If there's one sure way to make me feel unhip, it's by sitting in a room full of teenagers. That's what I did last week during the Wired Kids Summit on Capitol Hill. Apparently, I was the only one in the room who didn't know what a Neopet was. And clearly I'm not part of the community of more than 60 million people who call themselves owners of these virtual pets. How can tens of millions of people know about something I've never heard of? Am I that busy with work and family?
Well, one thing I did notice was something even more important than the latest online game phenomenon: the views of these kids on online privacy, piracy, predators, and pornography. Not only are these teens savvy, but I was impressed at their commitment to educate other children and parents about keeping kids safe online and helping them understand what kinds of behaviors are legal and ethical. This is done mainly through a group of "Teenangels," who are trained by the FBI and other online safety and law-enforcement experts and led by cyberlawyer and InformationWeek columnist Parry Aftab.
If the Recording Industry Association of America wants ideas on how to stop the illegal downloading of music, it should ask these kids. Subscription-based Web sites are a good idea, but only if they have a wide variety of music and can accept payment by means other than a credit card. The RIAA also has to make clearer to kids why downloading copyrighted material is just as illegal as stealing a sweater from the mall. Probably everyone remembers the ad campaign many years ago about littering, in which a Native American was forced to push his canoe through a littered river. The message: Littering has a detrimental effect on people's livelihoods and our future. That's the kind of message and impact that needs to be delivered about piracy, the Teenangels say. Ask the kids you know if they have an idea for an effective awareness campaign and tell WiredKids.org.