Net Security for the ‘digital natives’

I’ve been reading with interest the many articles floating about around protecting yourself and your kids on the net. This is becoming particularly relevant in my household at the moment as eldest daughter is asking to use MSN Windows Live Messenger (N.B. not any other IM client – it has to be MSN as all her friends use that!) and my wife who is hearing all these scare stories about kids being lured into all things bad by strange men is concerned about her being ‘safe online’ within some kind of walled garden.

walled garden

I’m kind of in the middle of this as on the one hand I think eldest daughter is a digital native and knows a lot more about the pitfalls of net behavior than the older generations. After all she accesses her schoolwork, finds out about events at the school and engages in discussions using Moodle and checks and accesses all her homework online using a product called Planner Live! but I am concerned that she is a bit ‘…yeah Whatever’ about the consequences of ID theft or net bullying or …etc. (although she is taught about them at school)

An analogy for me is having a wallet. When I first got one I was quite relaxed about leaving it lying around (despite my dad telling me about the dangers). I then got it stolen one night on a night out and spent a couple of frantic weeks worrying about it, making a statement to the police and stopping my cards. In the end I did get it back but without the 50 quid cash that I had in it, a valuable lesson learned!

– I got it stolen once more a few years later even though I’d taken a bit more care (I left it out of sight but in a coat and I left the coat behind in an office) and the second time they tried to book a 2K holiday on my credit card….without success….as I had learnt to contact my company early to stop my cards.

So to cut a long story short it took me to have experienced the problem to fully understand it. My eldest daughter thinks she knows the dangers of the net but really she is very naive but I don’t want to be the person who is seen to be the enforcer and keep her locked away from the lovely pastures of the internet

lock and chain picture

So I’ve been looking at ways to make her internet experience wholesome but with some security. At the moment I’m favouring Microsoft’s Family Safety (for Instant Messaging) but I’m still open to exploring what other stuff is out there. I’m also conscious that eldest daughter might see this as us trying to pry on her and tweenagers are a distinctly paranoid species so I’m taking steps to reassure her that this is for her protection and that we trust her implicitly and have no interest or desire to spy on her.

I do feel a little uncomfortable with this stance because I do think digital natives generally understand the net well and do know the dangers and would avoid them so part of me wants to let her roam freely without protection. I’ve read many articles on this recently by psychologists and the overwhelming opinion is that using protection software is generally something that doesn’t make much difference and doesn’t decrease online addictions or decrease other online issues from taking place  in the long term, in fact it may increase them (referring back to my ‘pastures of the internet’ from earlier).

It is a placebo for parents. Nothing more.

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New but Gold?

I posted a message about Old but Gold games and consoles some time ago however over the past month we’ve been experimenting with what percentage of time we spend on each game console (I have to say that the kids are restricted in how long they can play them so they don’t spend too much time on any!).

I spend 40% Wii, 30% XBox 360, 20% N64, 10% SNES

Nikki sends 70% Wii, 30% Nintendo DS

Kids spend 50% Wii, 20% Xbox 360, 20% Nintendo DS, 10% PC

Most popular game in our house at the moment is the new “Animal Crossing” game for the Wii, the rest of the family are totally addicted to it and I like the social ‘hooks’ it gives you to keep you playing it. It’s not a game that goes anywhere (i.e. no story as such) there are no specific tasks and it feels more like Second Life than a game as such EXCEPT that there are games within it, for example we were in the fishing competition last weekend and Nikki won the cup!

The thing I find most fascinating about it is the way you get pulled into the social etiquette. Simple example, Bethany (eldest daughter) had a bit of a run in with one of the villagers who was a bit rude to her, she complained about him to the council and then he went around for weeks in a huff and eventually left the village. There are other things like this – how you respond to people, what you say about their clothes etc. changes the way the game plays out. There are also events and special dates (New Years eve was great …and no I wasn’t on it at midnight!). The world changes over time and things you plant or do affect the environment.

All these things keep you in the game, some may call this boring but my kids love it so “old isn’t quite so gold” anymore in our house!

Why Clowns are Dangerous

Clowning around

Clowning around

clown photo

I have long suspected as much from my many tramatic clown experiences as a child (not me clowning you understand but being emotionally scarred by ugly men in lipstick and makeup dressed rediculously trying desperately to entertain me). Now my own children have confirmed what I always suspected that Disneyworld, CentreParcs and all those places that produce large versions of your ‘favourite animated characters’ using people dressed up in big furry suits is not endearing or enjoyable.

The latest piece of evidence is from my 2 year old daughter Hannah who got hold of one of the other kids Stars Wars annuals this morning and flicking through the photos announced “Why is man dressed in silly costume dad?”, then “There’s another dressed in silly costume “(Jar Jar Binks and C3PO respectively – I hope I’ve got the names right for all you aficionado’s out there!).

Now I don’t know about other families so again extrapolating up from my own, whenever they meet a giant 10 foot tall version of Yogi Bear confronting them in a holiday camp, their first reaction is not to give said bear a lovable hug but either .1 Run away screaming or 2. Say “Why is man dressed in silly costume”. I’m glad that Hannah has now reached stage 2. Surely survival instinct alone means that you should NOT say to kids that it’s OK to hug giant bear, or strange men in funny outfits either.

This is my first post for a while but I intend to get back on that pony and blog again for good or ill. There is some technology focus in this post by the way C3PO is an android and if he were a real one would we treat him in the same way as a man in a silly costume? – I think running away screaming is generally the safest option.

kids, computers and change

I haven’t been blogging for a while because I’ve been involved in the logistics of moving a university depratment to a new building this week (think herding cats and you get the picture). Now that I’m back I’m going to make up by having a bit of a stream of consciousness about slightly connected topics.

