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How do digital youth of the “app generation” learn, communicate, and express themselves

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Katie Davis, an assistant professor from the University of Washington Information School to discuss her role and a book she co-authored called, The App Generation: How Today’s Youth Navigate Identity, Intimacy, and Imagination in a Digital World

The University of Washington is the first to have an Information or iSchool focused on youth and technology. Tell us about the school and your students’ focus of study.

Our digital youth faculty teaches a range of courses and provides research experiences for undergraduate, masters, and PhD students. We aim to prepare world-class digital youth researchers, practitioners who work directly with young people, and innovators who design and create digital tools and services for youth. One of the courses I teach, called Youth Development and Information Behavior in a Digital Age, explores new research on the impact of digital media tools and practices on youth development, including academic development.

How did you become interested in writing about kids’ use of technology and, in particular, apps?

My interest began over 10 years ago, when I was a fourth grade teacher. At that time, technology was becoming increasingly central to young people’s lives, both inside and outside of school. As a teacher, it was clear to me that this trend was only going to get bigger. I started to think about the many implications involved with respect to how young people learn, communicate with other people, and express themselves.

I was fortunate that when I came to Harvard as a doctoral student, my advisor and now co-author, Howard Gardner, was starting to ask similar questions. During the course of our research, we came to an important realization: whereas earlier generations have typically been defined by political or economic events (think of the World Wars, the Great Depression, and the Civil Rights Movement), this generation of young people is defined—and, importantly, defines itself—more by the technologies they use. Apps weren’t part of the cultural zeitgeist when we started our research, but as the iPhone was introduced in 2007 and the slogan “there’s an app for that” became a common saying, we realized that apps served as a fitting metaphor for what we were observing in our research. In our book The App Generation, we alternate between referring to apps metaphorically, to illuminate particular themes in our findings, and literally, to explore how teens use various apps like Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.  

What are the benefits of our app-driven lifestyle, and what might be some of the drawbacks?

In the book, we introduce the idea of an app mentality that many of today’s youth seem to exhibit. The app mentality suggests that whatever human beings might desire should be provided by apps. If the app doesn’t exist, it should be devised by someone right away. If no app can be imagined or created, then maybe the desire simply doesn’t or shouldn’t matter.

We see both positive and negative variations on the app mentality. A world permeated by apps is in many ways a terrific one. Apps are great if they take care of ordinary things and free us up to explore new paths and form deeper relationships. They are great also as they increasingly become tools for productive work, offer us ways to stay connected to our friends and family, and even provide us with avenues for new experiences. When apps are used in this way, they are app-enabling.

But there’s a less optimistic view of apps. There’s a danger that we become overly dependent on apps for the answers, for social connection, for our sense of ourselves. There’s a danger that we look to apps before we look inside ourselves. If this happens—if we start to see more of our apps than ourselves in our experiences, actions, self-expressions—it’s our argument that we have become app-dependent.

How can technology foster and enhance our creativity?  By the same token, does your research indicate that technology can dampen our artistic abilities? 

Digital media can open up new avenues for youth to express themselves creatively. Yet, it’s important to consider the fact that app developers constrain artistic expressions in specific ways. For instance, if you’re using a painting app, your color palette is limited to the hues that the designer programmed into the app. In a music composition app, your tonal range is similarly limited. Of course, sophisticated users can create their own workarounds and break free from the constraints of the underlying code. But realistically, most people will work within the parameters of the original app, and that raises important questions about how such boundaries affect the creative process.

We explored changes in youth creativity over a 20-year time span, analyzing over 350 pieces of visual art produced by high school students and nearly 100 fiction stories written by middle and high school students between 1990 and 2011. Though we were expecting to find that creativity in the visual and literary domains would either rise or fall together, our analysis uncovered a surprisingly divergent pattern. We found that certain dimensions of creativity, such as originality, experimentation, and complexity, have diminished in the literary domain while they’ve increased in the visual domain. 

The literary pieces written in recent years tended to be more mundane—there was less experimentation with genre, character types, and setting. Whereas a story from the early 1990s might involve a character who metamorphosed into a butterfly, there was very little such deviation from reality in the more recent pieces. In contrast, the pattern we detected in the visual art was one of increasing experimentation and sophistication. Contemporary artists were more likely to draw on the expansive selection of media at their disposal to create layered works that hold the eye longer with their increased complexity and unexpected composition.

We’ve considered these findings in terms of the role of digital media, though we can only offer our best hypotheses rather than draw a direct connection between technology and changes in youth’s artistic productions. With respect to the visual art findings, we note that digital media provide a wider, easier, and cheaper array of tools for youth to express themselves creatively. In addition, the Internet has expanded access to sources of inspiration as well as opportunities to receive feedback and recognition for one’s artistic productions.

With respect to writing, it’s hard to tell if kids are writing less, but the type of writing they do online is often quick, fleeting, and very much tied to the everyday and mundane. These characteristics mirror the patterns we saw in our analysis of youth’s creative writing. It’s also worth noting, for writing at least, the likely influence of our education system’s increasing focus on standardized testing over the last 20 years. Such a focus rewards writing the perfect five-paragraph essay rather than taking risks in one’s writing.

What surprised you when you started researching and writing your book?

My biggest surprise has been hearing teens express real ambivalence toward digital media and its role in their lives. When I talk with teens, I typically ask them to imagine what it would be like to go through a day (then a week, a month, and longer) without their phones, apps, or social media. The initial reaction is fairly standard: what an unpleasant, hard-to-imagine scenario! They’d be disconnected from their networks of friends and followers on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter; they’d be unable to conduct research for school; and they’d be deprived of the many sources of entertainment they enjoy online and through apps. After going through the list of what they wouldn’t have or be able to do, many teens start to consider what they might gain: uninterrupted, lengthier face-to-face conversations; more time for personal reflection; fewer distractions when doing homework.

