Thursday, February 25, 2010

How to set Parental Controls on Game Consoles

After a recent Cyber Safety event, several of the participants asked me how to set parental controls on their game console. Since each one is different, I could not provide step-by-step instructions at the time, but I thought it would make a great blog post.

As you may know, most game consoles today allow Internet access, either to enable multi-player games over the Internet or to even to enable web browsing directly from the game console. These web browsers are not filtered by the content filter that you may have installed on the computers in your home, so you may want to make use of the parental controls to disable web browsing altogether.

Parental controls can also be used to set limits on the types of games that you allow in your home. Most games today have an ESRB rating, which is much like a moving rating - it informs parents of the target audience for the game, and helps communicate what type of activities are found in the playing of the game. For more information on ESRB ratings and how to interpret them, click here. You can use the parental controls to limit the games based on their ESRB rating.

Here are the step-by-step instructions for setting parental controls for the three most popular game consoles on the market today:




Remember that your game console is every bit as powerful of a computer as the desktop and laptop machines that you may have in your home, and require just as much parental oversight.

Teen gets 15 years in prison for Facebook scam

19-year-old Anthony Stancl has been sentenced to 15 years in prison, plus an additional 13 years of extended supervision, for sexual crimes initiated on Facebook. He posed as a female and enticed other teens to send him sexually explicit images of themselves, then used those images to blackmail them.

The District Attorney prosecuting the case said he is not sure the message is getting out to the kids, as sexting continues to grow as a problem among our teens. He is quoted as saying: "I'm just not sure they're hearing this message...I hope their parents are."

I agree. Parents, we need to know what our kids are doing online, and help them understand that there are real, long-term ramifications to their actions.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Parents Beware - random video chat

I am hesitant to even write this post, for fear of generating some curiosity. The only reason I do is because your content filter will probably not automatically block this site - and you will want to keep your children away. Please, take my word for it, and add these two URLs to your block list: and

This is a relatively new site that is catching on very quickly. According to this post, it grew from 300 users in December to 10,000 in February of this year. The site allows you to randomly connect via video chat (that is, through the webcam on your computer to the webcam on another computer) to another individual who happens to be using the site at the same time. If you don't like who you are chatting with, you click "next" and are randomly connected to another person.

Although the terms of use state that pornographic content is not allowed, there is no way to actually control what people display on their webcam, and you know as well as I do that there are some really crazy people out there.

You do not want your children accessing this site. If you have a content filter installed, add this to your block list. If you don't, now would be a great time to install one - before your kids stumble across it.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Apple Removes 5,000 apps from IStore

Thousands of applications have disappeared from Apple's iStore in the past few days. Apple has begun enforcing their new policy of not allowing "overtly sexual" applications. I applaud them for this move. There is no age restriction for using an iPod, and many children have access to one. In their first attempt to resolve this problem, Apple enabled a "Parental Controls" feature for the iPod, but taking the additional step to remove these adult-oriented applications completely is another big step in the right direction.

Of course, this is a very controversial move, and Apple is taking some heat from those on the other side of this issue. I just want Apple to know that I am very appreciative of their new policy, and I applaud them for it.

One final note of irony for this post: I really wanted to provide a link to another source (news story, blog post, etc), but I couldn't find one that didn't have an image in the article showing what types of applications have been removed! I can't in good conscience provide a link that would send my readers to view the very material that we are talking about as being inappropriate for the iStore. Yes, I know that one can see most of these images in a magazine rack in the local grocery store, but that doesn't mean that I need to point you in that direction. So, I apologize for not having a link to a full news story on this post...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Cyber Bullying: Legality vs Morality

A Federal Judge has ruled that a former high school student can proceed with her lawsuit against her old high school over a facebook-related suspension. She was suspended for posting unflattering comments about a teacher on a facebook page, and urged others to join her, and is now suing to have her record expunged (you can read full story here). There was a similar ruling in December from across the country - in this case, a student was suspended over cyberbullying content aimed at another student and posted on YouTube (you can read that story here).

In both of these cases the justice system is siding with the individuals who use digital media to post derogatory comments about another person - today referred to as a "cyber bully". The judges in both cases are listening to arguments related to the first ammendment, and extending that right of free speech to digital Internet communications. Seems like an appropriate interpretation of "free speech".

On the flip side of the issue is a now-famous case involving Sue Scheff, who was defamed online. Sue brought a case against her attacker, and eventually won an $11.3M verdict, which has now been upheld on appeal (you can read about her case in her book Google Bomb).

So, what are we to conclude from these cases? That kids can say anything they want without fear of retribution, but adults can be held accountable for their words and actions? I guess that would be one way to interpret these cases. But, I tend to see this just a bit differently. For me, it comes down to a subtle yet dramatic change in the world in which we live.

Today kids are empowered with tools that we didn't have when I was young. If I had a problem with a teacher, or a fellow student, I could tell maybe 20 peolple. My parents would get wind of it, and they would sit me down and have a heart-to-heart. I would then have the "opportunity" to return to the invididual that I was defaming, and apologize. No harm, no foul - and I got to learn a lesson about how we treat others.

Today, our kids can tell thousands, even hundreds of thousands of people - including future employers, college recruitters, future spouses or religious leaders. Word can spread quickly, and once it is in cyberspace, it is there forever. Whether the person we are defaming is a student or an adult, the information is now "out there" for anyone to search and find, and the ramifications are much more far-reaching than they were before digital media. By the time the young one realizes they were too harsh, an apology to the defamed individual is not going to resolve the issue any longer.

For me, these cases highlight the fact that in todays digital world it is even more important than ever for parents to be teaching morality and ethics, rather than just legal right and wrong. They need to teach digital responsibility. Parents need to know what their children are doing, how they are using digital media, and what their children are saying about others - be they students, teachers, leaders, or anyone else. Parents need to know how their children are using technology, just as they need to know how their children are using the car. If the children do not show restraint in their use of technology, it is up to the parents, not the legal system, to reign them in.

Of course, this means that parents need to understand the persistent nature of digital media, and parents need to understand that posting untrue, or even extremely biased opinions about other people can be extremely dangerous to those individuals. A student who posts defamatory comments about a teacher could have a very negative impact on that teachers ability to earn a living - while this may be legal, it may not be morally right. Parents have to instill in their children their moral compas, and help teach them to be guided by this compas throughout thier lives.

In our digital world, a momentary lapse of judgement by an adolescent who doesn't think through the consequences of their actions can lead to very real, and very serious consequences. Informed and involved parents can go a long way toward minimizing the impact of such lapses of judgement.