Monday, September 18, 2006

A MySpace Primer for Parents

A few months ago I attended a seminar for parents conducted by one of our local police officers at neighborhood middle school. The officer was sharing information from i-Safe, a group specializing in internet safety education. I was surprised at the reactions of many of the parents upon learning just what their children were capable of doing with their home computers and an internet connection. Eyes widened and jaws dropped as technologically-challenged parents were introduced to the world of webcams, instant messaging, and social networking.

U.S. News & World Report recently ran a cover story for parents appropriately titled "Decoding MySpace." It's filled with helpful information and a few unsettling statistics like the following:

Parents who would never allow their child to go to a party unless they knew that an adult would be present let their kids pilot themselves through the online world without any supervision whatsoever. A June survey of 267 pairs of teens and parents in the Los Angeles metropolitan area by a psychology professor at California State University-Dominguez Hills found that two thirds of parents had never talked with their teen about their MySpace use, and 38 percent of them had never seen their child's MySpace profile. "Parents are chicken," says Parry Aftab, an Internet privacy lawyer and executive director of"They don't understand the technology, so they're reluctant to get involved."
I'm sure technological ineptitude is partially responsible for parents' non-involvement with their teens' online activity. But I suspect another factor is at least as much to blame if not moreso. Many parents dread the thought of their kids not liking them and consequently refuse to "invade" their "privacy" or enter into any kind of conversation that might seem like snooping. Michelle Alden, one of the mom's mentioned in the article, is not one of them:
The 40-year-old teacher's aide in Idaho City, Idaho, says she is uncomfortable with the site's profile format, as it encourages youngsters to present themselves as if they're looking for sex. Why, she wonders, does the site ask kids to describe their body type and sexual orientation? But instead of trying to forbid the site, she's opted to set guidelines and talk regularly with her 15-year-old daughter about her page, which she uses primarily to stay in touch with friends. "I think it's better to go ahead and have the struggle, because soon enough she's going to be out on her own," she says, "and I only have a few more years to have those conversations with her."
Some of the best parenting advice my wife and I ever received was from the wife of one of our pastors who said, "Your kids are not going to like you for some reason so you'd better make sure it's a good one."


Freudian Slip said...

Knowing a lot about technology and the internet, I can honestly say I am absolutely terrified at what my son will be exposed to growing up as a child with the net! This is a call to all parents to step it up!

Kathy said...

Thanks for your eloquent posting. I'm preparing a MySpace/YouTube talk for parents at our church tomorrow, and your information helped.
- Kathy