This ambivalence toward technology tells me that youth recognize many of the same opportunities and challenges around their digital media use as adults. I think this recognition is a great entry point for family members, teachers, and others who work with and support youth to engage them in conversations about the positive and negative aspects of technology, and through these conversations help one another to use digital media in an app-enabled way.

What can parents, teachers, coaches, and others do to help raise responsible, tech-savvy consumers?

A good place to start is with our own technology use. We should remember that adults are powerful models for youth. They see us tied to our laptops, smartphones, and tablets, and they’re taking note! We have the opportunity to model moderation in technology use, show kids there’s a time to put these devices away and be fully present.

Adults can also provide app-enabled experiences that emphasize open-ended exploration and personal initiative over more structured, top-down, and constrained activities. We’ve sampled a variety of apps—many of them with an educational bent—during the course of researching and writing The App Generation. Apps like Minecraft, Scratch, and Digicubes seem (unfortunately) to be among the minority that encourage open-ended exploration and creation. Others we’ve sampled are packed with a lot of bells and whistles that have little relation to the purported learning objectives and leave little room for users to exercise their own creativity and initiative.

Finally, we think computational skills should be emphasized to a greater degree in K–12 education so that kids are able to modify apps as they wish, even create their own. This is something that the UW iSchool does very well in its Informatics and Master of Science in Information Management programs. The ability to understand how apps and other technologies work constitutes a new—and critical—literacy for this new digital era. 

Should industry be thinking how to design responsible products, services and apps that foster being a good digital citizen?

Yes, I think designers have a responsibility to consider how their apps are likely to be used, for good and bad. Of course, it’s impossible to anticipate all the different ways one’s creation might be used or modified.

My iSchool colleague, Professor Batya Friedman, has pioneered an approach to designing technologies and tools that take into account what humans care about. Called value-sensitive design, this approach seeks to account for the values of both direct and indirect stakeholders in a principled and systematic manner throughout the design process. A value-sensitive design approach encompasses more than digital citizenship. Designers could use such an approach to think about app-enablement vs. app-dependence during the design process, and attempt to design so that users are encouraged to use apps in an open-ended way, as non-constrained as possible.

Categories: apps, child safety, family Tags:

How do digital youth of the “app generation” learn, communicate, and express themselves

September 11th, 2014 No comments

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Katie Davis, an assistant professor from the University of Washington Information School to discuss her role and a book she co-authored called, The App Generation: How Today’s Youth Navigate Identity, Intimacy, and Imagination in a Digital World.

The University of Washington is the first to have an Information or iSchool focused on youth and technology. Tell us about the school and your students’ focus of study.

Our digital youth faculty teaches a range of courses and provides research experiences for undergraduate, masters, and PhD students. We aim to prepare world-class digital youth researchers, practitioners who work directly with young people, and innovators who design and create digital tools and services for youth. One of the courses I teach, called Youth Development and Information Behavior in a Digital Age, explores new research on the impact of digital media tools and practices on youth development, including academic development.

How did you become interested in writing about kids’ use of technology and, in particular, apps?

My interest began over 10 years ago, when I was a fourth grade teacher. At that time, technology was becoming increasingly central to young people’s lives, both inside and outside of school. As a teacher, it was clear to me that this trend was only going to get bigger. I started to think about the many implications involved with respect to how young people learn, communicate with other people, and express themselves.

I was fortunate that when I came to Harvard as a doctoral student, my advisor and now co-author, Howard Gardner, was starting to ask similar questions. During the course of our research, we came to an important realization: whereas earlier generations have typically been defined by political or economic events (think of the World Wars, the Great Depression, and the Civil Rights Movement), this generation of young people is defined—and, importantly, defines itself—more by the technologies they use. Apps weren’t part of the cultural zeitgeist when we started our research, but as the iPhone was introduced in 2007 and the slogan “there’s an app for that” became a common saying, we realized that apps served as a fitting metaphor for what we were observing in our research. In our book The App Generation, we alternate between referring to apps metaphorically, to illuminate particular themes in our findings, and literally, to explore how teens use various apps like Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

What are the benefits of our app-driven lifestyle, and what might be some of the drawbacks?

In the book, we introduce the idea of an app mentality that many of today’s youth seem to exhibit. The app mentality suggests that whatever human beings might desire should be provided by apps. If the app doesn’t exist, it should be devised by someone right away. If no app can be imagined or created, then maybe the desire simply doesn’t or shouldn’t matter.

We see both positive and negative variations on the app mentality. A world permeated by apps is in many ways a terrific one. Apps are great if they take care of ordinary things and free us up to explore new paths and form deeper relationships. They are great also as they increasingly become tools for productive work, offer us ways to stay connected to our friends and family, and even provide us with avenues for new experiences. When apps are used in this way, they are app-enabling.

But there’s a less optimistic view of apps. There’s a danger that we become overly dependent on apps for the answers, for social connection, for our sense of ourselves. There’s a danger that we look to apps before we look inside ourselves. If this happens—if we start to see more of our apps than ourselves in our experiences, actions, self-expressions—it’s our argument that we have become app-dependent.

How can technology foster and enhance our creativity?  By the same token, does your research indicate that technology can dampen our artistic abilities? 

