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Is MySpace Safe?

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Do a quick search of Google News for “MySpace sexual assault” and these are some of the headlines you’ll see:

No wonder many people, especially parents, shudder and the mention of MySpace.  Critics loudly denounce MySpace saying, “It’s a feeding ground for pedophiles!”  “Kids post suggestive photos of themselves.”  “It’s a forum for all sorts of vulgar expression.”  Yet a recent survey found that 61% of American 13-17 year olds have a MySpace profile.  Is MySpace safe for teens? For adults?

The short answer is no.

The critics claims are accurate.  There are predators that browse MySpace looking for young girls (and boys) to exploit.  While MySpace has a strict policy against nudity, some teens do post suggestive photos of themselves.  Some people do post vulgar and profane comments and blog articles.

But the fact of the matter is that nothing in this world is 100% safe.  Reports of teachers sexually exploiting children are in the news on a regular basis.  Go to your local mall and you may see teens that are wearing clothes that make Paris Hilton look modest. Hang out in any high school locker room and you’re likely to hear conversations that would draw heavy fines if broadcast in prime time.

From what I’ve seen, MySpace is not some new harbinger of evil.  Sexual predators, amoral people, and teens gone wild didn’t appear on MySpace out of nowhere.  MySpace is simply an online expression of the world we live in – the good and the bad.

The question is not whether MySpace is safe because nothing is.  The real issue is whether MySpace can be used safely or whether the risk is too great and we ought to stay away from MySpace altogether.

Safety Tips for Parents
At the bottom of every page on MySpace is a link to their Safety Tips.  While their tips are useful, I really don’t think they are comprehensive or go far enough.  Jonathan McKee, the president of The Source for Youth Ministry, wrote a fantastic article about MySpace which includes some great tips for parents.  It’s long but well worth the read.  Many of the tips below are based on suggestions in that article.

  • If your kids are under 14, just block the site.  Even MySpace doesn’t allow users under 14. If you allow your 12 year old to create a MySpace profile, you’re allowing your 12 year old to lie.
  • Strongly consider requiring full access.  Have your child give you their username and password so you can login and read their private emails, block users, activate privacy settings, and remove comments.  Parents of girls need to especially note this. It’s not an uncommon occurrence to receive “friend requests” from random guys of unknown age and origin. Even the most innocent kids will receive disturbing proposals from guys/men who saw their picture while browsing through the profiles of young girls.  Be totally up front about the fact that you will be doing this rather than secretly snooping around their account, so that if any issues should arise that you have to address they won’t be shocked and accuse you of violating their privacy.
  • At the very least, require your child add you as a friend.  If your kid is 17 or 18 years old and they’ve demonstrated good judgment and discernment in the past, you may decide not to require full access which would mean you would not be able to login and read their private messages.  But as a “friend” you will still be able to see their blog, pictures, comments, and the other friends they’ve added. 
  • Some parents might want to only allow their kids to use it with a parent in the same room.
  • Select the [Account Setting – Privacy Setting] option called the “My Friends Only” setting. This way, only MySpace friends (the user chooses who his or her MySpace friends are) can view their full profile, pictures, and blog. The default setting is where anyone can see your profile. In other words, any naked 40-year-old man can examine your kid’s pictures, comments and complete profile. If you activate the privacy setting however, they have to send an “Add a Friend” request, which must be approved by the user.
  • Activate the “Approve Comments before Posting” setting keeps others from posting anything on the user’s own page without his or her approval. You can also check “Friend Only Blog Comments” so that only friends can make comments in the first place.
  • Explain to your child that they are not to approve any Friend Requests from people they do not know.  This is HUGE!  People can claim to be anyone they want to be on MySpace.  A person’s profile might say she’s a 17 year old girl from Australia looking for a pen pal but could be a 30 year old guy from across town with a criminal record.  Once someone is approved as a friend, they can see your child’s profile, blog, pictures, and so on.
  • Don’t allow unsupervised browsing. The “browse” feature on MySpace is where people can really wander into racy areas. Browsing is when you do a search for other people who you want to meet, or to just gawk at their pictures and profile anonymously. You type in the zip code (if any), age range, gender, status (single, married, divorced…), and what you’re looking for (dating, networking, friends, or relationships). Then click “Update.” This will bring up a list of thumbnail pics for you to look at.  If kids select their schools, however, then they can browse for kids closer to their own age. MySpace will then offer a more customized “school” search for ages as low as 16 currently. These 16-year-old profiles are usually less trashy. Rule of thumb: the lower the age, the less chance of hitting risqué pictures.
  • Peek in on your kids and their friends. Kids are so brutally honest on MySpace that they say more than they realize. MySpace allows you to be a fly on the wall to 90% of the conversation kids are having-kids post vulnerable stuff in their blogs and comments. They save some conversation for the private messages, but if parents have their kid’s password, they can access that as well.
  • Don’t overreact.  These articles have highlighted many of the dangers of MySpace and may scare us. The worse thing a parent can do is at the first hint of danger or impropriety impulsively go in, unplug the computer and tell their kid, “This computer is THE DEVIL!!!” These actions will just confirm in our kids’ minds that we are old, “out of touch,” and we “don’t understand.” The fact is we DO understand, so we shouldn’t overreact and lose all credibility with our kids.

