Iowa High School Takes Action Against Facebook Confession Pages

Newton High School in Iowa is taking what I believe is an unprecedented step in battling high school confession pages – they are threatening to sue Facebook.

District Superindent Steve McDermott was quoted yesterday by KCCI News 8 as saying:

“We had had students that were so shaken by comments made on the web that they didn’t want to go to school the next day,” said McDermott. “(The students) don’t get to worry about things like worrying about school, having fun with their friends or being involved in activities when they have other things hanging over the head, like these negative things on the web.

The district is taking legal action, McDermott said.

“You go back to the host of those sites and you make legal contact. You have legal representatives contact those sites and ask that those be pulled down,” said McDermott.

Newton-IA-high-schoolIf you have been following the troubling cases of the fallout over other Facebook Confession Pages, you may be aware that Facebook has been steadfast in its claim that it bears no legal responsibility to take down content unless it blatantly violates the terms and conditions of its Community Standards guidelines.

Whether legal action against Facebook is successful or not, McDermott has vowed stiff penalties against the administrators of the pages, presumably students.

Newton High School has three versions of Confesssion pages, according to the Newton Daily News. Individuals who are allegedly two of the pages’ administrators remain defiant:

“To the people saying they’ll track our IP addresses and plot our downfall: We’re all wearing tinfoil hats to prevent it,” wrote the “NHS Confessions” administrator. “Don’t you worry. Got this all under control.”

The administrator of the competing “NHS Confessions/Secret Admirers” page said, “We are safe. This is taking place outside of the school so they can’t do anything. Long live Red Pride.”

This case bears watching, as it may help define the boundaries of what student activity off campus can or should be policed, as well as how much responsibility Facebook and other networks must take.


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Your Kids Have Discovered Twitter – Now What?

First things first – should you allow your kids to be on Twitter? Our answer is yes. Unlike Facebook and Instagram, Twitter has no minimum age limit.

thirdparent twitterTwitter has evolved from being a short form communication platform to being the greatest source for real time news and opinion that exists. If the office building that you’re sitting in right now is on fire, you can learn about it on Twitter long before any major news outlet has it. On Twitter, your kid can follow people of influence and take in their thoughts and observations without getting permission. Who wouldn’t want that?

Students can use Twitter for research as well. Type in a topic in the search box and not only will you find links to news stories and websites with more information, but you can find out who the thought leaders are in the space, and see what else they’ve written.

Most valuable information is on the internet somewhere, Twitter is a great alternative to a search engine to point you in the right direction.

But Twitter is not just for consuming information; it’s also a broadcast platform. Make sure you spend time with your child explaining that Twitter is not anonymous, and that all the rights and wrongs that you have been teaching apply online as well.

If you have made the choice to green light your child’s Twitter account, and are comfortable that they will use it responsibly, you want to make sure that no unsavory types follow your child, or can glean information that should be kept private. What are some steps that you as a parent can take to make sure your child is not exposing himself or herself to unnecessary predator risk?

Screen Shot 2013-04-10 at 9.52.44 AMTurn Location Off: In the account settings section of your kid’s profile, uncheck the box for “Add location to my Tweets”. If your child has been on Twitter for a while, also click the button to “Delete all location data”. This applies to past Tweets. In addition, caution your child against Tweeting information about where they are going to be and with whom.

Minimal Personal Information in Profile: Try to avoid listing a town, a school, age or other information that could be clues as to your child’s true identity.

Screen Shot 2013-04-10 at 9.53.00 AMAvoid Strangers: This is important. Check the box to “Protect my Tweets”.  Despite the allure of “being popular” minors should never accept follow requests from people that they don’t know. Better safe than sorry. If your child already has unknown followers, block them by clicking on their profile page.

Lastly, should you follow your child on Twitter to keep tabs on what they’re doing? That’s your call; it can work either way. Proper education by parents about the correct boundaries should lead to a level of trust that obviates the need, but if you want to be extra sure, go ahead. Be forewarned, though, that if your child wants to send inappropriate communications and can’t do it via Twitter because you’re watching, they are going to find another way to do it.