Digital media can open up new avenues for youth to express themselves creatively. Yet, it’s important to consider the fact that app developers constrain artistic expressions in specific ways. For instance, if you’re using a painting app, your color palette is limited to the hues that the designer programmed into the app. In a music composition app, your tonal range is similarly limited. Of course, sophisticated users can create their own workarounds and break free from the constraints of the underlying code. But realistically, most people will work within the parameters of the original app, and that raises important questions about how such boundaries affect the creative process.

We explored changes in youth creativity over a 20-year time span, analyzing over 350 pieces of visual art produced by high school students and nearly 100 fiction stories written by middle and high school students between 1990 and 2011. Though we were expecting to find that creativity in the visual and literary domains would either rise or fall together, our analysis uncovered a surprisingly divergent pattern. We found that certain dimensions of creativity, such as originality, experimentation, and complexity, have diminished in the literary domain while they’ve increased in the visual domain.

The literary pieces written in recent years tended to be more mundane—there was less experimentation with genre, character types, and setting. Whereas a story from the early 1990s might involve a character who metamorphosed into a butterfly, there was very little such deviation from reality in the more recent pieces. In contrast, the pattern we detected in the visual art was one of increasing experimentation and sophistication. Contemporary artists were more likely to draw on the expansive selection of media at their disposal to create layered works that hold the eye longer with their increased complexity and unexpected composition.

We’ve considered these findings in terms of the role of digital media, though we can only offer our best hypotheses rather than draw a direct connection between technology and changes in youth’s artistic productions. With respect to the visual art findings, we note that digital media provide a wider, easier, and cheaper array of tools for youth to express themselves creatively. In addition, the Internet has expanded access to sources of inspiration as well as opportunities to receive feedback and recognition for one’s artistic productions.

With respect to writing, it’s hard to tell if kids are writing less, but the type of writing they do online is often quick, fleeting, and very much tied to the everyday and mundane. These characteristics mirror the patterns we saw in our analysis of youth’s creative writing. It’s also worth noting, for writing at least, the likely influence of our education system’s increasing focus on standardized testing over the last 20 years. Such a focus rewards writing the perfect five-paragraph essay rather than taking risks in one’s writing.

What surprised you when you started researching and writing your book?

My biggest surprise has been hearing teens express real ambivalence toward digital media and its role in their lives. When I talk with teens, I typically ask them to imagine what it would be like to go through a day (then a week, a month, and longer) without their phones, apps, or social media. The initial reaction is fairly standard: what an unpleasant, hard-to-imagine scenario! They’d be disconnected from their networks of friends and followers on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter; they’d be unable to conduct research for school; and they’d be deprived of the many sources of entertainment they enjoy online and through apps. After going through the list of what they wouldn’t have or be able to do, many teens start to consider what they might gain: uninterrupted, lengthier face-to-face conversations; more time for personal reflection; fewer distractions when doing homework.

This ambivalence toward technology tells me that youth recognize many of the same opportunities and challenges around their digital media use as adults. I think this recognition is a great entry point for family members, teachers, and others who work with and support youth to engage them in conversations about the positive and negative aspects of technology, and through these conversations help one another to use digital media in an app-enabled way.

What can parents, teachers, coaches, and others do to help raise responsible, tech-savvy consumers?

A good place to start is with our own technology use. We should remember that adults are powerful models for youth. They see us tied to our laptops, smartphones, and tablets, and they’re taking note! We have the opportunity to model moderation in technology use, show kids there’s a time to put these devices away and be fully present.

Adults can also provide app-enabled experiences that emphasize open-ended exploration and personal initiative over more structured, top-down, and constrained activities. We’ve sampled a variety of apps—many of them with an educational bent—during the course of researching and writing The App Generation. Apps like Minecraft, Scratch, and Digicubes seem (unfortunately) to be among the minority that encourage open-ended exploration and creation. Others we’ve sampled are packed with a lot of bells and whistles that have little relation to the purported learning objectives and leave little room for users to exercise their own creativity and initiative.

Finally, we think computational skills should be emphasized to a greater degree in K–12 education so that kids are able to modify apps as they wish, even create their own. This is something that the UW iSchool does very well in its Informatics and Master of Science in Information Management programs. The ability to understand how apps and other technologies work constitutes a new—and critical—literacy for this new digital era.

Should industry be thinking how to design responsible products, services and apps that foster being a good digital citizen?

Yes, I think designers have a responsibility to consider how their apps are likely to be used, for good and bad. Of course, it’s impossible to anticipate all the different ways one’s creation might be used or modified.

My iSchool colleague, Professor Batya Friedman, has pioneered an approach to designing technologies and tools that take into account what humans care about. Called value-sensitive design, this approach seeks to account for the values of both direct and indirect stakeholders in a principled and systematic manner throughout the design process. A value-sensitive design approach encompasses more than digital citizenship. Designers could use such an approach to think about app-enablement vs. app-dependence during the design process, and attempt to design so that users are encouraged to use apps in an open-ended way, as non-constrained as possible.

Categories: apps, child safety, family, Tips & Talk Tags:

Do you know your kids’ passwords?

August 27th, 2014 No comments

This is the second of two blog posts on password protection. Read Part 1: Create strong passwords and protect them.

Whether or not you should know all of your kids’ passwords depends on their age, how responsible they are, and your parenting values.

However, kids of any age and responsibility level need to know how to create strong passwords and how to protect those passwords.

Sharing is great, but not with passwords

Your kids should never give their friends their passwords or let them log on to their accounts. Also, be careful sharing your passwords with your kids.

