A 12-year-old boy, twice banned by his father from using Facebook, has created his own social network designed exclusively for children.
GromSocial was created by Zach Marks of Melbourne Beach, Florida, after asking his mother for permission to build a ‘safe’ site for his friends and siblings to use, and borrowing $2,500 from his older brother to fund its development.
After four months, Zach’s work so impressed his father that the whole family pitched in to get the word out.
“After seeing Zach interacting on Facebook, with older kids and adults that were using language unsuitable for any child, I wanted to take control of the situation and eliminate my children’s exposure to unprotected social platforms. Amazed by what Zach put together we began contacting schools in the area and passed out material promoting the GromSocial network and getting about 500 members overnight,” said Zach’s father Darren Marks.
“Parental approval is an integral part of the site and is required before a child can begin experiencing the many wonders of the site. We built an environment that not only gives parents continued control but encourages safety and allows kids to be themselves. We have anti-bullying, anti-drug and anti-smoking sections. Educational videos are available in the Grom tutorial section for grades 1-10, in addition to places where kids can comment on current events and of course games and entertainment. We wanted to create a safe and secure place that benefits kids’ lives and we are hearing back from parents that it is doing just that.”
The site now gets over 25,000 daily visitors from as far afield as China, India, Indonesia, Australia, Russia and Europe as well as the United States.
Visitors are quickly converted into “Gromers” a term coined on the site by kids after a few short visits. The word Grom is an Australian slang term for a young surfer which Zach translated into “a promising young kid, who is quick to learn”.
We all know the importance of keeping our kids safe online, and a new study suggests that a significant proportion of teenage girls, particularly those who have already suffered some form of abuse or neglect, are at risk of abuse at the hands of people they first befriended on the Internet.
Published in the journal Pediatrics, the survey found that 30% of teenagers reported having ‘offline’ meetings with people they had initially met on the Internet and whose identity had not been fully confirmed prior to the meeting.
Abused or neglected teenage girls were more likely to present themselves online in a sexually provocative way, thus drawing attention to themselves.
Research shows that high-risk online profiles are more likely to lead to offline meetings.
“If someone is looking for a vulnerable teen to start an online sexual discourse, they will more likely target someone who presents herself provocatively,” said Dr Jennie Noll PhD, a psychologist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. “Maltreatment poses a unique risk for online behaviour that may set the stage for harm.”
The study of some 251 adolescent girls aged between 14 and 17, of which about half were victims of abuse or neglect, found that having Internet filtering software at home made no difference in the association between maltreatment and high-risk behaviours.
Such behaviours include intentionally seeking adult content online, provocative self-presentation on social networking sites, and receiving sexual advances online.
On the other hand, “high quality parenting” and parental monitoring helped reduce the association between adolescent risk factors and these online behaviours.
As you might expect, during the research Dr Noll uncovered some chilling stories about the real dangers of meeting up with people first engaged with online.
The Pediatrics study was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health. Continuing work is funded by a five-year, $3.7 million (about £2.3m) federal grant to gain deeper data about high risk Internet behaviours.
By the time children have reached secondary school, aged around 12, one in two have been given a mobile phone by their parents. That’s according to a new survey by The Trust for Study of Adolescence.
By the time they reach the age of 15, four out of five teenagers will have a mobile phone.
Mobile-owning kids will make an average of eight calls per week and send 25 texts, though they probably won’t pay the bill.
What we appear to have here are two separate reasons for kids and teenagers having a phone.
On the one hand, parents want the reassurance of being able to contact their children either by call or text.
On the other, kids see the latest smart phones on the market and they want one. Unfortunately, it can lead to oneupmanship and peer pressure.
Both points of view tend to lead to many kids getting hold of their own phone.
If you’re a parent concerned about whether your child should have their own phone, you might find some of the following resources useful:
- Full control of kids’ mobile phones now available to British parents
- Parents believe their kids’ mobile phone use is “out of control”
- Teens and pre-teens increase cell phone use during the summer
- Gadget Watch: Firefly glowPhone
- Orange launches mobile and broadband advice site for families
- Pupils air their views in new BBC News school report survey
Cyber-bullying — using technology such as computers and mobile phones to inflict some kind of hurt or embarrassment to a victim — is a fairly new phenomenon but one that’s set to increase.
“Sexting” is the process of sending sexually suggestive or explicit text messages and pictures via mobile phone. Some may argue it’s not bullying if it occurs between two (supposedly) consenting kids or teens such as a boyfriend and girlfriend, but it’s still illegal.
