Worried About Teen MySpace Dangers? You should be.
MySpace.com is a social networking site that has become a must-have for teenagers. A combination of a networking site, a personal online diary, and a social club, MySpace.com is the daily destination for most young adults. Currently exceeding 100 million accounts, most based in the US, MySpace.com is one of the most frequently-visited sites by those under 18 years of age. Free to join, easy to navigate, and lacking lots of legalese, MySpace.com has replaced text messaging as the most frequently-used communications method for 12-16 year olds.
While MySpace.com has a lower age limit of 14 to join, many members simply lie about their age and join anyway. Indeed, estimates range from 10% to 25% of all accounts are opened by those under 14 years. It is also curious that about 10% of accounts are opened by those 30 years of age or older. Many simply want to surf the teen's site, perhaps recapturing lost youth or trying to understand their own children, but as with any such activity, there is a darker side.
At first glance, MySpace.com seems innocent. Kids chat with other kids about everything from school to dates, sports, and world events. They message each other at will, add postings to their profile pages, and can add comments to other people's profiles. But the ease with which MySpace.com allows its members to enter information is also its biggest danger, and one most parents are not aware of. Indeed, most parents have no idea what their children do on MySpace.com, or what kinds of personal information and comments are posted.
The sense of privacy offered on such a large site is deceptive. Most members believe only they and their friends are visiting their pages and reading their comments. So, many site inhabitants post great amounts of personal information on their pages, including full contact information such as address and telephone numbers as well as their full names, nicknames, and pictures. Activities and dreams of the future are also big topics of discussion and site page content.
The pictures posted by residents of MySpace.com cover the entire gamut. Some are simply standard school or candid photos, but there's a remarkable number of revealing photos, suggestive positions, and even nudity on the site. Kids rationalize their postings in many ways, but typically the attitude is "only my friends can see them, so what's the harm?" Most kids also believe adults are too cyber ignorant to check MySpace.com, and the vast majority of members believe there is no danger from posting this kind of content.
Of course, that's not the case. Many sexual predators of young adults have accounts on MySpace.com too, with completely fictitious names, photos, and personal details. Their on-line personas are there for one reason: to lure kids into a sense of friendship and camaraderie that leads to a face-to-face meeting, by which time it's often too late. While MySpace.com tries to police their site, it's impossible to cover all accounts. (In July 2007 MySpace.com removed over 29,000 accounts identified as belonging to sexual predators. Estimates vary, but most agree this is but a small fraction of the actual number who frequent the site.)
The FBI estimates that over 95% of sexual predators have Internet access and use it regularly for their deviant purposes, and many arrested for child molestations arranged meetings with their victims through on-line forums like MySpace.com, building up a relationship with numerous children at the same time over a period of months. It's the extended time-frame that lures children into a sense of friendship. Since they have been chatting with the predator for many months, and have shared intimate personal details (mostly bogus from the predator's side), the person they finally arrange to meet is someone they feel they know, not a stranger. Of course, the "friend" often isn't.
A quick scan of MySpace.com by any adult finds all kinds of disturbing content, both visual and written. Stories and photos of drug use and binge drinking are common. Threats against people and school teachers abound. Rantings about burning down houses and torture against specific subjects are readily available. Profane or insulting language is rampant (on almost every page, actually). Even socially sensitive subjects, ranging from incest to Nazi supremacists, are openly accessible. Photos of children posing in underwear or skimpy outfits are common. Even full nudity, while forbidden, occurs due to the vast majority of content on the site, far beyond the ability of the MySpace.com team to monitor. After browsing for only a few minutes you can find photos of both simulated and actual sex, as well as intimate personal details such as stories of first sexual encounters, fantasies, and incest.
What's truly disturbing to most adults is the preponderance of personal information available in the open for anyone. Most children's pages have full names, addresses, and cellular numbers listed, as well as details of their school days and what they do after school. Even when details such as these are lacking, there's often enough information to build a profile of a child from their pages. For example, some pages list hobbies and popular activities: an online conversation with someone else about that subject can often lead to disclose of more personal contact information.
The main issue with MySpace.com is that there's no way to be sure that the person chatting with your child really is who they claim to be (usually claiming to be a similarly-aged person). For most kids, chatting to someone who says they are a 14 year old female with the same interests as theirs seems normal, and there's no reason to doubt the identity of the other person.
So what can you, as a parent, do? The first thing is to explain the real dangers to your children. Cases of child abuse and abduction are common in every city, and many clearly indicate the victim befriended their attacker online. Explain the problem, if not show statistics, to at least attempt to create a measure of care into the child's online chat sessions.
Even better, get your child to show you their MySpace.com account page, and check for information that could lead to problems. Personal details are an immediate red flag and should be removed. Of course, most children do not want their parents to see their pages on MySpace.com, since it is considered an invasion of privacy. Instead, you may have to go online and search for those pages yourself.
MySpace.com allows profiles to be password-protected, with the owner of the page granting access only to "friends". This can be a double-edged issue, since password protection can stop you from seeing the pages and it also makes the child have a deeper sense of security. Of course, in chat rooms, access to private password-protected pages is the first request of new "friends" and seems to be freely granted to anyone who asks.
It is almost impossible to find out who your child has been talking to on MySpace.com. Typically, if you tell a child not to associate with someone from school, they do connect online anyway. It's simply not possible to ban some contacts, since login names can change in seconds to work around filters you might try to establish.
Of course, this doesn't even touch on the type of company your child keeps on MySpace.com. Whether they are "the wrong crowd", or simply inappropriate influences, you can only trust your child's judgment. Ask a typical 13-year old girl if she would go out with an 18-year old boy on a date and the answer would be "no", but in a chat room, these friendships blossom easily and readily, because the girl doesn't apply the same standards to a chat session as a social situation.
There is a lot of advice available for concerned parents on the Web, but most parental advice sites break down their suggestions into a number of common threads:
- Banning access to the Internet or MySpace.com particularly will not work. Ban it and they will be more determined to get access. Instead, have a computer in a common area where it's easier to keep an eye on their activities (even if you don't see what they are doing, the sense of being supervised tends to moderate behavior somewhat).
- Use myspace monitoring software such as AceSpy to block some Websites, and program it to pick up particular words if necessary
- Talk to your children's friends to share common concerns and find out about their computer use habits, too.
- Educate your child that information on MySpace.com and the Internet in general is not private, and stress care in the information they disclose to others. Warn strongly about posting too much private information.
While few parents want to be draconian and restrict their children's access to computers, or monitor their activities, it is each parent's responsibility to ensure their children understand the issues involved in sites like MySpace.com and others. Children have to be aware of the issues involved in posting personal information, as well as the chances for chat sessions to be with someone other than the child suspects. A little honesty and care, taking the time to explain the issues to children, can pay huge dividends in the long run.
AceSpy is MySpace Monitoring Software to allow you to monitor every move your child makes. on MySpace and other sites. They won't know they are being monitored unless you tell them. You can see what pages they visit, their passwords, their emails, their instant messages and much more. With
Only AceSpy records ALL MySpace pages visited. Not just the page address but the ENTIRE page including all content seen by the user including profiles, comments, emails and messages.