3 strategies for strong passwords

  • Length. Make your passwords at least eight (8) characters long.

  • Complexity. Include a combination of at least three (3) uppercase and/or lowercase letters, punctuation, symbols, and numerals. The more variety of characters in your password, the better.

  • Variety. Don’t use the same password for everything. Cybercriminals can steal passwords from websites that have poor security and then use those same passwords to target more secure environments, such as banking websites.

For more information, see Help kids create and protect their passwords.

Do you know your kids’ passwords?

August 27th, 2014 No comments

This is the second of two blog posts on password protection. Read Part 1: Create strong passwords and protect them. Whether or not you should know all of your kids’ passwords depends on their age, how responsible they are, and your parenting values. However, kids of any age and responsibility level need to know how to create strong passwords and how to protect those passwords.

Sharing is great, but not with passwords

Your kids should never give their friends their passwords or let them log on to their accounts. Also, be careful sharing your passwords with your kids.

3 strategies for strong passwords

  • Length. Make your passwords at least eight (8) characters long.
  • Complexity. Include a combination of at least three (3) uppercase and/or lowercase letters, punctuation, symbols, and numerals. The more variety of characters in your password, the better.
  • Variety. Don’t use the same password for everything. Cybercriminals can steal passwords from websites that have poor security and then use those same passwords to target more secure environments, such as banking websites.

For more information, see Help kids create and protect their passwords.

9 ways to stay safe online this summer

July 17th, 2014 No comments

Summer is in full swing. Here are our best safety and security tips for the season.

  1. Don’t broadcast vacation plans on your social networking sites. If you’re leaving your home unoccupied and at risk for potential burglary, you might want to wait to post your vacation photographs until you return home. Get more tips for email and social networking safety.

  2. Limit who knows your location. Before you go on vacation, take a few minutes to adjust settings for sharing your location on your social networking sites and any apps on your smartphone. If you have kids who go online, make sure they know this, too. For more information, see Use location services more safely.

  3. Set computer and device rules for when you’re not around. If your kids are old enough to stay home alone when they’re not at school, make sure you talk to them about Internet safety. Download our tip sheet for pointers to jump-start—or continue—online safety conversations.

  4. Learn how to use parental controls. All Microsoft products include built-in privacy controls and safeguards that put you in charge of your children’s entertainment experiences and allow you to customize how personal information is, or is not, shared. Get step-by-step guidance on how to switch on safety settings across Microsoft technology and devices at home.

  5. Stay safe when playing games online. If your children’s summer sport of choice is the Xbox, Xbox One, Kinect, or other online or console game, learn about the core family safety features of Xbox One and find other ways to help kids play it safe.

  6. Update your software on your laptop or tablet. Before you go on vacation, make sure all your software is updated, to help prevent problems caused by hackers. If your laptop is still running Windows XP, read about the end of support for Windows XP.

  7. Check the security level of public Wi-Fi networks before you use them. Choose the most secure connection—even if that means you have to pay for access. A password-protected connection (ideally one that is unique for your use) is better than one without a password. Both Windows 7 and Windows 8 can help you evaluate and minimize network security risks.

  8. Avoid typing sensitive information on your laptop using an unsecured wireless connection. If possible, save your financial transactions for after your summer vacation on a secured home connection. For more information, see How to know if a financial transaction is secure.

  9. Watch out for suspicious messages from your friends on vacation asking for money. This is a common scam cybercriminals use when they’ve hacked into someone’s account. Find a different way to contact your friend. Learn more about scam email messages.

Do you know what your children are doing online?

This week in the UK, Microsoft launches the Safer Families program for parents to help their kids stay safer online.

According to recent Microsoft research*:

  • 98 percent of UK parents with children at home agree that protecting their children online is necessary, yet almost 50 percent have not used the family safety settings or functions on the devices their children use.
  • Of these, 50 percent don’t know how to do so, and 50 percent know how, but just haven’t done it yet.

*The survey interviewed 1000 parents in the UK with children at home aged 5-16 years.  

So what can parents do? 

Microsoft makes it easy by providing parental controls that are built into its products and services. The new Safer Families program is designed to help parents remove the feeling of ”parental tech paralysis” and switch on safety settings on your Microsoft technology and devices at home.

Learn more about the Safer Families program and how to turn on parental controls on your Microsoft devices.

Is your child graduating to a new digital device?

May 27th, 2014 No comments

Its graduation time, and smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles, and laptops are tops on many kids’ wish lists. Whether your child is graduating from preschool or college, it’s never too late to talk with them about online safety before you hand over the new device.

  • Set clear rules for young children about who they can talk to, text, or play games with.
  • With older kids, discuss online bullying, sexting, and the dangers of using a phone while driving.
  • Have kids lock all devices and accounts with a PIN or strong password, and remind them to keep their passwords secret—even from best friends.
  • Talk to kids about limiting the personal information they share to close friends only.
  • Consider disabling the location services on your young child’s devices; at the very least, turn it off for any camera.
  • Teach tweens and teens to use location-based services cautiously.

For more guidelines on kids and online safety, see Digital gift-giving checklist, and download a printable version of the checklist (PDF, 186 KB).

Is your child graduating to a new digital device?

May 27th, 2014 No comments

Its graduation time, and smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles, and laptops are tops on many kids’ wish lists. Whether your child is graduating from preschool or college, it’s never too late to talk with them about online safety before you hand over the new device.