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How to Delete Your Facebook Search History, And Why You Should

Facebook activity logDo you trust Facebook? Some people do and many people don’t, and that’s fine. A bigger issue in our minds is that many people have not given any thought to whether or not they trust Facebook. They just go about treating Facebook as a harmless platform that will not come back to bite them as long as they don’t post anything bad, join an unsavory “Group” or “Like” something similar. Most certainly that group includes teenagers.

Your Facebook search history is currently private unless someone else accesses your account. But who owns your Facebook search history? Facebook does.

Consider the following situations:

  • You have in the past searched for something on Facebook that you wouldn’t want others to see, such as looking up an ex or searching for something embarassing, and
  • Someone else accesses you computer or cell phone and your Facebook account is logged in, or
  • You account gets hacked, or
  • Facebook decides to sell your search history to advertisers or another third party

Facebook is working harder than ever to improve the user experience, but also to use the information it has about you to their benefit. Even if you or your child has a “clean” Facebook account, it makes sense to keep what you’ve been up to out of the purview of others, including potentially aggressive or intrusive advertisers. We recommend clearing your Facebook Screen Shot 2013-04-09 at 8.56.35 AMsearch history now, and getting in the habit of deleting it on a regular basis. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Click on “your name” in the upper left hand corner of your home screen.
  2. Near the top right of the next page, click on “Activity Log”.
  3. On the left hand side under Photos, Likes, Comments, click “More”.
  4. Click on “Search”.
  5. In the upper right, click on “Clear Searches”.

That’s it! Now your search history is gone.





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Parenting Lessons from the Jersey Shore

One of my kids had a soccer game in Beachwood New Jersey on Saturday (he’s 15) so I took all three kids (another boy, 13 and my daughter, 5) on a detour to the shore and made a day out of it – and gave mom a break for the day.

KZ-Shore-4-2013After lunch the first stop was Seaside Heights, mainly to see how the recovery was going and to give the kids a look at the roller coaster that is still in the Atlantic Ocean. On the way from parking to the beach, we passed some carnies with booths set up to play games and win prizes.  One of the carnies spotted my 5 year old daughter and shouted, “Hey little girl, all kids win a prize today!”

That was the functional equivalent of “He had her at hello.”

We went to look at the roller coaster and boardwalk rebuilding effort and took some pictures. I was planning all along to stop and visit the carney on the way back to the car.

Indeed, as we passed the carney for the second time, my daughter said, “He said I could win a prize.” The game was one where you threw darts at balloons on a wall and there were tickets behind the burst balloons telling you what level of prize you won.

The carney absolutely rolled over me – the first dart was free then he just kept handing them to my little girl, as he was upselling us on the chance to win an ever bigger toy. He never asked me whether I wanted her to keep going and my boys looked on in astonishment.  They were fully expecting a 3-darts-and-out routine. My intention from the beginning was to let her play until she won a decent prize. 30 darts and $15 later, she was the proud owner of a pink and white stuffed whale named Beluga.

As we were walking away, my daughter beaming with her whale and my boys empty handed, my oldest asked, “What the heck did you do that for? You spent fifteen bucks on that?”

I replied, “Look how happy she is.” Neither boy complained at all.

Lessons learned:

  • When you look like you’re being taken advantage of, maybe you aren’t
  • It’s good to make the little people happy

Social Media and Internet Use Can Impact Athletic Scholarships

Looking for an athletic scholarship? You might want to consider what your digital footprint looks like. Is it possible that you ever had an online lapse in judgment that you can’t recall? Ever have an e-fight that escalated into a heated exchange? Can’t remember whether you even had a MySpace account back in the day? Social media and internet use can have a negative impact on your athletic scholarship prospects.

Things posted by or about you tend to have a very long shelf life online, even if everyone involved has long since forgotten. Someone with power to make decisions about your future may not view such things as being harmless should they find them online.

high-school-football-2You may not be aware that some college athletic programs require current student athletes to friend the coach or another member of the administration as a requirement for playing. While the laws in this area are evolving, and the idea of only checking Facebook in an age where Instagram, Twitter and other platforms are rapidly gaining momentum is a little antiquated, it stands to reason that at the same time that schools are getting more adept at keeping tabs on current athletes, they are also going to greater lengths to background check new recruits. That’s right, it is a fact that college recruiters are checking online backgrounds before offering scholarships.

