Tuesday, December 1, 2009

I recently cancelled the daily subscription to my local newspaper, The San Diego Union Tribune. Local newspapers are dying and they blame their demise on the Internet and other news sources. While I agree with their conclusions, I added my own concerns. If you share the same concerns, you may want to send a similar letter to your local newspaper.

To Whom It May Concern:

When I called to cancel my subscription, I was asked to give a reason. I would like to explain my decision. Frankly, you no longer publish the news. I have been a faithful reader of the San Diego Union for more than 40 years and formerly I counted on you to tell me what was happening in our community, city, state, and country. I can no longer count on your perspective. I understand that covering the "news" is like studying "history." What a student learns about history depends on what the teacher believes to be important and what the reader learns about the news depends on what the editorial staff believes to be important.

You are no longer covering what is important to me and so many of my fellow citizens of San Diego. Let me explain - in no particular order.

1. A few weeks ago, our president went to China, in part, to encourage the Chinese government to continue to invest in our bonds. I didn't realize how much trouble our dollar was in because of our debt. It is on the brink of collapse. THAT'S IMPORTANT TO ME! I haven't heard one word from you about our desperate situation. I had to read it on Drudge. I would think it would be important to you.

2. To add to my concern, key governments around the world are considering dropping the dollar as the exchange currency for a more stable currency. If this happens, the value of our dollar will hit a death spiral that will cause national inflation making the Carter years seem pleasant by comparison. THAT'S IMPORTANT TO ME! It will affect all your readers, shouldn't we hear about this from our trusted newspaper?

3. Last week I heard from friends who live in Visalia, a city in our Central Valley, that thousands of acres of pristine farm land in their area are now a dustbowl because the main water supply has been turned off. Environmentalists claim the water pumps may be harmful to a 2-inch sardine. Why didn't I hear about the farming situation from you? THAT'S IMPORTANT TO ME! The central valley of California is our nation's breadbasket. If the farmers are unable to grow crops, where will our country get much of its food? And what will that do to the cost of our food? This issue concerns all of America, but not one word from the San Diego Union. Why not? This is a national crisis, but I had to hear it from someone who lives in our Central Valley, not from you.

4. We now have a national debt approaching 12 trillion dollars. In less than 10 years it is projected by official government figures to be more than 24 trillion. It is foolish to keep spending when we don't have money. Families can't do it and neither should our government. It will catch up with us. Our children, grandchildren, and future generations will be paying the interest on this debt forever. It will never be paid. Despite this unbelievable burden on our economy, our government leaders now want to impose a government healthcare on us that will cost at least an extra trillion dollars each year. The CATO Institute has shown the extra trillion will actually be closer to an extra 3.5 trillion. Medical costs will be increased to the majority of Americans as well as rationed care to all. You can't add 30 to 50 million new patients and no program to add new doctors without rationing care. THAT'S IMPORTANT TO ME! The majority of Americans are against this bill, but you have chosen to simply repeat Obama's talking points. You are not representing your readers.

5. A whistleblower from the UK's Hadley Centre, one of the world's leading climate change research centers, has proven the Centre has been lying about their research. They have been using false data for years. Since the world governments, including the United States, have been relying on Hadley Centre as a main source to validate global warming, THAT'S IMPORTANT TO ME! The climate is NOT getting warmer. It was and is a hoax. Their temperature data was being forged to prove alleged "manmade global warming." But I had to read about this on the Internet from newspapers in Britain. My newspaper is deadly silent on this issue. Newspapers in England are calling this situation "climate-gate," but the San Diego Union has chosen not to report it. Are you beginning to understand my concern??

6. The global warming "crisis" is a myth; now not even Al Gore calls it global warming. It is has been renamed to "climate change." Our government is getting ready to impose another tax on us called "cap and trade" that is supposed to "help stop global warming." Experts from all parts of the political spectrum admit this tax is not needed and would be nothing more than an added tax on an already struggling economy. Why haven’t you bothered to explain this complicated situation to your readers? Most don't even know what "cap and trade" means. THAT'S IMPORTANT TO ME! You are supposed to be our advocate but not one word from the San Diego Union.

7. One of the best characteristics of our system of government is the system of checks and balances. The judicial, legislative, and executive system of government has worked well for more than 200 years. Then why do we need 35 czars to run a free country? What is a czar? Why do we need them? Why did Obama appoint them if he already has a Senate vetted Cabinet? If these czars are making major policy decisions, shouldn’t they also be vetted? Maybe this is why so many of Obama's czars are Marxists, communists, and revolutionaries. If someone answered these questions in an investigation exposé, he/she could receive a Pulitzer. Isn't anyone on your staff interested? One would think your readers would want to know who and what czars are, what they stand for and how they got there. THAT'S IMPORTANT TO ME.

