July 23, 2008

Betwixt and ‘Tween: Summit Examines How Preteens Use Cyberspace

By Al Gibes

It's a question that's been asked for at least a decade, but it begs to be asked again: Do you know what your kids are doing online? I'm not talking only about your teenagers, but your "tweens," too.

They're those computer-savvy youngsters between 8 and 14 years old. There's a good chance they know as much, or more, about the Internet than their parents.

Do they have a MySpace page? Do they know the rules about how much to share with their online friends? Do they tell you what they do in cyberspace?

Las Vegas tween Krystina Kinney, 14, and her mother, Karen, are learning more about those issues and sharing their experiences at the Third Annual Cox Internet Safety Summit in Washington, D.C., this week.

Krystina had a MySpace page when she was in eighth grade, and kept it hidden from her parents until other students' parents alerted teachers at their school - St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic School.

"Some kids did some over-the-top things and teachers became aware of it," Karen said. "I just accepted that I would be ignorant about the Internet," she said. "My daughter just wouldn't do that."

But she did. Krystina estimated 85 percent of her classmates had personal MySpace pages, even though they knew it was banned at their school.

"Peer pressure is part of what happened," the incoming Bishop Gorman High School freshman said. "In previous years kids had gotten expelled."

Krystina removed her social networking page and said she uses the Internet today primarily as a school resource. She said her favorite Web site was her school's where she would check homework assignments. Google is another site she visits while doing research.

The proud mom said her daughter "doesn't entertain herself on the computer. She's a dancer and plays the piano and is a very active child."

Krystina will be one of the older participants at the Summit, which includes 14 youths between 11 and 14 years old. She said she's very interested in Internet safety as a result of her experience.

Research findings released by Cox show that 90 percent of tweens are online by age nine. Of those, 73 percent said their parents had talked to them 'a lot' about Internet safety.

Ninety-six percent of tweens tell their parents about at least some of what they do online; 79 percent tell parents everything, according to the Cox research.

Of tweens who tell someone when they receive online messages from unknown senders, 91 percent reach out to their mom.

Krystina is setting up a blog to share her Summit experience. Go to my blog (www.lvrj.com/blogs/onlineguy) for the link.

I'll do a follow up on the mother-daughter experience next week.

Share your Internet story with me at [email protected]

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