide. It is a terrible thing – a child so distraught that she takes her own life. Unimaginable loss for the parents.  My heart aches for her…and for those she left behind.

But before we get hysterical, blaming the bullies, the parents, the apps – the internet itself  – consider this; suicide rates have remained steady for the past decade — particularly among teens.

Of course cyber bullying is awful.  And of course suicide is tragic – especially that of a young person.  I’ve written how the internet has made sexual assault and abuse worse in part because, when something exists on the internet – as cyber-bullying and photos of sexual assaults often do – it means there is no past. The pictures – or in this case – the evidence of the bullying, live on forever. So I’m not minimizing bullying. Not at all.

But that doesn’t mean I think the internet is to blame. Remember – the suicide remained steady from 2000-2010, the same period social media sites surged in popularity. So if  it isn’t the internet, and if the apps aren’t the problem, as my friend Rebecca Levey so gracefully argues in this post, what is?

We are.

Our society is rife with bullies.  A recent, shocking example is the Twitter bullies who, on Sunday night, when an American woman of Indian decent was crowned Miss America, took to the social media site with overtly racist, xenophobic zeal.  “Miss America? More like Miss 7-11!”  one scoffed.  “An Arab is Miss America!” said another.  And, showing a photo montage of white, blond haired Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail, a tatooed army sergeant who is fond of hunting, many wrote “This is what Miss America looks like.”  These are not hormone-addled teens, abusing the internet.  These are grown people.  Grown bullies.

It’s very easy to say “the parents should have known,” when a child commits suicide in the aftermath of bullying.  But despite our best attempts – parents can’t know everything their teenagers do.  It comes with the territory of parenting teens.  It’s convenient to say “those apps are responsible,” but we all know that for good and bad, people will use apps in ways in which those apps were never intended to be used. It’s simple to run screaming in fear from the internet: the source of all evil. But the internet also brings education to those in far flung places, information to those in need, communication in crucial moments.

What’s hard is looking at ourselves.  What’s hard is acknowledging that we see and ignore bullying every day.  In life and on line. We sit idly by, vaguely disgusted when Blurred Lines, a song that demeans and objectifies women, rises to the top of the charts. And we do nothing.  We shake our heads when we see someone being rude to a waitress, avert our eyes when someone makes a racist joke at a cocktail party,

And when we do nothing, we are saying something;  that bullying – in its many forms – is acceptable.  That we don’t want to get involved, or be rude.  That we’d rather let someone be abused than step up and speak out.

And our children hear us.  We shouldn’t be surprised that kids – who take to the internet so easily – take their bullying there, too.

So we can take the easy route – and blame technology.  Or we can take a hard look at what we are teaching our children by our actions – and lack of action. We can teach kindness and tolerance not just on the internet, but in every day life.  And Miss America can help.

I’ve never given much weight to the power of Miss America, but Nina Davuluri, who was crowned Sunday night, has a chance to do something big.  She can wipe away the false smile of pageantry, and speak out against bullies – cyber or otherwise.  She can rise above the hate not with silence and dignity, but with the rage, anger and indignation it deserves. Miss Kansas can do the same – tell people she resents being a prop in their racist tirades.  I hope they do.  I hope we all rage against it.

They say that every little girl dreams of becoming Miss America.  Well if  Nina Davulri uses her reign to rage against the the madness of indiscriminate hate – then let’s hope every little girl, every one of  us – achieves that dream.

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smartphone

So many parents have all kinds of rules about their kids’ use of the internet:

  • Allow use only in the living room, or other visible-to-parents place
  • Control time online using tools like the Cisco wireless router, which allows parents to turn off specific devices on the network at specific times.
  • Restrict which sites can be visited, enforced by special programs such as Nanny Net.

But with a recent Pew survey showing that 78 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds have mobile phones, and 47 percent of those devices are smartphones,  how many of those parents are monitoring their kids online time when they’re not on a computer.  (In other words:  most of their kids’ time.)

Verizon Wireless  has a way – as app called FamilyBase which helps parents keep track of their children’s phone use.  FamilyBase allows parents to monitor who their children are talking and texting with, what apps they’re using and for how long, and when all the activity is taking place. Other features include:

  •  View call and text data, contacts and app usage on all operating systems
  • Set time restrictions on a device during school hours or bedtime
  • Set trusted contacts the children can call and text
  • Remotely lock the phone for up to 30 minutes (more…)

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