8. Your coverage of the ACORN scandal was superficial at best. You had a small article without detail even though one of the many ACORN offices caught on tape encouraging underage prostitution was from San Diego. You chose not to dig into the evidence even though BigGovernment.com was giving their evidence to any newspaper that was willing to watch the tapes and ask questions. Since our president has close ties with ACORN, I thought you would be interested. THAT IS IMPORTANT TO ME.

9. California's GNP is larger than every country in the world except for seven. That's huge! With our state's economy on the verge of collapse, again you have chosen not to ask the hard questions. How did we get into this precarious situation? What are your suggestions for getting out of it? What happens to us if the state goes bankrupt? Will the national government take us over? What then? THAT'S IMPORTANT TO ME.

10. These are not partisan political concerns. I am expressing concerns that can potentially affect the future of our city, state, and nation. I expect a newspaper that wants more readers would investigate and cover these issues.

Friday, October 9, 2009

  • Julia Angwin of the Wall Street Journal wrote this article about keeping your kids safe online. It is a major issue and she has some excellent advice. Let me know what you think.
  • Let's keep in touch,
  • Al Menconi,
  • The Wall Street Journal

Last week, a bunch of high-powered researchers issued a much-anticipated report on children's Internet safety. The Harvard University-led Internet Safety Technical Task Force concluded that technology ranging from age verification to filtering won't necessarily help make the Internet more safe for our darling tots. The results, while true, don't do much to allay most parents concerns.

Although the Internet is an integral part of most Americans everyday life, we as a society are still struggling to figure out how to navigate a world where every danger imaginable – from predators to porn to that infernal "Chocolate Rain" video – lurks mere mouse-clicks away from our children.

So it's disappointing to find out that the experts have decreed all of the options for a safer Internet to be fatally flawed. To find some constructive advice, I decided to wade through the 278-page report, as well as to do some of my own research.

The first thing I found was that software programs like Net Nanny, which aim to filter inappropriate content, are still a good first line of defense. Their text-based filters can alert you when your child gets an instant message soliciting sex or asking if his parents are at home. Although the task force points out that these filters tend to be focused on pornography, rather than violence, tech-savvy parents can customize the software to their liking.

Still, like antivirus software, filtering software is always catching up with the bad guys' latest tricks. For years, savvy kids have circumvented the filters by typing https:// instead of http:// before a Web address. The latest version of Net Nanny solved that problem, but then encrypted AOL Instant Messages fell through the cracks – so Net Nanny had to issue a patch. Common sense dictates that a time-strapped parent will always be less vigilant about downloading updates than kids will be about finding loopholes in such software.

Then there are the walled gardens on the Internet that tout themselves as safe – places like Facebook, where people supposedly use their real names and have lots of control over who can see their information. Peer pressure can keep these places relatively safe – but they are not problem-free.

It's still very easy to impersonate someone on Facebook. I have several friends who have multiple Facebook identities – one for professional friends and one for personal friends and family. And I've run across people on Facebook pretending to be someone they're not – including one person who claimed to be Paul Wolfowitz but was not.

Some of the supposedly "safe" social networks for kids have also had their troubles. Imbee.com, for instance, launched in 2006 as a social network that sought parental approval for kids to join. But, in 2008, the Federal Trade Commission fined Imbee $130,000 for collecting personal information about more than 10,000 kids without adequately notifying parents.

Finally, there is age and identity verification technology – which a coalition of attorneys general have been pushing MySpace to adopt. In theory, verifying identities would prevent sexual predators from pretending to be young kids, and would prevent bullies from hiding their harassment behind anonymity.

But identity verification is tricky on the Internet, in large part because of the difficulty of finding appropriate data to use to verify identities. Identity checks that use home addresses can be foiled by anyone who knows your address. Identity checks using driver's licenses exclude kids too young to drive. And identity checks that use social security numbers or some other government ID open up a whole can of worms about the legal and political risks of private companies accessing that data.

MySpace has floated the idea of creating e-mail registries for children that it can use to verify identities. But the task force rejected this out of hand noting that "there are a host of civil liberty, privacy, and safety concerns with collecting information on children for a registry of this sort."

The task force also pointed out that it was impressed with a Web site icouldbe.org, which pairs teens with adult mentors. The site carefully screens its members through background searches and monitors the interactions so adult and teen cannot exchange any personal information or arrange to meet offline. Honestly, if this is what the Internet becomes – bloodless heavily-monitored relationships with background-checked adults – will anyone ever log on again?

Still, the good news in the report is that most teens don't really run into as much trouble online as is portrayed by the media. And the teens that do engage in risky behavior online are generally doing so offline as well, so they're easy to spot.

For most parents, it seems that our best bet is to treat the Internet like an unsupervised playground in a sketchy neighborhood: You shouldn't drop your kids off there and walk away. You are obligated to stick around and make sure some kid doesn't beat up your kid – even if you're just watching from a bench on the sidelines.