What are they looking for? Evidence that you’re a bad risk to them. By offering you a scholarship (that they could as easily offer to someone else), they are making an investment in you. Are you worth it? In our opinion, they are not only looking for evidence of illegal behavior, but also evidence of bad judgment. What you have done in the past may not be a great indicator of what’s you’ll do in the future but people do use that kind of info to make decisions. Even the frequency of how often you post is taken into consideration. According to a Big Ten recruiting coordinator:

“It’s really honestly as disturbing seeing how often a kid will post/tweet out messages than [sic] the actual content. Some kids, I swear never put their phones down. I know you have different programs where you can load up posts, but we know the difference right away.


“Does this kid ever study?”

What to do?

If you’re a parent reading this, the possibility of a full ride scholarship for your teen is not only very satisfying payoff for the years of hard work that child has spent training, but also a financial windfall for you and/or your child. It is worth it to do a preemptive background check.

If you are a student athlete reading this, the last thing you probably want your parents doing is asking a company to look into your internet background. If that is the case, you might want to reconsider. Losing a scholarship opportunity because of prior bad decisions is not the outcome you want.

At ThirdParent, we have a solution. We offer programs addressing student athlete internet usage, and can help you put your best foot forward in the recruiting process. Our core product is a full parent-directed audit of a teen’s public-domain internet activity, with a view to taking corrective action. In addition, we can accommodate high school varsity coaches who wish to conduct a seminar with athletes discussing internet best practices for student athletes.

Contact us today to hear how we can help maximize your chances at the scholarship you are seeking.

Teens and Inappropriate Language: Where to Draw the Line

Warning: foul language ahead

My oldest is 15 years old and I’ve never heard him use inappropriate language. Not with his friends, not on the soccer field. I’m not naïve, I’m sure that he knows the words. He just opts to not use them around my wife or me. Overall this is a good thing, as I assume he uses the same restraint around other adults.

I am not going to take credit for ultra-strict parenting either. I give him (and his 13 year old brother) lots of leeway to come onto contact with inappropriate content, believing that they are going to come into contact with unsavory words or images sooner or later. Plus, I don’t want them feeling like they have to hide anything from me.

We were at my mother in law’s house for Easter. They stayed an extra day, I came home solo. While there the kids helped me cut some firewood and we built a fire. The topic of roasting marshmallows came up and while I didn’t say yes, I didn’t say no. I would have had to go to the grocery store, and decided against it since the kids were filing up on Easter candy anyway.

teen-text-foul-languageAfter I got home, my son and I exchanged the text message conversation in the picture.

My issue isn’t that he knew the word, or that he used it. I expected to hear some foul language come out of him by now, at least when he’s hanging out with friends, but haven’t. I’m wondering whether we have reached a tipping point where his view of his status has changed. If so, is that his status with me, or his status in the world? Either way we were going to have a talk about it as soon as the coniditions permitted.

Fast forward to today.

I spoke to him last night when we had some one on one time.

Me, “Do you remember the last text you sent me the yesterday?”

Him, “Uh, yeah.”

Me, “Did you think it was OK to use that inappropriate word?”

Long pause…

Him, “Well, I thought it was OK with you. I’ve heard you say worse and it was just between us.”

Me, “Do you think it would be OK for you to use that language around a teacher or other adult?”

Him, “No. It was just you.”

Feel free to disagree, but basically, I’m all right with that exchange. I believe him. I’ll be watching, though. I understand there can be a point when you are too friendly with your kids, particularly as they grow older, such that it becomes more difficult to be the enforcer when required. The most important thing for me at this point is to know that he understands the line he must not cross. Like I said, I’ll be watching.


