In the digital era, kids' pranks have a long shelf life

By Petula Dvorak
Tuesday, April 20, 2010

In the old days, it was pretty easy to fool your parents.

You put a pillow under your covers and climbed out the bedroom window, grabbed a ticket stub from the movie theater trash can after the house party or just called mom from a pay phone and told her you were at Melanie's house rather than at a concert 200 miles away.

I can't imagine any kind of a social life if Caller ID had existed in the '80s.

But even in a world where parents can track children via their cellphones, remotely monitor their driving speed and test their hair for drug use, many adults still lack the technological savvy to figure out what their offspring are up to. The kids, meanwhile, are light years ahead, sometimes scarily so.

We learned that lesson last week from the digital misdeeds of a fledgling Larry Flynt at a Bethesda middle school and a McLean third-grader.

The exploits of the Bethesda preteen sounded like a plot line for a "Porky's" remake. He apparently persuaded girls to send him nude, sometimes faceless photos, indexed the snaps on his iPod Touch, then charged pals for the peep show. The principal called the cops.

Then there was the 9-year-old who, according to the Fairfax County public school system, got into the Blackboard system, which about 5,000 schools nationwide use to track grades, host discussions and do assignments.

He apparently mucked around, changing names and rewriting assignments -- goofy, relatively harmless stuff that springs from the frenetic mind of a third-grader.

Police swarmed his house based on the computer trail, probably scared the slime out of him, then declined to press charges.

The folks at Blackboard said this wasn't a case of an evil genius hacking into a mainframe, bringing down the nation's schools and -- mwhaa-ha-ha -- taking over classrooms everywhere. Rather, the mischievous kid got hold of a grown-up's password, which gave him carte blanche to digitally prank the system.

The problem here is all about digital immigrants vs. digital natives.

The digital immigrants are those of us who have files scattered all over our home computer screens, don't have the buttons on our BlackBerrys set to any shortcuts and can't seem to compress a photo. We paw at our purses or belts when the mobile phone ring-rings because we haven't bothered to figure out how to change the factory-issue ringtone.

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