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Search Topic 29:

MySpace Safety (For Parents)

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by Judy Bates, Associate Editor

I. Overview of Topic

Parents -- remember your mom's advice when you were a teenager back in the seventies or eighties, "Never talk to strangers"? Well, no point in repeating that good advice to your own teenagers nowadays -- strangers are now called "friends" on the social networking sites, like MySpace. And there are now over 75 million people on MySpace, any of whom may contact your kid online at any time via a "friend request" or some other type of equally-anonymous Internet communication.

In case you've spent the last few years on another planet MySpace is an Internet site which allows kids above the age of 14 (and many younger who lie about their ages) to easily set up web pages about themselves on the Internet, including pictures of themselves, personal information about themselves, and diary-like narratives about themselves and their daily activities ("blogs"). Other kids can ask to be their "friends," which means part of their MySpace inner-circle, and able to send them pictures, comments, Instant Messages, etc. at any time. (So anyone, anywhere in the world can request to become your teenager's "friend.")

Now, is all this a recipe for good wholesome fun and mind-broadening interactions among teenagers or what? (Most MySpace members are young teens.)

Possibly so. I don't know, but a quick review of the "profiles" that kids all over the world have set up on MySpace does not call to mind youthful philosophical discussions on the meaning of life. You can take a look yourself by going to MySpace and clicking on "Browse." It's an eye-opener.

Even so, teens would be teens with or without MySpace. The problem that's new with MySpace is male adults -- especially sex offenders -- posing as teens in order to have prurient conversations with kids or, worse yet, entice them into personal meetings (sometimes with disastrous consequences). This problem has gotten so bad that MySpace, under threat of legal action, recently scoured its database of members for known sex offenders and closed over 29,000 pages. And MySpace has announced it will begin putting additional safeguards into place, such as setting up a registry for parents wishing to bar their kids from joining MySpace.

Unfortunately, these types of changes have only a cosmetic effect because anyone can join MySpace using a made-up name. MySpace says it is working on the development of age and identity-verification technology. But even assuming such technology becomes practical in the future, parents need to know what valid safeguards are available now to protect kids from sexual predators and other adults out to exploit them?

You can spend hours researching this question and at the end you'll find there are a few simple steps you as a parent should take. These are very important for you child's safety in using MySpace --

    - Make your child aware of the potential dangers. Make him/her aware that there are adults out there posing as children for the purpose of exploiting gullible kids. And that the problem is so bad that law enforcement agencies around the country now routinely monitor MySpace, even setting up false identities in order to lure and capture criminals and predators.

    - Remind your son or daughter that anything they post on MySpace can be viewed by anyone worldwide who has a computer and Internet connection, including school officials, college admissions personnel, dad's employer, your neighbors, etc.

    - Impress upon your child that he/she should never provide any personal identifying information to anyone they don't know on MySpace, like phone number or name of school. And they should never agree to meet with any stranger they've met on MySpace under any conditions.

    - Insist that your kid's computer be placed in a family-accessible area of your home, not in the child's room. Experts say this is one of the best safeguards.

    - Tell your child that if he/she gets comments from friends posted to their site which reveal their personal identity or address, to delete those comments right away.

    - Ask your teenager to show you their MySpace profile. Make sure there's nothing provocative on it which might attract the attention of a predator or other criminal. Take note of the "display name" used by your child. It's located just above their picture. Using this name and the Search feature of MySpace you can regularly monitor their MySpace activities. (You can also search by name or email address.) Don't feel guilty about "spying" on your teenager. Parents have always spied on their kids, and nowadays it's all but essential to keep them out of trouble on the Internet.

    - For maximum security set up monitoring software on your child's computer. Many thousands of worried parents have gone this route. This will let you see exactly what your teenager is up to and may provide the information you need to intervene if he/she is getting into hot water. There are many such monitoring programs available. (See Part II, below, for more on this.)

Setting Up a Private Profile

MySpace has announced it intends to put privacy settings on accounts for those who indicate they're younger than 18 (formerly it was 16). Privacy settings limit the people who can view your teenager's MySpace page to those listed in his/her "friends" list. (As said, "friends" are other MySpace users who've contacted your kid by email and based on similar interests have asked him/her to allow them to post their photos and comments on your teenager's site.)

Of course, even if MySpace has set your child's profile to "private" he/she may have disabled the privacy feature.

If you want to set up a Private Profile which will allow only those your child has selected as "friends" to see his/her page (and this is definitely a wise thing to do), here's how.

  1. Sit next to your teenager as he/she logs in. Then click on the Account Settings link (it's to the right of your child's profile picture).
  2. Click the "Change Settings" link for the Privacy Setting option.
  3. Scroll down to the Privacy Settings box and, in the "Who Can View My Full Profile" section, choose the radio button next to "My Friends Only."
  4. Click the "Change Settings" button.

After you've done the above, your kid is a little bit safer on MySpace since all non-MySpacers will be unable to view his/her profile and only those on his/her "Friend's List" will be able to see it. Of course, you should remind your child that there's no guarantee that even those people he/she has accepted into their "Friend's List" are who they claim to be, are the age they claim to be, or, for that matter, are really their "friends"!

That's it - our ten minutes are up! (OK, maybe twelve or thirteen if you're a slow reader.) Below is a listing of Web resources to help you continue your research on MySpace safety.

II. For Additional Research

This Section provides reviews and recommendations of Web sites and other online resources

Monitoring and Surveillance Software

Many parents across the U.S. and around the world are starting to take a pro-active approach to protecting their kids on MySpace and the Internet in general. A parent reading one of the numerous news stories of a child lured into a private meeting by a sexual predator or other criminal is likely to get a bad case of cold chills - justifiably. Of course, you can take steps to reduce the probability of this happening (see Part I, above), but we all know kids will find a way to get themselves in trouble. One of the most effective pro-active measures you can take to protect your teenager is to install monitoring software on your son's or daughter's computer, and by the way there's really no need to do so surreptitiously. Let them know you're doing it - it will have a deterrent effect just by virtue of the fact they know they're being monitored. There are several inexpensive, easy-to-install monitoring programs on the market today. I suggest SpectorPro which, as their website says, was selected as Editor's Choice by PC Magazine. This software will record literally everything your child does on his/her computer in the order in which they do it. You'll see exactly what they've typed on MySpace (including emails) as well as all the websites and pictures they've viewed online - everything. The cost is $99.95. As I said, there are other such programs out there but from what I've been able to determine, this one's easiest to install, does what you need, and is reasonably priced. The fact that PC Magazine recommends it is the clincher.

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Recommended Reading


III.Discussion Group


Have questions or thoughts to share regarding MySpace safety? Visit our Web Search Guides Discussion Group.

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