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Schools Can Use Facebook Confession Pages as a Teaching Tool

Examples abound these days of high school students getting into trouble over their misuse of social media. Surprisingly, there’s a great example this week of putting the power of social media to good use in education. The Billings Montana school system is using high school Facebook Confession pages to teach students the right way to use social media, and the risks and negatives of using it improperly. It is worth noting that nowhere in the article does it say that Facebook is bad, or that Facebook group pages or anonymous posts should be banned.

bulliesAs an educator, what can you do? Obviously, you don’t want any social media platform to be a forum for bullying of students, particularly the anonymous kind, which is more difficult to track and therefore the behavior harder to correct. Bullying examples in plain sight on a public Facebook page can be a good example of what not to do. The Billings school district doesn’t stop there, though.

What are the messages that can be delivered to students using Facebook as an example?

  • Be a good person – This remains the most important lesson
  • Crowd source a better definition of bullying – Some kids don’t have an accurate view of what is bullying, or how the person on the receiving end feels
  • How to report social media bullying or abuse
  • Privacy settings are vey important
  • “Private” still may not really be private online

Not surprisingly, even the FBI has an opinion:

“Even though they think that they’re posting anonymously, their activity can truly be tracked,” explained FBI Special Agent Earl Campbell. “They can be identified for what they are posting and … saying if they’re illegal or break the law.”

Just talking to kids about the risks of doing something tends to not have a huge impact. Kids often think they know everything or that they’re invincible. Actually showing them real examples of the risks can be much more effective.


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Facebook and High School Students

You might have read this year that Facebook is losing its cool status with teenagers in general, and specifically high school students. Judging by the headlines I’m reading this week, not only are plenty of high schoolers still on Facebook, but they are busy finding new and innovative ways to make bad decisions and humiliate their peers.  If only there were a way to channel some of the creativity that high school students are showing on Facebook into actual schoolwork.

thirdparent facebook logoOver the last few months, the trend of high school Facebook confession pages has gained more attention. The trend is older than that, really, but has been getting more press recently. The way it works is a student or group can put together a Facebook page designed to air student dirty laundry, and initially use word of mouth to get students to go there and post confessions, which are sometimes anonymous and sometimes not. While most confessions may be harmless, some can lead to more serious consequences, especially when the posting student’s real name is used. All the while, it is easy for the page’s creator and administrators to remain anonymous.

This week we’re hearing more about racy or hurtful Facebook pages such as the one in Fort Collins, CO where users posted unflattering pictures of girls to Facebook and called them whores. The desired result was clearly to insult or humiliate the girls in the pictures.

Yesterday, Bridgewater-Raritan NJ high school officials revealed that they are bound and determined to find out who created and posted the videos on the “BRHS Fights” Facebook page. Some of the students in the fights have reportedly been suspended, but parents are upset and the page has not been taken down yet.

Why is there so much bad teen behavior on Facebook?

The Atlantic has an article this week – The Internet “Narcissism Epidemic”” – in which the author writes:

“among a group of 37,000 college students, narcissistic personality traits rose just as quickly as obesity from the 1980s to the present. Fortunately for narcissists, the continued explosion of social networking has provided them with productivity tools to continually expand their reach — the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Foursquare, and occasionally Google Plus.”

It appears that high school students are not much different. Narcissism, while not the worst quality in the world, can get very nasty when it extends to making oneself feel superior by using a public forum to ridicule others.

Overall, this caustic Facebook behavior produces a lot of negative outcomes that ultimately (a) have to be dealt with by teachers or parents, (b) might land some kids in hot water, and (c) will inevitably leave some kids feeling very bad about themselves.

From a student quoted in the Bridgewater-Raritan article:

“I can see it as a bullying page, because I can see the next day someone walking into school saying, ‘I saw you on Facebook. I saw you got beat up on Facebook. You suck at fighting,’ and if that happened to me I would get hurt,” Brothers said. “I would feel you could never show your face again at school.”

Don’t look to Facebook for all the answers. They won’t or can’t act to remove content in many cases, unless it very obviously violates their community standards.

What can school admins do? In the Bridgewater NJ case, parents are calling out school officials for not having informed them about he “BRHS Fights” page earlier. Schools’ policies and procedures around student internet activity, whether it happens on school grounds or not, is evolving and needs a lot of work.