Write to Julia Angwin at julia.angwin@wsj.com

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Dear Parent, Do you know what your kids are doing on line? Common Sense Media has conducted a survey to find out and a summary of their findings is below. Every parent needs to read this report.

Social Networks and Teen Lives

By Common Sense Media
August 10, 2009

Face-to-face or -to-cyberspace?

Common Sense Media conducted a survey to examine how social networks were affecting kids and families. The results? Kids increasingly connect with friends, classmates, and people with similar interests through social networks -- often outside their parents' awareness.

The poll results illustrate a continuing disconnect between parents and kids when it comes to kids' digital lives. In today's society, there's more technology and less time for parents to supervise their kids' actions and behaviors on
Facebook, MySpace, or any other digital environment. Communication and socialization in our kids' world is increasingly moving from face-to-face to face-to-cyberspace. Families need to keep up regular conversations about life in a digital world and what it means to be a safe, smart digital citizen -- including ethical behavior, privacy, bullying, and reputation management.

The call to action is clear: Parents are the first line of defense when it comes to helping our kids use the same senses of responsibility and self-respect whether they're online or off.

Social networks and mobile communication connect our kids to their friends 24/7. For the most part, conversations begun in the classroom hallway more or less continue in the digital space. But there are differences between face-to-face communication and digital communication. It's important to understand how technology is changing the nature of how our kids learn to communicate.

Social networks are highly immersive

Common Sense recently researched how often teens are engaged in their social networks; 22% of teens said they checked their pages more than 10 times a day. That finding becomes more telling when you consider how much less frequently kids are actually talking to each other or connecting face-to-face (2,200-plus texts a month, versus only 200 phone calls, according to Nielsen). Whether they're accessing social networks on their phones, in school, or at home, this means that kids are talking less and posting more.

Many teens disguise who they are

And in an online culture, it's quite possible to be someone else. Of the teens in our survey, 25% said that they had created social network pages under a different identity. On the positive side, the anonymous nature of social networking makes it a relatively safe space for kids to try on different hats and figure out who they are and who they want to be. These sites provide an opportunity to connect in a way that, for lots of reasons, kids may not feel comfortable doing otherwise.

But there's another implication here: Kids can communicate with others under an assumed name. Another 24% of teens said that they had hacked into someone else's social network, giving them the ability to communicate as that person. Since developing trust is such a fundamental part of childhood, the notions of who and what you can trust online have to be discussed with kids.

Finally, when kids communicate anonymously or through a disguised identity, the doors open for lack of accountability. This separation of action and consequence has made irresponsible behavior like cyberbullying possible.

Parents are out of the loop

As our kids increasingly communicate through social networks, parents are cut out of the process of hearing how and what they say to each other. Our research showed that parents vastly underestimate how much time kids spend on social networks. This makes it hard for parents to parent in the crucial areas of social interaction and development.

The importance of privacy

The social networks that connect our kids offer wonderful opportunities for rich interactions and sharing. But sometimes kids can over share, not thinking about the fact that whatever they're doing is taking place before a vast, invisible audience. To protect their privacy (and their reputations), our teens must learn to think before they post. Because they lose control of whatever they put on their network pages. Anything can be cut, pasted, altered, and distributed in the blink of an eye. And once it's been sent around, it's next to impossible to take down.

To read the complete report, check out their link below.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What parents think teens are doing on social networks, and what the teens are actually doing.

August 9, 2009 LATimes.com

Teens may not be into Twitter, but 51% say they log into a social network such as Facebook at least once a day.

Do you know where your teens are on the Web tonight?

Most parents aren't surprised by the most likely answer: social networks. But they may be unsettled by what their kids are doing on those sites, according to a survey to be released Monday by Common Sense Media, a San Francisco advocacy group.

The survey polled 1,013 teens and 1,002 parents. The bottom line: Parents consistently underestimate how much time their kids spend on social networks and how often they engage in risky behavior, such as posting revealing photos of themselves, bullying other kids or hacking into their friends' accounts. The study mirrors an earlier report from Common Sense Media on kids using technology to cheat in school.

Here's a sample of the new report's findings:

37% of teens said they used social networks to make fun of other students, but only 18% of parents believe their own angels do so.

13% of teens said they posted naked or semi-naked photos or videos of themselves. Only 2% of parents said their kids have done that.

24% of teens said they signed on to someone else's account without permission, while only 4% of parents said their kids have done that.

28% of teens posted personal information that they normally would not have revealed in public, but 16% of parents said their kids did that.

What to do? Common Sense suggests ...

... parents first learn about these networks by registering and exploring the networks their children are in. Because Facebook and MySpace don't allow kids under 13 to open accounts, parents with younger children should check their browsers' histories to see where their kids are going.

For parents of teens who are already on social networks, Common Sense suggested they talk with their kids about privacy settings, whom not to friend and precautions to take when posting personal information.

"Remind teens that everything they post can essentially be seen by a vast, invisible audience," the group said in its report. "And tell them that online stuff can last forever. If they wouldn't put something on the hallway in school, they shouldn't post it on their pages."

