How Parents Can Keep Their Children Safe on MySpace.com

My daughter had long been a fan of websites like Xanga, Livejournal and Deviant Art, where she could make new friends, talk to others and display some of her artwork. Naturally, I wasn’t the least bit surprised when she joined the thousands of teenagers who were flocking to the latest internet hype, known as Myspace. Who was I to say anything; after all, I’d been a Myspacer for months! But Myspace has been all over the news, as of late, and it’s generated a great deal of controversy amongst parents. Is it a danger to our children? Should we put an end to it? The answers to these questions vary, but the key is taking it all one step at a time. Read on to learn how a Myspace mom helps to keep her children safe.

Communication is the most vital thing that you can have with your teenage son or daughter; far too many parents are too busy to take time out for their kids or, if they do talk to them, they have a bad habit of talking at them, rather than to them. Don’t spend all your time talking to your children, eitherâÂ?¦ spend equal amounts of time listening as well. You’ll learn a great deal more.

The first thing that you have to realize, upon learning your child is on Myspace, is that it’s further ahead to go with the saying, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” Why? Simply put because, if you forbid your child to ever go on thereâÂ?¦ there’s a good chance that s/he will do just that. Furthermore, if you breach a child’s trust, you end up severing those communication links altogether.

If you haven’t made a Myspace now, do so. If your child’s been on there for a while, ask him for advice or instructions on how to make a unique profile, talk to them about the music choices available and how they put video up on their pages, and so on. Many kids will often enjoy this opportunity to show their parents a thing or two and, in many cases, it’s ‘cool’ to have a mom or dad that have a Myspace. Don’t be afraid to ask them to show you the ropes; many of you will be astounded at just how much your son/daughter/grandchild actually knows about these things.

Once you have a Myspace, be sure to ask your child to add you as a friend, and vice versa. It is very important, however, to NOT nag your child about everything you see on their page, read in their comments or see cross their bulletins. Remember, you’ve been added to their FRIEND list, not the Gestapo list. I know that I was shocked, at first, when I saw some of the things on Myspace, but take a deep breath and try to relaxâÂ?¦ It’s the same stuff they are talking about in school (I know that’s upsetting in itself, but true), so ignore the silly quizzes about “What Sex Position Are You?” or the bulletins that ask them to rate one another’s sex appeal; that’s just kids being kids. Just pay attention to what’s between the lines.

There are two main aspects of Myspace that I have warned my own daughter to be wary of. The first is the most obvious- People who contact her, via instant message or email. It’s important to stress to your child that people are not always as they seem and that, no matter how sweet and kind and understanding the person on the other end of that email is or seems to be, you do notâÂ?¦ by any circumstancesâÂ?¦ know who s/he is. Sexual predators are just that; predators that stalk their prey, looking for any weakness and waiting for the perfect opportunity to pounce. While they are many more places, other than Myspace, a networking community like that offers the perfect opportunity for them to screen for victims. Make sure that they don’t fall prey to that.

Also bear in mind that careless bulletins can also put someone at risk. For this reason, if my daughter is going somewhere, she is not allowed to give details about it until after the fact. This decision was reached after she sent out a bulletin, one afternoon, saying she was going to the local mall one night. We had a long discussion about how potentially dangerous that could have been and she finally agreed that, from here on out, she would only talk about such things after she gets home.

The more subtle threat, in my opinion, is the surveyâÂ?¦ and anyone who’s been on Myspace for more than a day KNOWS that we Myspacers LOVE our surveys! They circulate like wildfire and are filled with all sorts of fun games and silly questions. But think about itâÂ?¦

Just how much information are you revealing about yourself?

I had this discussion with my daughter after sitting back and realizing that, after reading a few surveys, I suddenly knew way more information about my friends than I should. I knew their first, middle and last names, their addresses, phone numbers, where they went to school, their parents’ names. The information is offered up completely willingly and without any hint of realization that they’re doing it.

An example- One survey may ask readers to play a silly game like, “What’s your alien name?” and then inform the reader to take the first 3 letters of their first name and the last 3 letters of their last names. So, in effect, you have something like this:

MAX_ _ _ _ _ _ _ PHY

It looks innocent enough until you have a quiz come by a few days later that wants you to create your Klingon name (I’m grasping at straws here) and wants the last 3 letters of your first name and first three letters of your last name.

MAX _ ELL MURPHY

Easy enough to figure out how it is, that one can decipher our children’s names with relative ease. The same can be done with all the personal information, simply by using different games. It’s a scary concept, when you think about it. Stress to your children not to give out ANY personal information over the internet, no matter how small. While many quizzes are fine and surveys are fun, teach them to watch for little puzzles and links that could eventually be used to find out their information. This includes, but is not limited to:

Names
Address
School (including school mascots and/or school colors)
After School Activities
Phone Numbers
Parents’ Names

Also teach your children to be wary of what they blog. I strongly believe in blogs; online diaries that promote people to write down their feelings, rather than keeping things bottled up inside. It is possible to get carried away, however, and let things slip. If your son or daughter wishes to write about personal things, encourage him or her to do so, but if it contains personal material, to put the blog as a private entry or, if s/he wants friends to read it, to make up a preferred list of people that they know and can trust. Pictures should also be screened by the parents, prior to being placed up in profiles, to ensure that they do not give away information such as local hangouts, addresses, etc.

Privacy is another important thing in a child’s life and yet you want a fail-safe back up, should anything happen. I recommend, for this reason, that you ask your child to provide you with their login and password for their Myspace account, along with any email accounts they may have. Allow them to put them into a sealed envelope and hand it to you, to put somewhere for safe keeping; this way, they know that their privacy will be maintained, but you will be able to access information, in the event of an emergency.

Don’t be afraid to have fun with it and remember to communicate with your child. My daughter and I enjoy leaving each other little jokes and comments from day to day, and we often give one another opinions and critiques, in regards to one another’s profiles. It’s fun and it’s something that we can do together. Hopefully, with this advice, it will be something that you, too, can do with your children.

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