If your teenager keeps their profile private so only friends can view it and if they only add friends who they know, then they will be safe from predators.  If you regularly check out your kid’s blog, photos, comments, and friends you will know what’s going on with them and their friends.  If your child or their friends do act inappropriately, it may also give you the opportunity to discuss what is appropriate and why from the Biblical perspective.  It may not feel like an “opportunity” at the time – it may be awkward and your teen may not agree with what you say – but these are character-shaping moments.

Remember, our goal as parents is to prepare and train up our kids to become independent adults.  If your kids are old enough to be on MySpace, they are only a few short years (or less) from being completely on their own.  If we don’t gradually help them to understand and deal with the dangers and temptations that await them in the “real world,” we will leave them unprepared and vulnerable to it when they’re on their own.

Christian Alternatives
Ultimately, though each parent has to prayerfully consider whether their teen is mature enough to follow the rules they’ve laid out, behave appropriately, and avoid the temptations.  Some parents may decide it’s just not worth the risk.  For them there are Christian alternatives to MySpace with tighter restrictions and presumably fewer dangers.  Here’s a list of some of them.

To me the issue of whether to allow your teenager to be on MySpace or limit them to Christian alternatives is similar to the issue of choosing a public or a private Christian school.  On the one hand you may succeed in limiting their exposure to some worldly influences and give them some additional Christian influences, but you also limit their experience dealing with the world as well as their influence on a world that so desperately needs more Christian youth engaged in it.

Conclusion
If the guidelines explained above are followed, I think most teens can use MySpace safely.  However, that’s a decision best left for the parents who know and understand their kid’s judgment and maturity.

For adults, MySpace doesn’t appear any more dangerous than the Internet at large.  Sure there are temptations and people who will try to trip you up in sin, but if you want to avoid them you can.  MySpace does offer some tremendous ways for individuals and organizations to reach out to and develop relationships with people we otherwise might never meet and we’ll touch on some of those next week.

Do you agree or disagree that MySpace can be safe if you follow the tips in this article?  Parents, what if anything are you doing to protect your kids on MySpace?  Got any other tips for using MySpace safely?  Post your comments below.

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    About the author

    Paul Steinbrueck

    Paul Steinbrueck is co-founder and CEO of OurChurch.Com, husband, father of 3, blogger. You can follow him on Twitter at @PaulSteinbrueck.

    58 Comments

    • I agree with what you have written. I personally use MySpace as an opportunity to reach a lost and dying world in a way I could not otherwise.
      I do not have children but we are all sort of responsible for the children in our church right? I read the posts on the teens sites from church, got them all to add me as their friend. This way I can be “another” female adult who is monitoring and can talk with them and it’s different than a parent speaking. Know what I mean?

    • As a Christian, one has to be very careful while using Myspace. There’s a lot of evil around and even adults are prone to getting trapped by it. So just think about kids who are maturing! They won’t be able to withstand the temptations.

      Moreover there are so many false religions propogated, that children will be waylaid easily.