-- Alex Pham

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Teens losing sleep to electronic distractions


To many parents, text messaging is an enigma -- a practice their children engage in when they could just make a phone call or walk down the street to their friends' houses. It seems to be a strange but harmless means of communication.

What most don't know is that too much texting can be detrimental to their teens' health. That's because new technologies, such as cell phones and social networking sites, give teens easy access to their friends 24 hours a day.

"The more technology we develop, the more we rely on technology," said Dr. Myrza Perez, a pediatric pulmonologist in California. A specialist in sleep disorders, she says "before technology, we went to sleep when the sun went down. Now, with all these distractions, teenagers alone in their rooms stay up to extremely late hours on their cell phones and computers. Their parents have no idea."

Sleep deprivation is leading to many daytime problems for teenagers, including headaches, impaired concentration and hyperactive behavior often misconstrued as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Often these symptoms are interpreted by doctors as problems meriting medication, when the best cure might be to turn off their phones at night.

Mikaela Espinoza, 17, of Sacramento, Calif., always used to sleep with her phone at her bedside, just in case a friend called or text-messaged her in the middle of the night.

"Whenever I'd hear my phone ring I would just, like, wake up and answer it," she said. "I think a whole bunch of kids text all night long."

Espinoza soon found herself suffering from migraine headaches throughout the day. Her primary physician's first instinct was to check her eyes. When that yielded no solutions, he sent her in for a CAT scan. It came back clear.

Eventually, Espinoza was diagnosed with a condition growing more common among teens: too much texting.

After her parents realized she wasn't sleeping enough, "They told me I needed to turn off my phone or have it taken away from me at night," she said.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Internet Safety for Kids
MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter can help teens connect with friends — but can leave them vulnerable to bullying and worse, too. Here's how to keep your kid safe online.
By Bob Tedeschi
Goodhousekeeping.com July 22, 2009

Three years ago, when our daughter Rikki, then 17, shared a presentation on the dangers of kids exposing their personal information online, I was relieved to know our high schooler had a handle on this tricky terrain.
A few weeks later, on a whim, I logged on to my MySpace account, searched for Rikki, found her MySpace page, and then clicked on her friend Kristen's picture, which brought us to Kristen's page. There we could see that Rikki had posted, "Call me now!!!" Our home number followed — for Kristen and potentially the site's then 90 million other users to see, since Kristen had not made her page private. When we asked Rikki about it, she sheepishly admitted to having made an impulsive mistake and quickly asked Kristen to delete the post before the information could conceivably be used by stalkers, pranksters, or identity thieves.
Social-networking sites like MySpace and Facebook are incredibly popular with teens — recent surveys report that 71 percent of teens and 34 percent of 11- and 12-year-olds have a profile on a social-networking site (even though kids under 13 are not officially allowed on either site). Unfortunately, even the smartest kids — kids like Rikki, who know that you're not supposed to post private information online — make dumb mistakes on these sites, exposing themselves not just to predators and creeps, but also to bullying, identity theft, and other potentially negative consequences at school and, later on, in their work lives.
While it may be tempting to simply ban your child from using social-networking sites, a better strategy is to work with him to help him make smarter decisions online, says Monica Vila, cofounder of theonlinemom.com, a Web site devoted to educating parents about how to help kids use technology responsibly. (Teens whose parents have talked to them "a lot" about Internet safety are much less likely to take risks online, according to a Cox Communications survey.) Even if you are not on a social-networking site, or you have limited online skills, you can help your child avoid five of the most common flubs:

Mistake 1: Broadcasting Personal Info to the Entire Internet
Social-networking sites can provide a safe place for kids to exchange messages and connect with friends. But if your child's profile isn't set up so that only trusted friends can see the content, it's possible that everything he posts may be seen by anyone who's online. "About six months ago, I was contacted on Facebook by a guy in his 20s or 30s who had the same last name as me," says Courtney Marinak, 18, a recent high school grad from Jupiter, FL. "He said that we were related, and he was able to determine which one of his uncles was my father and even tell me what my sister's name was, all from information that was pieced together from my Facebook account. It turned out that he was legitimately related to me, but it was still scary having a stranger know so much about me."
The two giants of social networking, MySpace and Facebook, have improved their privacy practices in recent years, giving users much better tools for controlling who sees what. Those age 18 and under who set up profiles, for instance, are now given fairly strict privacy settings as a default, assuming they're honest about their ages. But many teens (not to mention their parents) don't know how to fine-tune their settings to keep themselves as safe as possible.
Arnold Bell, assistant chief of the FBI's Cyber Division Strategic Outreach and Initiatives Section, recommends sitting with your child when he sets up a Facebook or MySpace page and looking at the privacy settings, so you can make sure he chooses wisely. Experts advise using the strictest privacy settings (which are now generally automatic for kids 18 and under) from the start.
To do this on Facebook, go to the "Privacy Settings" link under "Settings" at the top right-hand corner of any page. Make sure all the menus under "Profile" and "Search" are set to "Only Friends" — meaning that only friends your child has approved can access his profile, photos, and other information — or possibly "Friends of Friends" if his goal is to connect with a broader group. On MySpace, find the privacy settings by clicking on the "My Account" link in the upper right-hand corner of any page. Then click "Privacy," and look for a heading that says "Profile Viewable By." Click on "My Friends Only." You can also customize other options — such as not allowing photos of your child to be shared or e-mailed by others — on the same page.
If your child already has an online profile, check to see if it's public by Googling his name or searching for him on Facebook or MySpace (you don't need to be a member to do so). Better yet, says Vila, do it together: "Say, 'I understand that these days anything that's posted online is very tough to keep private. Why don't we Google you to check if there's anything that you don't want out there?'" Also Google a friend or two of his, to compare and contrast. "You can say, 'This person has chosen to have this stuff about her online — what do you think about it?'" says Vila. "It's an opportunity for you to discuss what are the right values for your family."
Word to the wise: Also step in if your child is using Twitter, the micro-blogging service where users post short updates, known as tweets. Many kids don't realize these are completely public, akin to posting on a virtual global bulletin board. Help your child click on the "Protect My Updates" setting to control which members can follow what she posts. And if a stranger starts following her updates, she can restrict that person's access by using the "Block" tool.

Mistake 2: Sharing Passwords
Two years ago, 15-year old Julia Pullman* shared her MySpace password with friends. A few weeks later, she got into an argument with her friends, who retaliated by logging on to her MySpace page, spreading rumors about her being promiscuous, and generally savaging her reputation. "They also posted nasty things about other students, as if in her voice," her mother says. "It was just brutal." Julia was shunned by her classmates and has not yet socially recovered from the incident. Now she skips lunch at school to avoid eating alone, and has deleted her MySpace page.
It's common for teens to share passwords, says Vila — sometimes because of peer pressure, sometimes simply for convenience. But once that happens, the friend can log on as your child — whether to play a prank, like changing a name or profile description (common among teens), or for more malicious purposes.
Talk to your child about the importance of not sharing passwords with anyone but you, under any circumstances (you can use Julia's story as a cautionary tale). Then keep an eye on her pages for clues that someone else has been tinkering with them. (It should be a nonnegotiable rule that you yourself have an account and are part of your child's friend network, says Vila.) And let her know that if she breaks the rules, there will be consequences.
Word to the wise: Vila suggests punishing your child offline — not allowing her to attend a friend's party, for example — rather than banning her from a social-networking site, which might simply drive her to create a new account under a different screen name. Worth noting: Remind your child that it's critical to pick a password someone can't easily guess; that's a key step in protecting her online privacy.

Mistake 3: Befriending Strangers
It doesn't matter how strict your child's privacy settings are if she voluntarily adds people she doesn't know to her friends list. Teens often make a sport of accumulating friends on Facebook or MySpace, because it makes them feel popular. "You hear kids bragging, 'I have 785 friends,'" says Lisa Sohmer, director of college counseling at Garden School in Jackson Heights, NY. Scammers or predators can troll for such kids by sending out friend requests like spam, then using one child's network of friends to connect with others. Take the case of Katie Huntington, 17, of Oakland, CA, who describes herself as a cautious Facebook user. "I accepted one guy as a friend last year — we had lots of mutual friends," Katie says. "Then I checked his profile." He was an older man, and Katie saw many messages on his Facebook page from people asking, "Who are you?" Katie quickly deleted him from her account.
Most parents already worry that "stranger online" means "sexual predator." Of course, that's a serious and well-publicized concern--and one that the social-networking giants are increasingly addressing — but friending strangers also leaves your child vulnerable to unwanted offers of sales and services, not to mention identity theft. In the brief time Katie was friends with that unknown man, he could have downloaded her photos and recorded her birthday, and possibly other personal information, and used this info to open accounts in her name.
If your child is just getting started on a social-networking site, establish a rule that you must approve all friend requests, says Vila, "just like you would approve who she brings into your house." Also, friends should only be people your child knows personally. Then click around her friends list occasionally and, if someone looks out of place, ask about it.
Word to the wise: Remind even experienced social networkers to review their contacts regularly. Relationships shift dramatically at this age — last semester's BFF may be this semester's frenemy, and your child may want to bar certain "friends" from seeing her personal info.

