On Digital Parenting Fear, Part #2 – We Must Know More About Kids’ Digital Lives

fear-riskIn our connected world unfamiliar activities make adults worry about kids, and violent and exploitative events, some connected to the digital world, make us fear for our children’s safety. This past week two events, a 13-year-old’s ruthless murder that was associated with online app interactions and a Wall Street Journal article, Cyberthieves Have a New Target: Children, made many of us wonder, once again, whether the digital world is degrading the quality of our lives.

Cybertheives PM

For me the week reinforced the importance of parents understanding what their children are up to on digital devices. It’s a serious responsibility, it requires enormous time and energy, and we cannot hire outside experts to do it for us. The work requires every parenting skill that we’ve ever developed and more, and if you are not up to it you need to consult a parent education organization, such as the Parenting Encouragement Program (PEP) in my area, that offers training to parents. Continue reading

Encouraging Digital Kids to Write Polished Comments


Part of becoming a strong 21st Century digital learner is mastering the art of writing and sharing comments online.

If you read comments at the end of articles or blog postings, you have surely discovered more than a few inappropriate and sometimes distasteful remarks. Sometimes people leave these comments anonymously. Posted by folks who do not understand why websites invite visitors to share thoughts and ideas, many unfiltered remarks are permanently attached to websites — personal indiscretions waiting for the whole world to discover. Even leaving an anonymous comment is not particularly secure.

Read a short post and watch a video on newspaper comments, uploaded by the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard. Some newspapers sites, such as the Boston Globe, post a short and succinct comment policy with a link to a more detailed document.

Helping children avoid public website blunders is one reason to discuss commenting etiquette. Children don’t know or they forget that all comments leave digital footprint trails, little paths of information that last much longer than a child’s pre-adolescent and even teenage years.

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10 Ways to Help Students Evaluate Digital Information

goodwebsitebadwebsiteAlthough I am a big fan of encouraging students to begin any research project with curated resources such as the online databases at a school or public library, I know that many learners head straight for Google.

When students make garden-variety searches on Google, teach them to investigate and ask questions about what they find, especially if they are planning to use a website to learn more about a topic. The strongest 21st Century learners will make the process of asking evaluative questions second nature — examining each and every site before deciding whether or not to use the information.

Questions to Ask About Any Digital Resource          Continue reading

Removing Racist and Hateful Comments: A Simple Relevancy Test

Click to hear Tyler’s dad reading a statement after the jury returned its verdict.

After the jury announced its verdict in New Jersey I watched Associated Press video statement read by Tyler Clementi’s father. Sad and clearly with a heavy heart, he nevertheless looked to the future in a way that most of us could not have done had we lost a child the way he lost Tyler. Then I glanced down at the YouTube comments — just about every one included a gay slur or offensive language, and I was disgusted. The comments were not relevant.

Racist and hateful online comments demean writers, video-makers, and people who thoughtfully share digital content. It’s becoming tiresome. Masquerading as run-of-the-mill responses at the end of articles and videos – they are actually cyber-bullies’ remarks left here and there with the goal of offending and hurting others. The time has long past for comment and blog editors everywhere  — but especially at Google’s YouTube — to set up and enforce guidelines.

I know that the United States Constitution guarantees freedom of speech; however, it’s not freedom of speech we are observing but freedom to run off at the mouth and bully others in ways that are not relevant to the content. As a result we are teaching all sorts of silent lessons — the kind we don’t really intend to teach to young people as they grow up.

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10 Tips to Ensure that You Use Accurate Digital Information

Even in today’s fast-paced virtual world, these tips never seem to age. Help kids learn to make good choices.

1.  Who made the site? Is it from a university or other institution? Is it for-profit or non-profit. Corporate?  Look for an “about” link that describes the site.

2.  When was the site made and how often is the site updated? Somewhere, usually at top or bottom it should tell. Is this site updated recently?  If not this may be a reason to check out another website on your topic.

3.  Is it possible to contact the webmaster or the sponsor of the site? Is there a “contact us” link somewhere on the page?

4.  How much advertising is on the page, and how aggressive is it? Good sites that use advertising are careful to keep it from being “in your face.”

5.  Does the site state its mission? Why was it set up?

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Terms of Use, Readability, and Digital Kids

Check the terms of use readability level at your favorite sites.

Just about every time I head over to iTunes to purchase something, I’m all set to finish up when the site diverts me to a change in the terms of use. It happens at lots of sites.  And each time I click to look at a site’s terms of use, it’s a longer document — 40 pages, 41, 42… Now I don’t object to changes or even insisting that users check things out, but terms of use are abstract and arcane and not especially easy to read or even understand.

I’ve always thought it would be an interesting conversation topic for parents and kids — taking a few minutes to look at those terms of use statements that most people accept and go right by, and helping children discover a bit about the fine print.

About eight months ago, I read a posting about terms of use documents, C’mon! Match Terms of Use Text to Users’ Comprehension Level, written by Linda Criddle over at the I look Both Ways blog.

Criddle described her experience examining terms of use documents posted on well-known and popular websites. She looked over the terms of use documents for the sites such as the New York Times, Amazon, iPhone, Club Penguin. Then she ran each document through a readability index – a tool that examines a passage and estimates how easy or hard it will be for a person to read the words, as well as what level of education the reader might need to comprehend the information. Continue reading