A parent’s guide
to keeping teens
By Aliza Sherman
SANDIE PAGE, a Raleigh, North Carolina–based accountant and mom to 14-year-
old Chelsea, didn’t know anything about
MySpace until her daughter started using it.
Chelsea learned about the site from friends
and spends time there “talking” to them
through instant messages (IMs) and listening
Says Page, “At first I was concerned due
to all the online predators you hear about,
but once we established ground rules my
On MySpace.com, teens can post public
or private profiles of themselves on personal
MySpace Web pages. They can also publish
blogs, or online diaries, sharing their intimate
thoughts. Some teens spend hours decorating their MySpace page, adding icons and
music or video clips, as a means of self-expression. They even “hang out” on one another’s
pages and post comments.
It’s all a way of socializing in the modern
age, says Costco member Anne Collier, co-author of the book MySpace Unraveled: What
It Is and How to Use It Safely (Peachpit Press,
2007) with Internet expert Larry Magid.
“Social networking is basically just socializing online,” says Collier. “It’s another way to
communicate and spend time with your circle of friends, and, in some cases, widen that
circle. [Users are] exploring, finding validation, learning how to assess risk, learning
social norms, sharing musical interests. There
is personal, social, creative and career development going on in social-networking sites
just as [there is] all along on the Web and in
our kids’ off-line lives.”
Sounds healthy enough, but many parents are wondering, “Isn’t there a dangerous
side to it?”
Yes, acknowledges Collier. But with
some communication and guidance, parents
can help ensure that a child’s online experience is safe.
“For younger teens the main risk is peer
With some communication
and guidance, parents can
help ensure that a child’s
online experience is safe.
harassment or cyber-bullying,” says Collier.
“For older teens riskiness is more about negative self-exposure—how they represent
themselves online, where they have little if any
control over info after they’ve uploaded it.”
Once content is posted online, anyone
with access to it can copy and paste it elsewhere. A photo shared among friends, for example, could be displayed publicly and even
manipulated in an embarrassing way. Publishing online can expose teens to pranks or,
even worse, abuse.
Collier suggests that parents talk about
the online part of their teenager’s social life.
“The parent learns about the child’s experience and maybe a little about the technology.
The child learns the guidelines or rules and
the parents’ reasonable concerns.”
Collier offers these further tips.
Be incognito. Suggest that your teen go
by a nickname versus a real name, keeping his or her identity anonymous to
strangers but recognizable to friends.
Be private. Verify that your teen isn’t
publishing identifying information in his
or her profile such as last name, location
Check in. Do random drop-ins on your
teen’s page and check his or her friends’
pages to review those discussions.
Be savvy. Realize your teen might have
secret MySpace pages beyond the one
you access, so inquire periodically.
Don’t overreact. “It’s better if [teens
have] a caring guide by their side” both
online and off, says Collier.
In the case of the Pages, Chelsea taught
her mother how MySpace works. For
Sandie’s own comfort level and for her
daughter’s well-being, she set specific rules
“[Chelsea] had to show me what was on
her [MySpace] page,” she recalls. “I also had
to get her log-in name and password so I
could log on to her page at any time.” She
made it clear that Chelsea was not to respond
to requests from anyone she did not know.
Today, Sandie feels a certain level of comfort with her daughter frequenting MySpace,
but she now faces a new challenge: getting
her off the computer! C
Aliza Sherman is a Web pioneer, Internet
expert and avid blogger. She is the author of
The Everything Blogging Book (Adams
Media, 2006). And she has her own MySpace
The Costco Connection
The book MySpace Unraveled: What It Is
and How to Use It Safely, by Larry Magid
and Anne Collier, is available at costco.com.