  • Set clear rules for young children about who they can talk to, text, or play games with.
  • With older kids, discuss online bullying, sexting, and the dangers of using a phone while driving.
  • Have kids lock all devices and accounts with a PIN or strong password, and remind them to keep their passwords secret—even from best friends.
  • Talk to kids about limiting the personal information they share to close friends only.
  • Consider disabling the location services on your young child’s devices; at the very least, turn it off for any camera.
  • Teach tweens and teens to use location-based services cautiously.

For more guidelines on kids and online safety, see Digital gift-giving checklist, and download a printable version of the checklist (PDF, 186 KB).

Security improvements in Windows 8

April 15th, 2014 No comments

Support ended for Windows XP last week. That means technical assistance for Windows XP is no longer available.

To stay protected, you can upgrade your current computer or buy a new one. Windows 8.1 Update runs on a wider variety of devices, so you’ll have more to choose from, including budget-friendly laptops and tablets.

Windows 8 security and safety features

Windows Update installs important updates as they become available. Windows 8 turns on automatic updating as part of the initial setup process. Keep in mind that Windows Update won’t add any applications to your computer without asking for your permission. Get more answers to your Windows Update questions.

Help keep your family safer. With Windows 8, you can monitor your children’s Internet use, choose which games or apps they can access, and block or allow access to certain websites. Keep track of your kids online.

Antivirus protection is now included for your PC. Windows Defender, which is built in to Windows 8, replaces Microsoft Security Essentials. It runs in the background and notifies you when you need to take specific action.

Learn about other ways to keep your PC safer from viruses with Windows 8

Buying a new PC? Save $100 when you buy any Surface Pro 2 or select PCs over $599

Thanks to you the Microsoft #Do1Thing initiative donates $50,000 to TechSoup Global

Together we've raised $50,000

On Safer Internet Day, February 11, 2014, Microsoft launched the interactive Safer Online website. Every time you made your #Do1Thing promise or shared the website with your social circles, Microsoft made a donation to TechSoup Global.

In less than 24 hours, so many of you promised to #Do1Thing to stay safer that Microsoft donated $50,000 to TechSoup Global! But it wasn’t just the promise alone.

“As communities around the world use the Internet to learn and connect, developing responsible online safety habits is something each of us should act on,” says Rebecca Masisak, CEO of TechSoup Global. “We appreciate being a part of Safer Internet Day. And with your contributions, TechSoup Global will further develop and deliver online safety education training materials and guidance to be shared across our global network.”

So far, people from five continents have shared what they are doing to help create a better Internet. What’s the number one global promise so far? Creating strong passwords and regularly changing them. Other popular responses included: two-step authentication for online accounts, sharing minimal personal information, using secured Wi-Fi connections, and shopping on https-enabled websites

Of those who answered our Safer Online polling questions:

  • Nearly half (47 percent) of participants chose learning as the greatest benefit the Internet has brought to their lives, while 17 percent chose exploring, and 10 percent go online for entertainment purposes.
  • Website visitors were also asked which potential online risks concern them the most. Of the nine choices, 28 percent selected financial loss as the most concerning, with 22 percent opting for loss of personal privacy, and 19 percent finding forms of malware on their device the greatest concern.
  • Finally, over two thirds (76 percent) of respondents edit or remove online information that may impact their reputation. Learn how to take charge or your online reputation.

If you haven’t done so yet, share your #Do1Thing story, see what others around the world are promising, and get online safety tips to help you stay safer online, today and every day! 

The secrets of teens and social media: “It’s complicated”

The news is full of stories about what teenagers are doing online, but does anyone over the age of 18 really understand what’s going on?

Microsoft researcher danah boyd does.

In her new book, It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, boyd leverages more than ten years of research and interviews with teens to move past the cultural anxiety surrounding these issues and find out what teens are actually doing online, what people think they’re doing, and where there’s a gap in understanding. It’s an opportunity for parents to take note.

Get the book

Resources to inspire conversations

Kids may be savvier when it comes to how the devices work, but parents can be instrumental in helping shape how kids think about, engage with, and generally behave around technology both online and off.  We know that eight-years-old is the average age at which parents talk to their kids about being good digital citizens according to a recent Microsoft survey.  But the interactions children experience on social networks and through online gaming are actually conditioning their interpersonal skills no matter what age they go online. Setting kids up for success early is important. 

If you’re a parent, guardian, or educator and you want to help your child navigate the online world, visit Protecting young people and Cyberbullying: Stand up to it, or check out our research on parent’s perceptions of their children’s online lives.

And before you hand over a digital device to your child, take a look at this checklist.

Categories: family Tags:

Q & A: Keeping kids safer online

I recently sat down with Sonia Livingstone, a professor in the Department of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics to discuss children and kids and the Internet.

Q. You’ve spent the last two months at Microsoft’s Cambridge research facility. How did that opportunity come about?

A. I have known danah boyd, who started the Social Media Collective at Microsoft Research New England, for quite a while, since we’re both interested in studying teenagers’ ‘risky’ activities on social networking sites. And I’d known Nancy Baym, who invited me to visit, for even longer—since we began our careers researching the soap opera audience. Now I see parallels between soap opera and social media—they’re both about the everyday ways that people create a shared social world through seemingly mindless but actually significant chat and gossip.

Q. Share a key learning from this experience and how it will influence your work.

A. The lab values intellectual discussion across disciplinary boundaries. We all find this difficult, requiring lots of ‘translation’ to understand what people from different traditions find interesting questions, let alone how they come to their answers. I appreciate the recognition that it is important not to stay siloed in our separate spaces, but to talk across divides and seek common ground. The design of the lab echoes this principle—open doors, flexible spaces for discussion, frequent moments when everyone comes together to talk about ideas. It’s a contrast with the academic model I’m used to.