1. My kids have managed to ruin my computing at home by spilling water over the keyboard which has taken out the ‘n’ key and the space bar. I tried using the on-screen keyboard and it’s like pulling teeth – it is worse than trying to do a full blog post via txting. I found it seriously hard work so I’ve resorted to the laptop. It’s these small uphill battles that make my online experiences so erratic, or perhaps I’m just making excuses however other people seem to be ‘always on’ and in my experience power plug issues, network connectivity, kids and other various things always get in the way of me doing this. I talked to a colleague about the transient nature of my online stuff when we were trying out plaxo recently. I was trying to get my twitter friends into it and then tried using my facebook contacts, but the interface started to annoy me and I was five seconds in without success and about 5 seconds away from giving up so I do think that the ten second rule than NN (Neilsen Norman) the usability gurus used to apply to websites still holds (in my experience) to web apps. In 2006 the BBC had this down to 4 seconds for commercial sites selling goods.

2. Janet Street Porter did a rant in the Independent on Sunday in her editorial about how all our details are being exposed and exploited by, for example, YouTube and the fact that studies show that people using the internet and social network for long periods have trouble making real friends and that relationships for the next generation are going to suffer. I hardly ever agree with JSP and my views are significantly different to hers on this but I do think that getting the public/private stuff right on the internet is difficult. I tend to be very cagey about myself because I do prefer to keep my private life a closed book, knowledge is power and you never know when that slip of the tongue might come back to bite you. Other people however are totally very open and I find this refreshing but also a bit disconcerting. I’m a very shy person and I expect that comes through with how I act online and choose to reveal myself in the virtual world. I don’t worry about how kids will deal with real relationships by the way. They’re just finding new ways to communicate, not replacing the old but enhancing these.

Gamers enjoy getting shot!

A study by researchers at Helsinki University found that in FPS (First Person) games the death of a persons own characher produced some positive feelings, whereas shooting an opponent produced rather more negative feelings and in particular increased anxiety.

The study also found that those who scored highly on a test for phschoticism experienced less anxiety when shooting opponents.

I don’t play much FPS these days but I’d probably agree in some respects. I’d also say that the ‘first’ death of your own character may be more significant than subsequent deaths. I think once you’ve got over the death thing once then you feel more confident about what the ‘rules of death’ might be. I wonder though did anxiety increase as a direct result of killing an opponent or because you’re in a situation where you’re having to kill people i.e. in a more dangerous position within the game? – hmmm.

I also noted the results of the government backed review of the video gaming industry concluded that games should have age restrictions applied to them and also that kids should play consoles within ‘shared’ environments in the home and not in private spaces. We have consoles at home coming out of our ears and they all sit in the living room or study where we share them. I think it’s a very positive thing because our kids learn about sharing the console as well as helping each other solve gaming problems.

Kids (and reviewers) say the funniest things!

I needed a bit of light relief this week as our unit is currently being externally reviewed. It’s a very thought provoking process and I actually really quite enjoyed being interviewed by the review panel but I’m not sure if that was supposed to be the case. The review is led by Nigel Paine along with Don Williams and Paul Ramsden. The panel are a good mix having experience of delivering professional development to a large organisation (namely BBC) through Nigel, technology research through Don who is head of Microsoft Research (U.S.) and the academic perspective through Paul Ramsden and his work leading up the Higher Education Academy.

I’ll not go into detail about any of that business but I was amused by the empowering manner of Nigel, every time anyone expressed a wish or desire for something it was “So why hasn’t it happended, why haven’t you just done it?” – if only life was that simple.

I went home to the kids who were busy cutting up cardboard. I asked them what they were making to which they replied “bombs”. I was a bit taken aback by this and said something about “that’s not very nice” – to which Jordan replied “yes it is, it’s very creative”. They were actually creating cardboard surfboards from which they launched cardboard bombs on an unsuspecting cardboard population (like a cardboard version of the Silver Surfer). Is this creative or distructive? Is it showing violent tendancies towards people of the cardboard variety? – I’m not quite sure but they did enjoy it (and we recycled the cardboard).

Please Miss, I need a Wii

I was reading the latest effort by the government to curb obesity is to introduce Nintendo Wii’s in schools throughout the UK. There’s an article from the Indy about it here. This sounds like a crazy idea at first glance and personally I think that kids should be chucked out in the playground to get some fresh air HOWEVER…

(Warning – I’m now going to express an opinion on a subject I’m not an expert on and in an area that I haven’t really researched much!) –  I think that teachers authority has been eroded to the point where they are unable to ensure that students receive a well rounded education including physical exercise and extra curricular activities. I also think that there is no longer a stigma attached to being overweight as there was in times gone by because it has become the social norm. The understanding of diversity and the adoption of people of all types is a strong and important thing to engender in our kids and therefore I think it’s a very positive thing to move away from the past when people were ridiculed for being overweight, having sticky out ears etc. but I do think that both parents and teachers have a responsibility of care that includes things outside the classroom. My younger kids no longer have access to sporting and leisure facilities in their school that they used to do several years ago and the school has cut back on P.E. lessons, there was a strategy to encourage playground activities but this is no longer running so is it any wonder that kids are becoming overweight? (mine aren’t but they do play outdoor games with us, each other or with their friends in the evenings…and they occasionally play on the Wii!).

Anyhow what interests me most about the introduction of Wii’s to schools is that with them installed and with a growing number of games that revolve around problem solving, puzzling, brain training and improving skills these might become a method of providing an additional layer of education especially to those groups of students who may be disenchanted with the dry classroom based lesson format.