Mistake 4: Baring Their Souls
Your average teen would never plaster the halls of her school with signs declaring whom she's got a huge crush on, how badly she flunked last week's algebra test, or what she really thinks about her uncle's drinking problem. Yet that's exactly what kids do when they open up and post about their personal lives online. "The meaning of 'friend' gets blurred when teens are on social networks," says Sohmer. "They share an intimacy of conversation that they would never have with those people in real life."
By broadcasting highly personal information, social-networking sites can magnify the usual teen and tween social dramas a hundredfold. "A cute boy in one of my classes started writing on my Facebook Wall, and I was so happy," says Emma Kincaid,* 14, a ninth grader from the New York City area. "The next day half of our grade knew that this boy and I were talking to each other because of the News Feed" — a Facebook feature where one's friends can get instantly updated on virtually one's every move on Facebook. Unfortunately for Emma, "half of our grade" included her crush's ex-girlfriend. "She screamed at me in front of the entire cafeteria," says Emma. "And for weeks afterward, she'd mock me and curse at me in the hallways."
Emphasize to your child that oversharing online can leave her open to bullying, ridicule, and social ostracism. "I tell my 15-year-old niece, anytime you put something on Facebook, it's like standing onstage in the school auditorium with a megaphone," says Vila; that's a message all kids should hear.

Mistake 5: Forgetting Their Futures
Teens frequently post photos from — or messages about — their wildest adventures on their social-networking pages, thinking that only their friends will see them. In fact, 54 percent of 18-year-olds on MySpace post about behavior such as sexual activity or substance use, according to a study published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. But what many kids don't realize is that posting about these escapades can hurt them in the college-admissions race and future job searches.
"I've had several students who have been expelled from private high school or had admissions letters withdrawn because of drug- and alcohol-abuse images posted on Facebook," says Mark Truman, executive director of Omniac Education, a test-prep and college-consulting service in Arizona and New Mexico. Indeed, a recent study conducted at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth found that 21 percent of colleges use social-networking sites to gather information about applicants.
Despite the risks, surveys show that 49 percent of teens are unconcerned that what they post online might negatively affect their futures. And while some may try to protect themselves by keeping their profiles private, the best protection is not to post anything incriminating in the first place. "The Web never forgets," says Scott Granneman, a technology expert and adjunct professor at Washington University in St. Louis. "You may post a picture and then delete it, but anybody can copy it when it's live and store it on a blog, Flickr [a photo sharing site], or their own Facebook page. You never know what can come back to haunt you later."
Help your kids avoid such problems by sharing some cautionary tales with them, and ask them if they think this could ever happen to them. But back that up by checking their pages — and their friends' pages — to see what turns up. And keep talking (and talking, and talking some more) about what's safe and not safe online, says Vila: "The more dialogue you have now, the less damage control you'll have to do later."

The Scoop on Sexting
As if social-networking snafus don't give parents enough to worry about, here's a new concern: sexting — in which tweens and teens use mobile devices to snap sexually charged photos of themselves and send the pictures to friends. A recent study found one in five teens had sent or posted a sexually explicit photo of himself or herself. For the kids, it may be just misguided hijinks, but it can have harsh consequences: Several teens have faced charges of disseminating child pornography due to photos they have taken of themselves or pictures of others they've forwarded. So be sure to talk with your kids about how sexting is one of the worst moves they could make.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Last week I read about a youth leader who had a student who thought she might be a lesbian. I read volumes of material everyday and I can't recall the last time I was led to write to anyone about anything. Live and let live. If I don't like something, I delete it. I don't like to argue over strongly held opinions.

I have enough work on my plate as it is and I don't need to involve myself in someone else's article, blog or story. They are not going to convince me and I'm not going to convince them. But I HAD comment about this youth pastor. Not only do I believe she was doing her student a disservice, I believe she was doing the Church a disservice. I am not publishing her original article because it is much too long and I don't want to identify her or her church. My response to her will give you a good idea of what she had to say.

I am publishing my response now because in the future what I've written will be a "hate crime" and I want people to know where I stand.

What do you say to a student who has "feelings" of homosexuality?

Did I miss something in your article? I didn't see the leader telling the child homosexuality was wrong in God's eyes. Nor did she say it was a sin. Isn't it our responsibility to be honest with our students? Honesty is NOT CONDEMNING! We should be listening and guiding our students to the Truth. Homosexuality is a lifestyle choice that is abhorrent to God. That is not judging an individual who "thinks" he/she may be gay. It is simply quoting Scripture and teaching the Truth. (Genesis 19 and others).

We know God would never "make" a person a homosexual and then say such a lifestyle is a sin? And we know homosexuality is a sin because God says it is. But we also know it by simple common sense.

Consider this:

If the whole world were to live a homosexual lifestyle, how long would humanity survive? Obviously, it wouldn't. One generation and out. That simple little illustration shows the homosexual lifestyle is destructive to the survival of mankind. Even before we had a cry in our heart to fill the hole in our soul with Jesus Christ, we had a cry for survival.

When my second grandson was born, we watched him struggle to survive in the prenatal care section of the hospital. He struggled to breathe; he fought for everything he was worth to survive. No one had to tell him to breathe. It came natural. The will to survive was natural and normal. I pray one day he will want to fill his life with the Spirit of Jesus Christ, but he had to survive before that could happen.