Even a minor caught sending pornographic images of either themselves or another child or teen could be hauled up on child pornography or sexual predation charges. Most of the time, that isn’t the intended desire of the offender. That’s why New York policymakers want to reform the law to create an “educational reform programme” for those who get into trouble for sexing, as reported by the Wall Street Journal.
“There are too many kids who are getting themselves into serious trouble for adolescent behavior,” said Alan Maisel, a Democratic assemblyman from Brooklyn and a co-sponsor of the bill. “I don’t know if they should be tainted with this evil brush for the rest of their lives.”
Such an education programme would let teens know the long-term repercussions of their actions. Despite being tech-savvy, many teens don’t understand that what they do online can stick around for a very long time. A five-minute moment of madness could hurt their future careers and relationships.
Of course, education also needs to begin at home and be reinforced in schools. Simply banning the technology in itself won’t help. Teaching kids how to use that tech responsibly is what’s really needed. More importantly, youngsters must be taught a holistic respect for other people and their privacy, and having the self-respect not to need to share lewd pictures with other people.
What do you think? Should ‘sexting’ involving only minors be considered a crime or are education programmes enough, particularly for initial offences?
It’s not hard to picture the scenario, whether or not you’re out and about with a baby. He needs changing but you don’t know where the nearest facilities are, and he’s letting you know in no uncertain terms about his discomfort.
Thankfully, help is at hand with the new iPhone app from UK parenting charity NCT.
Free to download, it already features over 5,000 baby changing sites at supermarkets, train stations, shops, restaurants, libraries and local authorities, all star rated by popular parent vote.
With the iPhone’s built in GPS and Google Maps, it’s easy to pinpoint the nearest facilities.
As a guide to others, after visiting a changing station, you can confirm it’s open and rate it on two sets of criteria depending on its hygiene condition:
- How clean were the facilities, rate using 1-5 stars;
- Would you use the facilities again, rate with yes/no answer.
If parents know of a facility that isn’t yet listed, they can add it to the database, benefiting everyone.
The charity hopes to make the app available for other brands of smartphone in the near future.
More information is available at nct.org.uk/babychanging.
Introduction: From digital to film photography
In the days before digital photography, there were a number of things that could spoil your photographic memories, both before and after processing.
Without any easy way of knowing how good the photos you’d taken were until they were processed, you could find priceless family memories ruined by under or overexposure, out of focus shooting, poor colour, damaged film rolls, or negligence by the film processing company.
Nowadays, many people take digital photography for granted. You can get a fair idea how good your photos are the moment you’ve snapped them, by simply looking at them on the built-in screen. If the photo isn’t great, you can usually take it again, and the fact that digital photography is relatively cheap means you can take many more photos without worrying about the cost of film or processing.
Keeping Photos Safe
The problem is that digital photography tends to encourage complacency more than film photography.
In the past, you had to have the film developed and printed in order to see the pictures you’d taken. You would then (hopefully) handle the prints carefully, putting them in an album and keeping them away from light, moisture and other nasty things that could degrade them. And you’d (try to) keep the negatives just as safe in case you wanted reprints.
People take many precious pictures with digital cameras, yet never print them. In fact, they may not even take the digital photos off the camera’s memory card. If they do, they sit on a computer’s hard drive. They may make it onto Facebook, Flickr or some other photo sharing web site.
But are they safe?
Survey: Sadness over lost digital photos
A survey of British mums by the online storage company YuuWaa found that nearly half had lost some of their family memories because of misplaced, stolen or failed digital cameras, mobile phones, tablet and laptop computers.
While 54% of mums said they had taken over 500 digital photos, one in five felt confused about exactly where they were stored and whether they were safe.
Nearly half admitted they’d never backed up their digital pictures and videos, despite the emotional effects of losing precious memories.
And, worryingly, one-quarter said they used social networks (such as Facebook) as their main photo storage despite privacy concerns.
Another quarter said they really weren’t sure how to back up files online. Around three in five burnt photos and videos onto CDs and DVDs.
How to keep your digital files safe
Every digital photo and video you shoot turns into a single file which is stored either in the memory of your camera/phone or on a removable memory card.
Digital photos are usually shot as JPEG (a type of image) file.
It’s very important not to rely on a single storage method to safeguard your digital files.
What follows is my recommendation for a simple but thorough backup strategy. It may cost you a little money, and will take a little time to set up, but it’s not overly complicated and will protect your precious memories.
1. Transfer files from mobile devices to computer
Never rely on the memory cards that you use in your digital camera, mobile phone and other portable devices that can take photos.
Although they are pretty reliable, they should never be used for long term storage.
Whenever you can, transfer everything from these memory cards to your computer.
