Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Using MySpace, Part I

Lately there’s been a lot of talk on the media about a site called “MySpace.com”. It’s primarily a place where people (and it’s used mostly by teens and twenty-somethings) to create a space for themselves on the web. They can collect friends and comments on their profile pages, post their own blog entries, and interact in the forums, groups, games, and chats.

The reason it’s been getting so much press and coverage is that there are some people out there using the net as predators, and they tend to gather wherever other people are also gathering. Where there’s fish, eventually the sharks will come. And some of the kids on MySpace aren’t always careful about the information they share.

Recently, a concerned mother asked me about it. “My daughter has a MySpace page, should I be worried?”

My first response to ask if she had checked out her MySpace page. When she answered no, I wasn’t surprised.

I asked her if her daughter had a driver’s license.

“Yes”

And does she drive her car?

“Yes”

You let her go out in the world in something as dangerous as a car? She could be killed, or hurt someone else!

“Yeah, but we’ve taught her how to use a car safely.”

So you see my point.

Here’s some ways you can help your teen or your young person be safe and enjoy MySpace

1. First of all, spend some time checking out their MySpace page. Check out what they’re saying about themselves in their profile. What kind of pictures are they posting? What’s the message they’re sending out about themselves? Click into check out some of the other people in their friends list. Your kids won’t have any control over what the others put in their profiles, but they have total control over who they accept on their friends list.

2. Tell your son or daughter that you are checking out their MySpace, and that their computer privileges can be conditional on what you find there. If they’re giving out too much information, you can tell them to cut back, and where. You can tell them if they’re posting pictures that are inappropriate. You can tell them if they’re sharing links with friends that make you nervous. If they accuse you of invading their privacy, tell them that it’s your job as a parent to do that. Besides, a MySpace page is public, and you should have just as much access to it as anyone else.

3. The minimum age that’s allowed on MySpace is 13. I’d recommend that you not allow anyone below 15 or 16. Those few years can make a huge difference in the maturity and responsibility of the child.

4. Online friends can be wonderful. I have a lot of them, most of whom I’ve never met face-to-face. The ones I’ve met face-to-face are ones that I’ve met as an adult. As the parent, you can tell your children that they are not to set up a face-to-face meeting with someone they met online EVER. There are certain conditions when a F2F meeting can be safe. If you’re with them in a public place, for example. Remember that a grown adult meeting another grown adult is risky enough. Don’t let your kids meet someone online without your protection, and maybe not even then.

5. Remind your child that just because someone’s profile says they are a 16-year-old high school kid, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they really are.

6. While you’re in your kids’ MySpace pages, take an opportunity to learn about them. When they come home and you ask, “What did you do in School today,” they’ll probably say, “Nuthin’” But then they’ll post blogs about the game or the math test, or whatever. You’ll have a good chance to discover what’s important to them.

MySpace is an exciting phenomenon, and if it’s misused, it can also be a dangerous place. Face it, the same can be said for the whole internet.

Have a safe drive out there on the information superhighway!

Next time in Using MySpace, Part II: If your target audience is trendy, tech-savvy youth, then MySpace can be the perfect place to promote your website. We’ll talk about how to do it right.

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