It is normal and natural for humans to fight to survive. When a lifestyle is destructive to the survival of mankind, God hates it. He doesn't hate the individual; He hates the lifestyle because He loves His creation – us. He loves us so much that He sent His only Son to die for us.

Over the years, I've had a few students tell me, "I have always had these feelings since I was a little child." I have been able to share that it is normal to have feelings, all kinds of feelings. When we have feelings about jumping off a cliff when we look over the edge, we are told to “fight those feelings.” When we have feelings to overeat, we are told to fight those feelings. Some of us are prone to other destructive behaviors such as alcoholism, drug addiction and anger and we are told to “fight those feelings” as well. Why shouldn’t we then fight the destructive feelings of homosexuality?

In each instance, when I have been able to lovingly share the Truth of God's Word with a student who was questioning his sexual feelings, he was relieved and grateful. He didn't understand the Truth of God's Word and he didn't understand his feelings.

In EACH case, the student has thanked me for listening and thanked me for helping him apply the Truth of Scripture to his life. Over the years I have watched these former students grow in their walk with Christ and live happy, normal and productive lives.

Have you ever thought that maybe Satan is whispering his lie in your students’ mind? Could various forms of entertainment and other teaching be reinforcing these lies?

Christians should honestly listen and NOT condemn others, but it would be a crime if we didn't guide our students into a deeper understanding of biblical teaching on this issue.

To share anything less than the Truth of God’s Word is to do your students a disservice.

I know these comments are not popular in today's society and I know I will receive a great deal of criticism, but I cannot sit by and not speak the Truth in love.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The following article is a paraphrase of A Word on Citizenship by Heidi Swander, from Olive Tree Ministries. Her article so closely matched my heart on this issue that I couldn’t improve on her words. This is only edited for space.

Al Menconi, President www.AlMenconi.com.

We Shouldn’t Forget Our Citizenship!

When the sins of Israel became so abhorrent to God He told the prophet Jeremiah to stop praying for Israel, "Therefore do not pray for this people, nor lift up a cry or prayer for them, nor make intercession to Me; for I will not hear you" (Jer. 7:16). Could it be America has become this abhorrent to Almighty God?

We cannot know the mind of God, but Romans 1:18-32 shows a series of judgments that God will bring to a society that forsakes Him. A glance at your favorite news source these days will confirm that our country is well down this path of destruction. We are not only in moral decline, but headed toward political, financial, and social ruin.

Thomas Jefferson once wrote, "God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are a gift from God? That they are not to be violated, but with His wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, and that His justice cannot sleep forever."

Jack Kelley, founder of GraceThruFaith.com recently wrote an excellent article about this very thing. In it Jack says: "According to no less an authority than our President (and he's right) America is not a Christian nation. The only connection between God and America today is that a bunch of us who believe in Him happen to live here . . . America is a secular gentile nation that will soon be no more comfortable a home for the church than pre-war Germany was for the Jews."

When I think of my beloved America, I grieve.

But God has recently made poignant to me this truth: I am not a citizen of this country. I am an ambassador to this country and a citizen of another.

So are you if you are a child of God by faith in Jesus Christ! Paul told the Philippians, "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Phil. 3:20).

Can you get your mind around that concept? If you can, it will make a world of difference in how you view the news, how you respond to the dangers of our world, and how you look to the future.

Thinking of myself as an ambassador gives perspective to the freefall that America is in. I am still saddened; because I've lived here a long time and America has been a wonderful place to reside. But America isn't really home, so I find that I'm often looking at all that is going on with a kind of emotional/spiritual detachment.

Also as an ambassador, as I see all that is happening around me, I anticipate being recalled to my Home Country!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


A new sexual revolution

Marcia Segelstein - Guest Columnist, From CommonSenseIssues.com,- 5/19/2009 6:40:00 AM

We are awash in sex.  

We, and our children, can't escape it.  The teen clothier Hollister prominently displays Maxim, a "soft core" pornographic magazine on a shelf next to publications devoted to skiing and skateboarding.  Urban Outfitters, another retailer targeting teens, has naked models in its catalog. Victoria's Secret TV commercials, which run during supposedly family-friendly fare like American Idol, show high-heeled models strutting down runways in suggestive barely-there underwear.  

The Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, available annually at your local drugstore chain, has become an American icon.  Sexual references and innuendoes abound in television shows and movies.  "Women's" magazine cover headlines regularly promise to reveal secrets to better sex.  Hotel chains make huge profits from their in-room X-rated movie offerings.  Hugh Hefner -- who almost single-handedly brought pornography out of the shadows and into the light of day (making himself a fortune along the way) -- is just another celebrity.

We have "mainstreamed pornography," as author Michael Leahy puts it.  Our hypersexualized, pornographic culture has all but obliterated a vision of what healthy sexuality is.
So it shouldn't come as any surprise that the intentional viewing of pornography has become commonplace on college campuses and in the workplace. 