You may have a memory card slot on your laptop or desktop PC, connect a card reader to a USB port, or connect the camera directly to the computer with a cable. If you already use your computer to view, edit or print photos from your camera, then you’re already set to go.
Find out where your photos are stored by default. On Windows they will generally be in the “My Pictures” folder, while on Mac OS X there’s a “Pictures” folder, but if you use other software then the photos may be stored elsewhere.
Once you know where your photos are stored, always store them in this folder so they’re easy to back up.
2. Back up your computer’s hard drives
Ideally, you should already be backing up your computer’s hard drives on a regular basis. If you’re not, please start now. You’ll protect a lot more than your photos.
The best thing to do is to buy a large external hard drive (one that doesn’t go into your computer but connects via USB cable) on to which your computer’s files are copied from time to time.
You don’t have to spend money on backup software to get the job done.
Microsoft’s Windows 7 (for PCs) comes with a “Backup and Restore” feature that lets you set a schedule for your hard drive to be backed up.
Mac OS X (for Apple Macs) comes with “Time Machine” built in. This will also make regular backups of your hard drive.
You can spend money on additional software if you want more control, but these basic solutions will do the job just fine for most people.
3. Use an online backup service
By all means share your photos on social networks like Facebook, or photo sharing sites like Flickr, but don’t rely on them for backup.
Apart from the fact that you might not want to make all your photos public, it’s not as secure as a dedicated backup service.
Online backup should be done in addition to the full backups in step 2.
You will probably not want or need to back up every file, but the most important digital photos, videos and possibly downloaded music (where you don’t have the original CDs).
That’s because you won’t generally find an online service that can store the entire contents of your hard drive (or it would be prohibitively expensive).
Because you have to use your Internet broadband connection to send files to the backup service, it would take far too long to store every file.
You will probably have to pay a monthly fee to get any decent amount of storage, but it’s definitely worth it.
4. Keep copies of important files somewhere else
In the past, you’d protect your printed photos from water, fire, dirt and other damaging elements. You might also find that other family members had prints of memorable moments, so if your prints got damaged or lost, you could get copies from another family member.
With digital photos, you might email a few snaps to other family members, but if you want all of your snaps to be safe, consider storing them away from the home.
Put them on a USB memory stick and take them to your office, or give them to another member of your family. Don’t forget to update that memory stick every so often (depending on how many photos you take) so it’s up-to-date with your latest photos.
5. Print your photos
Don’t forget that you can print your photos.
Always back things up, but don’t leave great photos sitting on a hard drive where you rarely look at them.
If you have a reasonable printer at home, you can print off individual photos onto glossy or matt photo paper and then store them in an album or frame.
If you visit a high street photo processor you can often just take the memory card, stick or CD and print the photos directly. You may be able to do basic editing (such as cropping and rotating photos, removing red eye, boosting colours and so on) before they’re printed.
With online services, you generally use software at home to edit your photos before uploading to the company’s web site. They’ll then print your photos and send them to you by post.
With Snappy Snaps (and some others) you can order your prints online and then pick them up in your local store.
The advantage of digital photography is that you can now do so many more creative things with your photos.
While putting images on a mug or a jigsaw isn’t an orthodox method of backing up your photos, it’s certainly a good way of actually using them.
Why not create a printed album?
Instead of printing standard photos and putting them in an album, many companies now provide free software that lets you design coffee table photo books. Why not create an annual photo book of family events?
They’re not as expensive as you might think, and are a great way to preserve memories. They make great gifts as well.
Keep the Originals
One word of caution: if you are going to significantly edit any photos, perhaps by resizing or cropping them, changing colours, and so on, always do it on a copy of the original photo. If not, you might be disappointed if you need the original again.
It’s akin to cutting up your negatives so you can’t get reprints of the original photo.
Within your photos folder, create one subfolder called “Originals” and another called “Edited” (or similar). Then, when you want to edit a photo, first copy it (i.e. duplicate it, don’t just move it) from the ‘original’ to ‘edited’ folder and then open up the copy in your photo editing software.
The philosophy: hard drives are big enough to store lots of photos, and are relatively cheap. Memories are not cheap.
Conclusion: Keeping Memories Alive and Well
Hopefully you can see that you don’t have to be a technical genius in order to keep your digital photos safe.
If you can master steps one and two, you’ve gone a long way to ensuring that you never lose your precious images for good.
If your camera stops working or is stolen, or your computer’s hard drive crashes and loses some files, you’ll still be able to recover those digital files.
If you’ve never lost an important file before, you might not realise how important it is, or understand the emotional turmoil.