What can parents do? The typical answer might be that parent involvement should begin with making sure your teen understands how to correctly implement Facebook privacy settings. Second, explain to your kid that a picture posted as “private” can be reposted as “public” by one of their friends.

Please don’t stop there. It is really up to the parents to work harder at teaching right and wrong. Bad internet behavior is in fact just bad behavior. Try to convince your teen that just because something seems anonymous on the internet, it may not really be anonymous, doesn’t mean that it is any less hurtful, or that the negative consequences will be somehow diminished.


Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.

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Don’t Let Your Kids Talk to Strangers – Online

Let’s say that you are a parent of a 13 year old. Congrats on making it this far. You’re 2/3 of the way to getting them off to college, or wherever they are going.

facebook word logoMany of the important lessons have already been learned – look both ways before crossing the street, maintain a healthy diet, get some exercise, be nice to others. Oh, and be very careful when talking to strangers.

I’m sure your child spends some time online – maybe a lot. If you haven’t already done so, it’s time to consider some guidelines for who your child interacts with on the social media, not just what she does there.  The age requirement for signing up for Facebook and Instagram is 13. Twitter has no age requirement. In practice, there are no real age limits if a child really wants to get on Facebook or Instagram; the age limitation is almost impossible for the networks to enforce.  And while you’re at it, don’t forget the online gaming networks. They have a very active chat community and almost nobody uses their real identity, so the possibility of encountering an impostor is real.

instagram logoIf the idea of a middle-aged person walking up to your 13 year old in a park and starting a personal conversation has you a little uneasy, consider what happens on the internet. Even if you are checking your kid’s Facebook, Twitter or Instagram activity with a keen eye to whether what they are saying or posting is age-appropriate, you need to be vigilant in evaluating who they are interacting with.

twitter bird logoYour daughter telling a classmate that she is going to a movie at 3:00 in Princeton can have far different ramifications depending on who she’s telling, and things on the internet aren’t always as they appear.

It’s good idea to have a very serious talk with your teen about understanding that there may be imposters with ulterior motives on the internet, and given that uncertainty, that it’s important to set rules as to which “friend requests” one will accept. Unfortunately, scaring kids into being overly wary of predators online might be a necessary evil.

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for keeping teens safe online.

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Fun, Educational Activities for Parents and Tweens or Teens

As a parent of three, I know how much more difficult it is as the kids grow older to find something fun or constructive that results in parent/child one-on-one time. Especially something that doesn’t cost a lot of money. Kids have their own interests and their desire to pursue those interests gets stronger over time. I also know that my kids need to learn some basic skills before they go off to college, or wherever their next stop from here happens to be.

beef-stewHere’s a rainy day activity that only takes a few hours, but creates some educational one-on-one quality time between parent and tween or teen, where the kid can:

  • Learn something about planning a menu
  • Experience food shopping for a new, empty home
  • Do some hands-on cooking

Have your kid, under your supervision, plan a meal, shop for and cook it as if it’s his first day in a new apartment.

Any random weekend day, ask said kid (let’s call him Jon) what he wants for dinner. After he answers, go along with his dinner choice whatever it is, as long it’s to be cooked and eaten at home. Proceed by saying “Great, let’s get started.”

Tell Jon that he has to get on the computer and research the ingredients and how to cook it. He might resist but after he is done rolling his eyes, have him get on with it. It only takes a few minutes. Next, move on to the shopping.

Head to the grocery store with Jon and have him shop for ALL of the ingredients for dinner like you have nothing at home – no salt, no eggs, no oil, nothing. Explain to Jon the pros, cons, nutrition, pricing etc. of each item. More learning.

When you get home, break the news to Jon that he is doing the cooking, with you staying close by for advice. Jon is probably getting tired of this program by now, but stick with it. The basics of cooking need to be learned, and hands-on is the best way to do it.

As I’m sure you know, any teen might be able to do most or all of the above, but many haven’t done any of it yet.

This can work for any age from 10 – 19, but the older the kid is, the more difficult it gets to have him play along. Taking away his phone for a couple of hours could help.


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