 Michael Leahy documents these trends in his books, Porn University and Porn @ Work.  Leahy is also a self-described recovering sex addict whose immersion in pornography nearly destroyed his life.
Leahy now spends a lot of his time speaking to college audiences about pornography and sex.  

In conjunction with his college tours, he has surveyed over 26,000 college students, with some surprising results.  Given our "no limits" sexual culture, he was surprised, for example, that 44 percent of men and 39 percent of women answered "yes" when asked whether they ever feel bad about their sexual behavior.  

Then there's this survey question:  "Have you ever felt degraded by your sexual behavior"  Among college women, 33 percent said they had; 29 percent of college men felt the same way.  Perhaps not surprisingly, 64 percent of male college students spend time every week on the Internet for sex.  In Leahy's experience, college women have the attitude that "all the guys look at porn."

In the workplace, pornography has become the proverbial elephant in the room, according to Leahy.  Two-thirds of nearly 500 human resources professionals surveyed reported finding pornography on employee computers.  Seventy percent of all online pornography is accessed during the workday hours of 9 to 5.  

In 2003, employees at Britain's Department of Work and Pensions were found to have downloaded two million pages of pornography while at work, 1,800 of which contained child porn.  

Here in the U.S., a recent investigation revealed that the National Science Foundation had failed to detect widespread use of pornography among its employees over a period of many years.
During his own years as a compulsive user of pornography, Leahy wasted countless hours of his employers' time secretly feeding his habit, as it were.  

The consequences of using company time and computers to download or view pornography reach beyond the individuals involved.  As Leahy writes, "Violators expose the organization to a very real threat of sexual harassment and hostile workplace environment lawsuits, public embarrassment and ridicule, and harm done to other employees...."

One of the biggest problems when it comes to dealing with pornography is that society generally views it as harmless.  Our attitude is that there will be a few, like Leahy, who become addicted.  But for most, what's the harm in picking up a "men's" magazine now and then?  Plenty, as it turns out.

Studies have shown that men who view pornography, addicted or not, have problematic attitudes toward women: they objectify them.  Current research on brain chemistry shows that pornography triggers the release of dopamine, the same chemical released when we're in the "in love with" phase of a relationship.  

Again, addicted or not, overstimulation leads to desensitization.  And over time, more and different stimulation is needed to achieve the same "high."  The healthy intimacy of marital sex starts to lose its ability to satisfy.

Leahy writes that sex is inherently a good thing, in the context of what God intended it to be.  Outside of that context, the evidence of the harm it can do is glaringly apparent: the epidemic of STDs (and we're worried about swine flu?), the daily slaughter of the innocents we call abortion, young people degraded by emotionless, casual sex, addiction to pornography and the resulting damage to marriages and families.

It's time for a new sexual revolution – or counterrevolution in this case.  It's time for society to clean up its act when it comes to sex.  Changing our complacent attitude toward pornography would be a good place to start.  

  • Adopt a policy of zero tolerance.  
  • Make sure your Internet is as safe as it can be from porn.  
  • Check out Bsafe Online and Enough is Enough for information on filters and other protections.  If you or someone you know needs help overcoming a pornography habit, visit BraveHearts.net (a non-profit organization founded by Michael Leahy). 
  •  When you see indecent material displayed in public – whether it's on television or in a mall – courteously but firmly voice your disapproval, and enlist your friends to do the same.

Michael Leahy recounts what the turning point was for him: "In my own experience, once I was willing to admit that I wasn't God and that I needed God's help in order to get well, important changes began to take place in my life."

Likewise we can also enlist God's help to make important changes in the life of our society.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Where are your kids?  eMarketer has completed an excellent research on teens and Social Networks that you should read.    

Teens on Social Networks 

APRIL 16, 2009 

Making friends is important, but the experience not always positive. 

Young people are going online more than ever before, and many are using social networks.

eMarketer estimates that in 2009, 15.5 million US Internet users ages 12 to 17, or 75%, will use social networks.

In 2013, that number will jump to 17.9 million, or 79% of all online teens.

According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, US teens mostly went to social networking sites in 2008 to interact with friends. That includes activities such as staying in touch, making plans, finding new friends and flirting.

A poll of “technology embracing” youth ages 12 to 24 from the US, UK, Germany, Japan and India conducted by OTX Research hints at how young people are staying in touch.

The average number of friends respondents had on a social networking site was 99, 43 of whom were seen regularly. An average of 33 were never seen in person. Sixty percent of respondents said they liked making new friends online, and 7% said they were making lots of friends.

But the experience is not always positive.

Specifically, information on young people’s social network pages can come back to haunt them.

Over 60% of those surveyed acknowledged that the things friends wrote in their profiles could harm their careers. In addition, 48% said they could be embarrassed by what they themselves wrote, and 38% said they regretted some of the items that had appeared on their pages already.

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