Q. You’re the lead researcher for the EU Kids Online network, which is the “gold standard” when it comes to kids’ Internet use in the EU. What’s next for this project?

A. We are coming to the end of our third phase of funded activity. The European Commission’s (EC) Safer Internet (now Better Internet for Kids) Programme is changing into something new. We are focused on completing interviews and focus groups in 9 or 10 countries, aiming to understand the contexts in which children talk about online risk and how they try to cope with it—or, what support they think they need. As I look ahead, I see the value of our network both for its high-quality cross-national research and for its infrastructural role, paralleling the networks for awareness raising, children’s charities, and helplines to provide the evidence base for policymaking and practical safety/empowerment initiatives in Europe.

Q. Any observations on the way American parents approach kids and technology compared to their European counterparts?

A. My sense is that parents’ expectations are greater in the US than in Europe, where we rely more on schools to guide kids, but also on kids themselves. For example, British parents generally do not check their child’s phone or laptop because the child’s right to privacy outweighs the parents’ duty to protect. I think American parents strike a different balance, considering that they have a right to check their phone because they pay the bill. As I see it, children have a right to privacy, but parents have a duty of care. That’s a difficult balancing act in any culture. My hope is that we find ways for parents and children to share responsibility and talk openly about risks rather than parents snooping on kids and kids finding ways to escape scrutiny.

Q. How can we make parents, educators, and policymakers aware that there is a difference between risk versus harm, and how should we be thinking about that?

Statistics on risk (for example, the proportion of children being exposed to online pornography) are inevitably higher than statistics on harm (for example, the proportion of children who are damaged, upset, or threatened by online pornography or other online risks). In our findings, around one in eight children aged 9–16 across Europe had seen explicit online sexual images, but only one in three of those said that was an upsetting experience. We can take different positions—some will decide that children don’t know what harms them and that all exposure to explicit porn is harmful; others will decide that children’s voices should be respected; there’ll be positions in between too. My main point is that this should be discussed.

Q. What is industry’s role in this discussion?

Two factors influence when risk turns into harm. The first depends on the child and the circumstances in which they use the Internet. A psychologically vulnerable child has less resilience when finding extreme images and is more readily upset. The second depends on the industry’s design of the online environment. If a mildly pornographic image links to more extreme images, risks can lead to harm. If a search for self-harm offers professional advice on sources of help (instead of peer advice on how to cut), risk may not lead to harm.

One hopes that multiple stakeholders—including industry, child welfare, and researchers—will discuss openly where the risks are arising and work together to minimize harm. Ideally, they’d find ways that don’t restrict children’s opportunities to explore and benefit from the Internet.

Q. What do you think parents struggle with the most, and what would you tell them to help calm their anxiety about their kid’s digital lifestyles?

I think parents struggle with two things in particular. The first is that the media are full of panicky headlines that raise fears of abduction, porn addiction, and cyberbullying, and it would help if the media could raise awareness in a more balanced and proportionate way. The second is that they struggle with protecting versus empowering their children. Parents want to trust their kids and respect their privacy. Stakeholders need to provide more nuanced and age-sensitive advice to guide parents. And parents should read the press more critically and listen to their children more sensitively.

Q. Kids are going online at increasingly younger ages. Most of our work focuses on reaching parents of children and teens, but who is thinking about the really young kids, 2–5-year-olds?

The marketing and content industries are thinking about very young kids as a new market. Despite claims of educational outcomes, there is very little evidence that it benefits kids to be going online so young. A few researchers are also studying the contexts and consequences of young kids’ Internet use, and I hope we see more of this in the future.

Q. Where is the online safety debate headed? There is talk about moving from a “safer” to a “better” Internet, and from protecting kids to empowering them. Is a shift taking place? What will the impact be?  

The argument for a better Internet for kids is a good one: there’s no point having a safe Internet if it has little that’s great for kids to do. Dealing with the risk of harm should become a ‘hygiene factor’: like immunizations against disease or reliable systems for clean water, life without good hygiene is problematic, even intolerable. Once those systems are in place, the important questions are about how society should be organized for positive goals. We are so preoccupied with eliminating threats that we’ve lost sight of what we want for the Internet. Remember those early debates about kids having the world of knowledge at their fingertips. What’s our present vision of what we want for kids? That’s where creative thinking is now needed.

Q. There has been a lot in the news from the UK recently. Any thoughts on what PM Cameron is trying to accomplish?

Our prime minister has put children’s Internet safety high on the political agenda. He is focused on eliminating child abuse images from the Internet. He has also insisted that all ISPs provide usable filters for parents. While welcoming both developments, I have two concerns. The first is that we will need new research to be sure that the benefits are reaching children: will children encounter fewer risks online, will their parents feel more empowered to deal with what worries them, and will this be achieved in ways that don’t restrict children’s rights to free expression, privacy, and participation. Second, government intervention online always raises concerns about wider freedom of expression, censorship, and rights. I would like to see an independent, accountable, trusted body established to oversee child protection and empowerment online in a way that responds to wider public concerns. This would also help ensure that Internet safety remains on the agenda.

Q. Lastly, the theme for Safer Internet Day in 2014 is “Let’s Create a Better Internet Together.” Will you be doing anything special to mark the day?

A. We plan to release the first part of our report on the qualitative work on kids’ perceptions of risk that I described earlier. But the findings are a secret till then! I will be in Brussels announcing the winner of the EC’s positive online content competition, of which I chair the jury. That’s a nice role—celebrating what’s good about the Internet for kids.

