MySpace can be unfamiliar ground to busy parents, and not everything is as it seems on the site.

So Wired News addresses some of the most pressing questions parents
might have if they explore their teenager’s relationship with MySpace.

This FAQ relies heavily on an interview with UC Berkeley researcher
Danah Boyd, who studied teens’ ways during a two-year ethnographic
study of the MySpace phenomenon. Boyd speaks on her findings in a
recent lecture.

Can I search MySpace to see if my kid is on it?

MySpace profiles are searchable, and with little detective work you
can probably find your offspring if they are participating. But should
you? That probably depends on your relationship with them.

UC Berkeley researcher Danah Boyd says it’s a bad idea. "Don’t go on
and engage in surveillance. That makes things really hard for kids to
engage with you as a parent." Instead, Boyd recommends parents talk
with their youngsters, and ask their teens to show them their profile,
if they have one.

I did it anyway. Should I be worried that my teenage girl is linked to so many male "friends?"

No. A MySpace friend link isn’t exactly a long-term commitment. In
the spirit of inclusiveness, many teens make a point of accepting
nearly anyone who submits a "friend request," and some teenage boys
make a point of linking to as many teenage girls as they can (not
surprising). That doesn’t mean they’re hooking up. "They might be
linking to other people," Boyd says, "but they’re not going out and
meeting a bazillion strangers."

What if she’s linking to adult men? That can’t be good.

Boyd says kids collect online friends like baseball cards, and the
reason for a link isn’t always obvious: "They connect to their
teachers, their older cousins, people who they think are cool."
Moreover, MySpace is a music-driven site, and fans link to musicians
they admire or have a crush on without any intention — or hope — of
meeting them in real life.

We don’t recommend snooping, but you can click on a friend link and
scope out that friend’s other friends. "If you have a 50-year-old man
connecting to a bunch of 15-year-old girls, that’s something you can
look at," says Boyd.

How should I talk to them about MySpace?

Try not to get parental. Remember, MySpace isn’t a dirty secret, and
your kids aren’t doing anything wrong just by being there. "If you do
it in peer-level approach, rather than a condescending control
approach, you’ll have much more success," says Boyd.

Remember, teens took over MySpace and made it their own. Try to
respect that you’re on their territory. "You don’t want to create
controlling situations, because what these kids are trying to do is
create a space outside of parental control," Boyd says.

What is MySpace doing to protect its users?

The company insists it takes the safety and privacy of its users
seriously. MySpace says it has dedicated a third of its workforce to
policing the site 24 hours a day, and that it deletes anyone it
determines is under its minimum 14-years-old age limit. It removes any
inappropriate images it finds. The company also works with law
enforcement agencies, and has partnered with a nonprofit online safety
group called WiredSafety. You’ll find a page on the site for reporting inappropriate content.


Kevin Poulsen