At BlogHer Business 07 in New York I met many interesting people. One of them was Anastasia Goodstein, author of the book “Totally Wired: What Teens and Tweens are Really Doing Online“. She told me that she will be in Burlingame, CA on Monday, April 16 (7pm) at Books Inc. for a book signing (ABC7news coverage) . The event is sponsored by Girls for a Change – a Silicon Valley mentoring program. When I looked at the site, I realized that I had seen two of the girls from that organization speak (yes speak) at a BlogHer 06 session. They were so composed and knowledgeable – the program must be working.
I thought it would be interesting to ask Anastasia Goodstein a few questions about her book. Listed below are the Q&A questions with their answers. We are also having a book give-away, so please visit the post on the Silicon Valley Moms Blog for information on how you can win a copy of the book.
Interview with Anastasia Goodstein, author of TOTALLY WIRED
1. How is the Internet effecting the social rituals of tweens? What are they doing on the internet?
Tweens are just beginning to really use the internet to socialize with peers. They’re still very much into playing games online or on CD-ROM. Depending on how strict parents are, many tweens can begin to use instant messenger and chat with friends online. I’ve definitely heard from middle school teachers that 10-13 year olds are on MySpace — they’re just lying about their ages. But there are also a new crop of virtual worlds popping up for tweens that are marketing themselves as a safer alternative to MySpace, which is 14 and up. These include Imbee.com, Club Penguin, Whyville, Nicktropolis and several virtual fashion sites like Girlsense and Gaiaonline. Zoey’s Room is also a great non-profit site for tween girls that’s both fun and educational. The challenge is that most commercial sites don’t really have a full proof way to keep out adults who may want to sneak in — that said, the fact that they are marketing themselves as sites for kids and tweens, means they are working on it. I think tweens like these virtual world where they can earn/win virtual money, again it’s the game-like quality that appeals to them. And girls love dressing up their avatars — it’s like virtual paper dolls!
2. Do you have any hints to help parents decide what sites are reasonable and what are not (other then using parental control software)?
Most of these sites that are popular with tweens and teens will have a link for parents where they explain what they’re doing to keep kids safe – either in the footer or in the about section (Imbee). I think Common Sense Media does a fantastic job of reviewing just about all media — TV, movies, games, websites — for parents in a very even handed way. They are all about teaching kids to be media literate, so if they are reviewing a problematic show, like “The Search for the Next Pussycat Doll,” they’ll provide a set of questions parents can use to have a discussion with their kids. I think that filtering software or monitoring software is fine for kids under 14, but teens can figure out how to get around filters and turn off monitors. Plus filters often unintentionally block sites that might actually be helpful so there is no perfect technology solution. Definitely keep the computer in a family space vs. letting kids under 16 have them in their bedrooms (with the doors locked). And remember, nothing can replace talking to your tweens or teens about where they’re spending time online.
3. What is the right and wrong way to engage tweens in conversations about Internet use?
The wrong way is to use to use threats – If I catch you [fill in the blank], no more computer! The biggest thing that keeps tweens from talking to their parents about the bad stuff that can happen online, like cyberbullying, is the threat of losing access. You have to reassure your tween, that they can tell you anything without the fear of being permanently cut off.
The right way is to ask them to show you their favorite sites and how they work. Play their favorite game with them or watch them play it. As you sit down with them and start your virtual tour, you can begin a dialogue about the privacy settings they may be using on these sites, how much personal information they have posted, what not to post and what to watch out for (i.e. adults posing as tweens). You can also ask them about which sites they visit for homework help and make sure they are indeed reliable sources. This way the conversation happens in context and ideally with you being pleasantly surprised and amazed at all of the fun, cool stuff they do online.
4. What is the most surprising thing you learned?
I think what surprises most adults about this generation is how comfortable they are living their lives online. Tweens and teens are naturally narcissistic and exhibitionistic, now they have the tools to really show the world who they are (and get instant feedback/validation). This is only encouraged by the popular culture and especially reality TV, where contestants “confess” their thoughts and feelings to the camera and everyone has a shot at fame. Unfortunately, there are harsh lessons being learned every day. Because the Internet is a public space that has the potential to reach millions, the stakes go up when teens impulsively post inappropriate content and are caught. Kids are being expelled and sued for bullying each other and teachers. College recruiters and employers are also Googling potential students/candidates, so it’s incredibly important to teach tweens to think before they post.