      Strict supervision would be required by parents who allow their children to use Myspace.

      http://www.myspace.com/johnson3570

    • Just because your kid’s profile is private doesn’t mean the other kid’s profiles are private. Make sure they know not to blindly meet with anyone their friends have met online.

    • I agree. MySpace can be very dangerous for kids. I don’t have any children but my little bro is 4. Parents need to teach kids (and this is a long process I realize) how to start recognizing when they need to block a person or go get their parents.

      Which is worse: Myspace or AOL?

    • I agree. Myspace can be dangerous and I don’t suggest it for anyone younger than 21. We have to let our children know that it is not okay to post personal information about themselves on the internet. I use myspace to talk to others about God. My page is myspace.com/khandijones and I got on there because I attend a Christian college and the other kids talked me into making a page. It is addicting. I think a lot of kids use facebook as well and you can only use facebook if you are in college or high school. It only verifies your school email address and it is very safe for kids. Too bad myspace can’t do the same.

    • I too use MySpace to meet other Christians and to be a witness to other people that view my page… My niece had created a fake e-mail address so that she could join MySpace without my sister even knowing about it… But once my sis found out, she immediately sent in a request to have her account cancelled… My niece had even posted where she went to school… So yes, I know it can be dangerous, and many kids are posting way to much personal info on their sites… Some of them don’t even have a clue that they’re doing something that could bring harm to them…

    • Well-researched article Paul. I tend to believe that some of the exploitation that happens on myspace gets hyped out of proportion by the media. But nevertheless, I agree it is not a Christian-friendly place and not one that I would let a teenager use without some amount of supervision.

      But as Christians, I think its also important that we have a presence there. We can be salt and light in a sea of teenage angst and bad judgement. Secluding and isolating ourselves to a sanctified corner of the internet prevents us from witnessing in the real world. (as Christine mentioned)

      We’re actually launching a Myspace for churches – http://www.mychurch.org. But we don’t want to be seen as a “Myspace for Christians” for the reasons I stated. We want to be “MyChurch for everyone”

    • I agree with you 100%. The fact of the matter is there are preditors out there. A predator is most likely loooking for a certain thing when he or she searches. If your child’s page happens to have that they are going to look. The people who blame myspace for everything under sun need to look at the parents and what they are allowing them to have on there page. It’s very frustrating be a myspace user and knowing that myspace gives you a template to fill in it does not fill in your personal details you have to do that. The experts who are saying it is bad need to look for themselves and see that myspace is a website for personal expression.

    • I THINK THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH MYSPACE. I AM A 28 YEAR OLD MOM OF FOUR CHILDREN. TWO OF MY CHILDREN ARE ON IT AND THEY SPEAK TO THEIR FRIENDS. MYSPACE IS NO DIFFERENT THAN ANY OTHER WEB SURFING ANY OF US DO. YOU MUST BE CAREFUL WHEN SPEAKING TO ANYONE ON INTERNET NO MATTER WHAT. PARENTS NEED TO MONITOR THEIR CHILDREN AND MUST CONSIDER THEIR CHILDREN’S MENTAL CAPACITY AND TEACH THEM RIGHTS AND WRONG. NO MATTER WHERE YOUR CHILDREN ARE THEY WILL ALWAYS BE IN DANGER OF A PREDITOR. TO BE HONEST, I DO THINK THAT IT SHOULD BE THEIR FOR ATLEAST ADULTS. MANY PEOPLE DO NOT GET OUT MUCH AND THE INTERNET IS THEIR ESCAPE. MAYBE MAKING IT A WEBSITE THAT YOU MUST PAY 5.00 TO JOIN BY DEBIT OR CREDIT WITH YOUR NAME ON IT FOR VERIFICATION PURPOSES BUT TAKING IT AWAY WILL NOT CHANGE MUCH IN THIS SOCIETY. LIKE ANYTHING ELSE ALWAYS PRACTICE CAUTION. I MET MY BOYFRIEND OF 2 AND A HALF YEARS ONLINE ON A SITE JUST LIKE MYSPACE AND WE ARE GREAT. ALSO I HAVE MET MANY MANY QUALITY GOOD FRIENDS. ALL THE NEGATIVITY IS OUT THERE BUT THERE IS ALSO POSITIVES. TRY AND TAKE A LOOK AT THAT.