Friday, October 13, 2006
Myspace: common sense keeps kids safe
Editor's note: From time to time Carrie Abend, a junior at Concord-Carlisle High School, will write on issues of interest at the school
Everyone knows the most important thing in high school is being included and having friends. What would make a kid feel more included than having 500 people "friend" them? Enter: Myspace. Any parent in the country might flinch at the word. They might launch into the latest horror story of inappropriate pictures being spread from profile to profile. They may have no idea what Myspace is about, but the very mention of it makes their eyes widen. Is my child on Myspace? Is her face sprawled across some page for strangers to see? The rumors get worse and worse, until they are positive that their son has joined an online cult, which will eventually cause him to sell his belongings and move to Africa.
My Myspace layout is pink, with the lyrics to a favorite song. I have 137 friends, and, although it may surprise you, I have met all but two of them. For every child who endangers himself on the Internet, there are surely five or six others who are protecting themselves. At CCHS, I can make the educated guess that the overwhelming majority of kids are using their common sense.
I can't reassure every worried mother or father that their child won't meet any strangers while surfing the Web. The 'Net brings together every person on this earth with a computer and Internet access. There is no ban on criminals; there is no safety test. We cannot control the thousands of members on Myspace who claim to be college girls but are really men in their fifties. The only variable that we, the Myspace users, can control is how smart we are. The Internet is like drugs: it's everywhere, and no matter how much parents try to protect their children, the time may come when they'll be "friended" by a stranger, and they'll want to accept. Just as most students at CCHS would not accept drugs from a stranger, they would never become dangerously attached to one online.
From e-mail to IM
When America Online (AOL) became a staple in most homes back in the 1990s, e-mail was the highest form of communication available. The next version of the software brought the "Buddy List," where you could see which friends were online and Instant Message them. Then came AIM, or AOL Instant Messenger. Now, one person can have numerous screen names. Any parent could become "BabyBlue07" or "SkaterKid1234" and IM their own child. One could try this, of course, but most kids won't just start a "convo" with someone they don't know. You could say you were Megan from math class, but good luck when you are asked what you thought of a recent test. This is a roadblock many criminals come up against when trying to befriend a student.
Myspace is big and getting bigger by the minute, but many kids understand the silliness of the site. Some, like myself, merely stay involved for the entertainment factors, like the custom graphics. Other sites, like Facebook.com, popular with CCHS students, are trying to step it up by adding more security. In fact, the simple format and careful privacy settings of Facebook are so good that many twenty-somethings have signed up, including a few young teachers at CCHS who are recent college graduates. Although some parents have shown concern about the nationwide spread of Facebook, it's nothing compared to the international frenzy of Myspace, which has millions of adults worrying and overreacting.
It's fine if the teenagers of Carlisle want to have their Myspace pages and keep them private from adults. It is important, however, that parents set up some rules that will reassure them about the safety of their kid on Myspace. When the craze reached my mother, she was curious about the sort of pictures I had posted and how true the information was. I felt comfortable enough to show her my Myspace page. She was considerably calmed, but did ask that I take off one picture and my home phone number. Since then, she has been able to trust me on the Internet.
A conversation like this will not only reassure you as a parent, but will make your child even more careful online. The trust you put in your children will encourage them to be more responsible about personal information on the Internet. The truth is not many strangers will "friend" a person if you don't advertise yourself.
What's "safe" online?
My advice to parents is this: ask if your children have a Myspace, a Facebook, or any other online page. Then ask to see it. If they refuse, it could be that they are insecure about the content, and fear that you'll think it's stupid. Even if they refuse to let you in, at least sit them down and make sure they understand what "safe" really entails. A profile with a few tasteful pictures, a funny "about me," and a list of your favorite movies should not attract someone looking for an online victim. Those who commonly get unwelcome invites are kids who post an invitation themselves: "Here's my screen name, and I love to meet new people!" Many kids in this town understand that keeping out of trouble is not such a hard feat, but reviewing rules that parents feel are important will make everyone more comfortable.
We all know that being online won't make a person more popular, but demanding that a teenager delete his page will only create bitterness. In Concord and Carlisle, many kids lose their online privileges because of one or two bad apples who break the rules, but the truth is that: the kids in this school have common sense and are not afraid to use it.
© 2006 The Carlisle Mosquito