10 New Year’s resolutions for your digital devices and your online life

December 31st, 2013 No comments

It’s a new year, which means it’s time to resolve to create healthier habits in our daily lives. But we don’t have to stop at just improving our body, mind, and spirit. It’s also a good idea to resolve to keep our PCs, laptops, smartphones, and social networking sites healthy this year.

1. Keep your software up to date. You can help protect against viruses, fraud, and more by keeping your operating system, antivirus software, antispyware software, web browser, and other software updated. Microsoft releases security updates on the second Tuesday of every month. Learn how to get security updates automatically.

2. Create strong passwords, keep them secret, and change them regularly. This is particularly important for those passwords that safeguard your computer, important accounts (like email or Facebook), and sensitive information, like financial and health data. Get more information about creating strong passwords and protecting them.

3. Use antivirus software. If your computer is running Windows 8, you can use the built-in Windows Defender to help you detect and get rid of spyware and other malware. If your computer is running Windows 7, Windows Vista, or Windows XP, Windows Defender removes spyware.

4. Check and adjust your privacy settings. You can participate in the online world and keep your information private. Learn more about how to manage your privacy settings in Windows, Internet Explorer, your Microsoft account, Windows Phone, and more. 

Watch a video about privacy in action (1:19).

5. Teach your children about online safety. Before kids use computers, gaming consoles, or mobile devices, make sure you agree on clear limits, talk about how to keep accounts and passwords secret, and help them stand up to online bullying. If your child got a new device this holiday season, read this checklist for safety tips.

6. Monitor your children’s online behaviors, and continue to talk to them about Internet safety. If your kids are online, it’s important to have regular online safety conversations and to continue to keep track of what they’re doing. For more information, see Age-based guidelines for kids’ Internet use.

7. Upgrade to modern software that provides the latest security technologies and protections. Advanced security technologies in modern operating systems are specifically designed to make it more difficult, more complex, more expensive, and therefore, less appealing to cybercriminals to exploit vulnerabilities. Learn more about how support for Windows XP ends this year.

8. Use SkyDrive to help protect your personal information. Ransomware is a type of malware designed to infiltrate your computer and hold your files (photos, documents, reports, etc.) hostage until you pay the demanded amount of money to a cybercriminal. One of the best ways to protect your files is to back them up using a removable drive or a cloud service like SkyDrive.

9. Explore new tools for PC protection. If you feel comfortable performing more advanced computer tasks, consider downloading the free Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit (EMET), which will make it even more difficult for malicious hackers and cybercriminals to get into your computer.

10. Ignore fake tech support phone calls. Neither Microsoft nor our partners make unsolicited phone calls (also known as cold calls) to charge you for computer security or software fixes. If you receive a suspicious phone call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft, all you have to do is hang up. For more information, see Avoid tech support phone scams.

 

Online safety for kids with new digital devices

December 24th, 2013 No comments

We know that lots of kids will be getting new phones, tablets, laptops, gaming systems, and other digital devices this holiday season. If you’re a parent, guardian, or educator, here are some tips for helping kids stay safe.

  • Agree on the rules. Come up with guidelines that work for your family, and post them somewhere at home. Microsoft offers a sample agreement, the Get Game Smart PACT (PDF, 2.16 MB), to help you sort out family rules.

  • Protect their privacy. Teach kids how to keep their accounts private and lock their devices with a PIN or password. Consider disabling the location services on your young child’s devices.

  • Monitor use. Know who your kids are communicating with, what games they’re playing, and what websites or services they’re using. Follow the recommended age limits on games and social networking websites. Set limits that work for your family.

  • Teach your kids to stand up to online bullying. Encourage your kids not to post or text anything that would hurt or embarrass someone. Make sure they know never to make, send, or accept provocative texts, photos, or videos.

For more information, see our new Digital Gift-Giving Checklist.

Download a printable version of the checklist.

Online safety tips for travelers

December 19th, 2013 No comments

If you’re travelling this holiday season and you plan to be online, here are a few ways to protect yourself and your family:

Get more mobile and wireless tips.

Shop for gifts online more safely

December 13th, 2013 No comments

If you want to stay home and avoid the crowds this holiday season, you can do all your shopping online. But before you log on, make sure you know how to identify websites that won’t compromise your privacy.

Before you enter your credit card number, check for signs that a site is safe:

  • Verify that the web address starts with https.
  • Check for a lock icon  in the web address window.
  • Look for a seal of approval from an outside Internet trust organization.

Read more about how to know whether you can trust a website.

If you trust a website, there are still things that you can do to protect your privacy:

Read more about how to make safer transactions online.

Parental controls in Xbox One

December 3rd, 2013 No comments

Xbox One is the newest all-in-one games and entertainment system from Microsoft. If you’ve already purchased one, or if you plan to, it’s a good idea to learn more about the built-in privacy and safety parental controls.

Control the content your children play and watch

Customize your children’s access to specifically rated games, movies, TV shows, and music according to their ages. By default, if the child is under 8 years of age, Access to content is set to “off.”

Filter the web

Parental controls let you determine what kinds of websites children can view in the Xbox One Internet Explorer app. 

Manage what your children download and buy

Xbox One enables you to control what kinds of apps each child may download from the Xbox store. The setting options are:

  • Blocked (none)
  • Free apps only
  • Free or paid apps

For more information:

Kids and Internet safety: What’s the right age?

October 24th, 2013 No comments

If it seems like the kids who are fiddling with Internet-connected devices look younger and younger lately, it’s because they are. A few months ago, we asked you, When should kids go online?  

