boy sending first email on laptopWeb 2.0 tools can make communicating across time and space a breeze! This week we are going to look at some of the newer communication tools and ask you to think about how your kids and family could use, or already are using them.

Way back when...people used to marvel at the speed of email communication. It would revolutionize the world! Want to send a letter to your cousin in Germany? Just click send! No hassle, not hidden fees. In time, you could even attatch photos and insert links. Email was once 'cutting-edge' and has now taken a back seat to other means of communicating in your child's life. The tools we will briefly explore this week are:

  • Chat (online conversation between two or more parties)
  • IM (Instant Messaging, text-based conversation)
  • Video Chat (chatting online through use of video)
  • SMS (Text Messaging on mobile devices)
  • Gaming & Virtual Worlds

These are all quick and easy ways to connect with your kids on the go, but make sure you have the right plans to avoid surprise charges! Since these are the preferred methods of communicating for most teens, it is important to make sure you are familiar with them as well.
 

CHAT:
There are many ways of chatting online now. For young people, the days of the anyonymous chat rooms are long gone and the ability to chat with friends online now comes in many forms. Kids can use Instant Messaging, set up private chat rooms using sites like tinychat, chat through their email (Google Chat) and even within social networks like Facebook.
    compilation of chat service logos

IM:
There are many different providers of IM services. The most popular are:
*AOL Instant Messenger (download free application & web-based, account is free)
*Google Talk (web-based application built into GMail, account is free)
*Yahoo! Messenger (download free application, account is free)

These applications are fantastic for allowing you to live-chat with others who have accounts with the same providers, but that does not mean you need to keep track of lots of different accounts in all those different places! Programs like, Meebo and Pidgin act like an aggregator (remember that phrase from the RSS lesson?), which allows you to add multiple accounts into one application to chat with anyone in your Buddy Lists! For Mac users out there, accounts can also be added into iChat for free chatting. Here is a great overview of how Instant Messaging works.

Some university professors are using these chat services to create a 'backchannel' and chat allows students to discuss lectures in real-time without actually saying a word in the classroom. I've used Chatzy at conferences before with great success and has served as a record of sorts. Another popular backchannel is Twitter, a micro-blogging site that will be covered in Week 10's lesson.

VIDEO:
    Many of these chat clients allow you to type with another person, but screenshot of family using video chatadditionally, now allow you to use video to communicate with others! This has been fabulous for me since all of my family live in different states. I am able to chat with my sister and nieces in AZ as well as my dad in MN and friends in TX - all for free! Many video chatting services are free, but not all. Some companies like Skype have free downloads for the applications, but may have rates applied when using it in substitution for phone service. Oovo is a competitor to Skype.
    Video chatting is relatively new, but catching on quickly. A new site called, Chatroulette is garnering attention for both good news (created by a 17 year old!) and bad (Dangerous Website Parents Must Know About). Video conferencing has been used by businesses, but the market is expanding to the everyday computer user now. Admittedly, it was awkward seeing myself on camera at first, but I got over it. Having a strong relationship with my 4 year-old niece despite only seeing her once a year - is worth it! Do you have family spread around the country or globe? Why not give free video chat a try?

SMS (Text Messaging):
    SMS, stands for Short Messaging Service andblack & white photo of girl texting on iPhone is a service that allows people to send short messages of up to 160 characters via cell phone. There are costs involved and many different plans available from your service provider to both send and receive texts. With around 500 *billion* text messages being sent per year, it is a powerful means of communicating and kids love it! Given the schedules teenagers keep, is it any wonder that they appreciate the convenience, speed and privacy of texting? You don't have to be text-illiterate though. Read up on how teens use mobile phones, texting while driving, and the dreaded phrase, "sexting."


GAMING & VIRTUAL WORLDS:

Virtual worlds and online games are abundant, growing, and slowly merging into each other as sites incorporate the social elements of online communication with the activity of playing games. Choose carefully what is approriate for your child's age and your pocketbook!

For younger kids Club Penguin, ToonTown and Webkinz still rule the market for moderated, safe online communities for kids while sites like Teen Second Life, Habbo Hotel and Runescape have the Teen virtual market cornered. XBox and other gamling platforms have taken playing games from one-on-one to global communities! The TeenAngels are an extreme and organized example of how teens are good at self-moderating. If you show them right from wrong, they will often choose right.

SAFETY:

With all online communications, please make sure to talk with your child, no matter how old, about online behavior. Review safety precautions with your children, including:
   1. Never give out personal information, such as your real name, age, location, phone number, or school.
   2. Never share your password with anyone except your parents and legal guardians. Someone else might use your password and pretend to be you, or give out your personal information or do something that may get you into trouble.
   3. Tell your parents and legal guardians if someone says or does something on the Internet that makes you uncomfortable, or if someone asks you for personal information.
   4. Choose a username that does not reflect your real identity. Avoid names that are in any way suggestive, even if they seem innocent to you. (Parents, sound like familiar advice?)

Remember parents, you are in charge and can set rules and guidelines with your children's internet use. Read more about Internet Safety:
Chat Room Safety
GetNetWise, Chat
Microsoft Online Safety, Protect Your Family

Communicating through technology has gotten a whole lot more sophisticated, but if you apply the same rules and guildlines online that you would if were sending your child to the mall alone, they will have an enjoyable and safe experience. The advantages for you as a parent are numerous! You can also have real-time communication with your kids! Other than the clicking of the keyboards, chatting and texting are quiet activities that allow your child to feel connected to other people and are is not disruptive to other people. But with those advantages comes the responsibility to show and teach your kids how to navigate this world that is free, open and uncensored. Remember that there is no 100% fool-proof way to shield anyone from offensive or questionable content online, but you can establish an open conversation with your child about what your behavioral expectations are.

Now, finally, we come to...

THING #9 - Use one form of chat or text and write a blog post about it.

Tell us what you think of Instant Messaging; Do you like it? What concerns do you have using a tool like Instant Messaging? Does your child use it? What about the faculty at his/her school? Have you ever used it while performing a transaction shopping online? Try chatting with your child in another room then talk about how it was different. How did you feel about the speed?

If you're nervous and not sure where or who to start with, you can IM the Darien Librarians! You can contact the Knowledge and Learning Services Librarians through the Contact Us page OR you can IM us in the Children's Library on AIM! Our handle is "DeweyDarienKids" and we're happy to talk books, programs or answer any questions you may have! 

Remember that for the duration of your program, you will be recording your experience through your own personal blog. If you haven't sent your link to the Children's Librarians yet, please do so - childrenslibrarians@darienlibrary.org - and we will assign you a mentor! See Week 2 for more information.

Photos by Flickr Users: afsilva, kmakice, BdWayDiva1