Take it from me — regular backups have saved me several times. Don’t be complacent. Back up today.
All the information you need on Tracy Beaker Returns on our dedicated page.
Next Tuesday, 8th February, marks this year’s Safer Internet Day (more on that soon), and the BBC is getting behind the initiative on both CBBC and CBeebies.
Each of the 10-minute Tracy Beaker stories allows the user to choose from a variety of options which assist the main characters through the narrative, helping them to make decisions as various dilemmas are presented to them. The story will unfold according to the options chosen, with each choice resulting in a different outcome and ending. The episodes have the approval of Jacqueline Wilson, the bestselling author who originally created the character Tracy Beaker.
n addition the website will also host a live webchat with Saffron Coomber who plays Sapphire alongside an internet safety expert from Childnet. There will also be updated information on the CBBC Stay Safe section of the site.
At the same time, Dr Tanya Byron will write a blog for parents on the CBeebies web site about keeping young children safe online, while a Newsround special, “Caught in the Web Again”, highlights potential online dangers.
Come alone, Carmen
When Carmen is given a new smartphone she quickly starts using the social networking facility on the phone and becomes slightly obsessed with a new friend, “Joe”, to the detriment of her real friendship with Lily. As the drama unfolds, the viewer helps Lily make key decisions using the interactive interface. Will Lily let Carmen go and meet Joe? Should she go with her? Or is it best to tell Tracy what is going on? Carmen’s fate is in Lily’s hands, and also the viewers.
Sapphire is looking forward to a date with her boyfriend, Jay, when she receives a text message. It simple says “U R dumped”. The hurtful text messages continue to arrive, and her phone, once her prized possession, becomes a weapon in the hands of someone else. As she turns for help from the other children in the house, she finds she has been ostracised, and she doesn’t understand why. As the pressure mounts on Sapphire, and the barrage of hateful text messages continues, the viewer must help her stay in control of her emotions, and regain the trust and support of her housemates.
Beg, Borrow or Steal
Downloading music via the internet is now the number one method of acquiring music. In the final story, Liam and Frank want to have a party, and boastfully claim they will be playing music to everyone’s taste. Realising they have no music whatsoever; they explore the various options open to them. The interactive interface allows the viewer to persuade Liam and Frank to either follow a legal path, or delve into the murky depths of illegal file-sharing websites. Will the party be a success? Will they have the coolest music? And what will be the consequences if they don’t stay on the right side of the law?
’tis the season for surveys commissioned by hotels. We’ve discovered that kids prefer family trips to Christmas presents, and now we’re finding out more about Britain’s bedtime habits.
Before you get too excited, thinking this is a survey about sex, it’s more to do with technology and social networking. While things aren’t quite as dramatic as virtual adultery, it does seem as if bed is the place many Brits love to connect online with their friends.
Travelodge surveyed 6,000 adults and found, on average, they spent 16 minutes each night on social networking sites from their beds. The peak chatting time is 9.45pm, which sounds a bit early for bedtime to me but perhaps it saves on central heating bills.
Around one in five adults tweet in bed or catch up with the latest celebrity news and friends’ gossip on Twitter.
Two-thirds check their mobile phone as the last thing they do before falling asleep, and half check for missed messages as soon as they wake up.
Text messages are also a passion killer, it seems, with 20% of respondents admitting to stopping to read an incoming message during sex!
It’s not just social networks, either. A quarter of those surveyed do their grocery shopping from bed; 10% pay bills; 35% surf celebrity news sites; 47% shop for Christmas presents; one in ten of singles check dating websites.
Psychologist Corinne Sweet said that Britain has become a nation of ‘online-a-holics’.
“This addiction for social networking supports Maslow’s theory of humans having three basic needs. One of these being the need for love, affection, belonging and self-worth and Facebook provides the perfect solution to fulfil this requirement. By socially networking we can fulfil our need to communicate and share our news in one hit with all of our contacts across the world 24 / 7 and obtain a comprehensive snapshot of what they are up to at any given time.”
“Like all things there is a time and place and social networking should not take place between the sheets as it can be detrimental to our well being. By texting, tweeting, surfing and writing on our walls in bed we are nodding off with a busy mind which impacts upon our quality of sleep during the night. Bedtime should be associated with calming down and chilling out with a good book, listening to easy music, catching up with your partner or enjoying a love-making session; in order to get a night of deep, nourishing sleep. Make time earlier in the evening for social networking as it will help you distress after a hard day and prepare you for bedtime.”