You answered our survey questions, and the results are in.

Among the many findings, the survey showed that 94 percent of parents allow their children to use at least one online service or device. The results also reveal that, when compared to parents, non-parents would wait longer—by an average of two years—to let kids have access to devices and services.  

What’s more, parents with kids under the age of 7 reported allowing even very young children to have unsupervised use of these devices:

  • Forty-one percent allow their children to use a gaming console.
  • Forty percent allow their children to use a computer.
  • Twenty-nine percent allow their children to use mobile phones. 

 If your children are using the Internet, it’s time to talk to them about Internet safety. We can help you start Internet safety conversations with the goals to engage, educate, enforce, and evaluate the best rules for your family. 

 Learn more about the results of this study, and get tips on how to help your family stay safe online

Categories: child safety, family, online safety Tags:

Help teens prepare for digital drama with new ebook

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month—a great time to check in with your family about their online safety habits. Are everyone’s devices and apps up to date with the latest security? When was the last time you reviewed your children’s online profile, or helped them update the privacy settings on their social networks?

For teens in particular, it’s important to help them prepare to deal with the “drama” that can unfold within their online social circles. While teen conflict is nothing new, today’s gossip, jokes, and arguments often play out through social media like Formspring, Twitter, and Facebook. Teens often refer to this as “drama.”

We’ve asked Linda McCarthy, online safety expert and author, to share insights about her new digital book, Digital Drama: Staying Safe While Being Social Online.

DOWNLOAD THE BOOK FREE!
From September 24 through 27, you can download English and Spanish versions of the ebook FREE.

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Kim Sanchez: You’ve written a number of books about online safety and security for teens. Why the focus on this audience?

Linda McCarthy: In 2009, my two teenagers destroyed the security on my home network; that was a game changer for me. I spent 15 years protecting security networks for corporations, and this happened in my house. At that moment I knew that I had to help families—kids love technology and they need help understanding the risks.

Kim Sanchez: So this was the impetus behind Digital Drama?

Linda McCarthy: Yes. The Internet is a great resource for connecting, learning, and entertainment, but these limitless possibilities also open the door to risky situations. Parents worry about their kids talking to strangers in person—online that risk is 24/7. Also, many parents feel overwhelmed by technology features and functions. Watching the kids in my house grow up on the Internet, and the challenges they (and I) faced, I felt that teens need more information on how to stay safer online.

Kim Sanchez: What are you hearing from kids about the ebook?

Linda McCarthy: The response has been great, which excites me because this is my first digital book. I’ve been writing and publishing security books for 20 years, and I love to hold a solid book in my hands, so I wasn’t sold on the ebook idea. However, teens prefer to read online and we have to be able to give kids what they want, right?

Kim Sanchez: What is an important tip you’d give teens to help them deal with digital drama?

Linda McCarthy: Know when to walk away, when NOT to respond, and when to get help.

  • Know when to walk away. When your friends start documenting their stupidity online, don’t hang around and become the star in their pictures or videos. Anything that’s posted online can stay around forever.
  • Know when NOT to respond. If “friends” start sending you bullying text messages, don’t get pulled into their drama by responding. Bullying can be a crime depending on what the bullies are doing.
  • Know when to get help. When drama is about to turn lethal or bullying is happening, reach out to a trusted adult for help. You can do it anonymously so you don’t become the next victim of the bully, and reaching out might just help someone else, too.

Kim Sanchez: How about a tip for parents that would help teens deal with digital drama?

Linda McCarthy: The most important thing I can say to parents is don’t just hand your child a new device, like a smart phone or tablet, and that’s it. Instead, set up some rules of the road together.

For example, guidelines for using a phone might include no bullying or teasing others, no texting and driving, share location cautiously, and create a positive online profile (don’t share scandalous photos). Then if drama unfolds, you can refer back to the family agreement, which might help minimize the extent of the drama.

Kim Sanchez: Your book was written for teens. Would it be useful for anyone else?

Linda McCarthy: Digital Drama has something for everyone. Parents can read it and get ideas about how to talk with their kids about online safety. Even if you don’t have kids, you’ll find guidance that will help you, a family member, or a friend. So download the ebook and share it with everyone you know.

Kim Sanchez: You’ve devoted an entire chapter to online bullying, or “cyberbullying.” Why is that?

Linda McCarthy: According to Microsoft research, 62 percent of teens have witnessed cruel behavior online. Just about every teen I talk to either knows someone who has been bullied, or has been bullied themselves. So, I’ve given ten pointers to help teens protect themselves and their friends from cyberbullying—starting with reporting it. I’m also publishing a book for parents about cyberbullying this fall: Cyberbully Upstander: My Child Is Safe. Parents need to talk with kids about bullying and why it’s important to reach out and get help when first witnessing it.

Join the Twitter conversation!

Join Microsoft and other online safety experts on September 25 at 3:00 p.m. EDT/12:00 p.m. PDT as we chat with Linda McCarthy (@ddramabook) about how her ebook can help you talk with kids about digital safety. (Use #ChatSTC to join.)

When should kids be allowed online?

August 9th, 2013 No comments

As a parent or caregiver, you probably needed only one trip to the playground to realize that children can have radically different styles of play. Just as there’s no “one size fits all” approach to helping children navigate the jungle gym, the way you talk about online safety with kids will depend on the child, their maturity level, and your family’s values.  

But what is your parenting style when it comes to introducing your children to new devices and online technology?

Take a brief survey and get tailored tips to help you have conversations with young Internet users about staying safer on the ever-changing digital playground.