As some final advice for those who are using a traditional alarm clock or a mobile phone substitute, Travelodge Sleep Director, Leigh McCarron said, “Alarm clocks have been shown to cause heart rhythm irregularities which can cause a heart attack. The alarm clock’s strident ringing tone can be a shock to the body and mind. My recommendation is to wake up naturally as the awakening is part of a natural sleep-wake cycle and it can help you feel less groggy. Make your last thought before sleeping to be your intention to wake up at a particular time and sleep in complete darkness to aid a natural wake-up call.”
By Andy Merrett
Jul 15, 2010
I’ve been watching the increasing threat of the Internet on the marriage relationship for over five years now, and it seems not a month goes by without another story about how technology is luring the weak into extra-marital relationships.
The latest story to hit my email inbox is that of middle class adulterers using Twitter to conduct illicit affairs.
While the micro-messaging service Twitter has many great uses, it’s also proving to be a tempting virtual space for people to hook up with each other.
As we’ve already seen, lawyers are probing social networks for evidence of infidelity.
Divorce-Online.co.uk studied over 1,000 behaviour divorce petitions produced by the divorce service between December 31st 2009 and June 30th 2010 for the word Twitter and found that 102 (10%) of the petitions looked at found that the micro- blogging service had been mentioned in a word search of their behaviour allegation data.
Looking deeper into a sample of those petitions, they found that the majority of the errant spouses (72%) were men aged between 35-45 and were earning above £40,000
The common themes in these divorce petitions were that the errant spouse was using Twitter to either conduct affairs or flirt with members of the opposite sex and their spouses had found out and were using this in their behaviour allegations.
And rightly so.
Divorce lawyers are ditching the old-fashioned methods — private detectives and the like — in favour of snooping the social networks to catch out cheating spouses.
A careless status update or a series of compromising photographs could be all that’s needed to catch someone out, making them look less favourable in court.
Not only can social networks be used to catch cheaters, but they may also be responsible for extra-marital affairs in the first place.
Some of the recent privacy concerns surrounding Facebook in particular have meant that people are often unaware just how far-reaching their information may be shared, or easily found by those specifically searching for it.
It’s not just you who needs to be careful, either. If anyone else — the person you might be having a liaison with, or mutual friends — publishes something online about you, it could still land you in hot water.
That is, if you’ve got something you want to hide, of course.
“Attorneys advise users of Facebook and other social media who are headed toward a divorce or custody battle to edit their profiles, be cautious about updating statuses and double check to see who is really a “friend.”
Or to make things easier — at least until the trial is over or a settlement is reached — just get off Facebook completely.”
We were giggling at those tragic people who take their blogging and Tweeting so seriously that they forget to actually have real lives to blog about.
Blogging is addictive, and blogging as a parent is often something that you just want to do to extreme, boasting and shouting about your kids, your triumphs, the highs, the lows, the comedic, the tragic…
Yet these twenty signs are all too familiar.
My absolute favourites:
- You find yourself tweaking the family Christmas cards for better SEO.
- When you take a photo of your kids, they say, “Is this for your blog?”
- When your partner accuses you of blogging too much, you immediately write a blog post asking, “Am I blogging too much?”
- When dressing in the morning, you automatically assess your outfit for potential v-log suitability.
Why not head over to the blog and leave your thoughts on your obsessive blogging?
Though parents try to educate their children about Internet safety, then try to keep an eye on what they’re doing — all while their kids are technologically more savvy than them — certain services come along that are simply asking for trouble.
A haven for exhibitionists (and perverts?), services such as ChatRoulette.com offer to hook you up with random strangers on the web, all conducted via webcams.
Stereotypically, many people who use these services are men looking for women, often with ‘interesting’ ideas of what’s acceptable to do in front of a camera.
It’s common for users to request each other to perform sexualised acts — hardly something appropriate, desirable or even legal for your kids to be involved with.
Yet I am aware that a number of teenagers who are quite happily using these services, often with the express intention of getting some kind of ‘shock value’.
Many of these services are, by nature, pretty anonymous. There are no restrictions to signup and security is lax.
It’s unlikely that the services themselves will be regulated, and even if some more legitimate software exists, there’ll always be shadier software lurking. With the way web sites and services become popular these days — spreading virally on social networking services like Facebook — a new one could pop up every day.
Many organisations and children’s groups have spoken out, calling for better security and reporting measures to be implemented — measures such as a ‘panic button’ that can alert the police or other legitimate services if a child has a concern about something they’ve seen or experienced online.
Ultimately, though, the responsibility comes down to the parents or carers to educate their kids, regulate Internet usage in a proactive, not reactive, way, and be around to support their kids if they have bad experiences online.