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Parents Should Be Doing a Cyberspace Drive – By

Social Networks are Today’s Burger Joint

Published: September 1st., 2005

We had no shortage of after-school hangouts in my hometown. There was the corner candy store, Mario’s Pizza and the cavernous eating area of the 2nd Nathans ever opened. (A prize if you can guess where I’m from!)

Donning our white lipstick, go-go boots and long stringy hair (no prizes for guessing my age correctly) we hung out regularly. But because parents would “cruise by” and be all too happy to report what they saw to all of the other moms and dads we probably behaved better than we might have otherwise.

StudentCenter offers everything from auctions and games to public Q&A sessions.

Cyberspace is larger than the pizza place, but same principle applies. Parents need to pop in on sites like eCrush, Student Center and MySpace. Know what these sites look like, search for your child’s name, and for your school’s name. It’s not spying — these are open spaces, but it is keeping a watchful eye on potentially dangerous turf.

Social networking sites offer a place for teens to hang out and meet other teens. It’s ostensibly a great way to meet others who share your interests. On your first visit to a social networking site you are asked to fill out a profile about yourself.

A profile contains all sorts of personal information from the basics including name, gender, date of birth to photos on to more esoteric things like your life’s philosophy and whether you’re looking for true love or just another buddy.

Not for faint of heart, leafing through the profiles can be unnerving for parents. The photos are often very provocative. As you surf the profiles you’ll see lots of come hither looks, scanty clothing, tattoos and piercing and liquor bottles.

Most of the social networking sites segregate the participants by age. You can search for 13 year old boys or 18 year old girls. Some have age limits, though age limits on the internet are tough to enforce.

Soap Operas Pale in Comparison

Once you’ve completed your profile others can contact you and you can contact them in a chat-like manner. The conversations that ensue are often posted as chats. If you browse through the comments you’ll see that the subject often turns to gossip (who got drunk with whom and how drunk did they get), how boring life can be, or being jilted in love. Soap operas pale in comparison to the steamy stuff you can read on the site of a 14 or 15 year old girl.

After 5 minutes of browsing profiles it’s quite likely that you’ll come across at list one Dylan Kleibold type of profile — someone filled with hate and venom, and a dark view of life.

Three Drive By Visits eCrush

By far the tamest of the three, the premise of the site is that you can send an anonymous email to someone that you have a crush on. That person, in turn, is asked to create a list of their crushes. If you turn up on their “crush” list then you’ve got hope; if not, move on.

Except for some bruised feelings from rejection, this site is harmless enough. But, another area on the site called eSpin the Bottle lets you meet people in cyberspace by creating personal profiles. It’s clear from the profiles that the kids on this site are young (ages 13-17).

According to the site’s founders the staff of eCrush has some safety guidelines in place; they review everything before posting and is trained on how to spot problems. Still, it’s pretty trivial for a 65 year old man, for example, to pose an 18 year old guy looking for love.

MySpace is the largest of the social network sites with some 27 million members. It began life as a space for undiscovered musicians to create profiles and be heard but today it houses profiles of anyone who wants to be a member. Members post homepages that contain photos, favorite oxymorons, blogs and stories of their life. They link their pages to their friends pages.

Theoretically you must be 18 to put up a profile page on Myspace, though that does not seem to stop anyone from joining.

MySpace gives you tools to personalize your profile pages.

In a few moments of browsing profiles I read a data rape alert about a bar in Pittsburgh , a few suicidal type notes, and a lot of notes from people who had been very drunk recently. Recently Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation bought the site from its two founders. calls itself the online community for college students, high school students, and teens. It is perhaps the most misleading and vast of the bunch. It’s misleading because it has nothing to do with student center-like activities and the .org makes you think there’s some not-for-profit element. It’s vastness includes a casino and auction sites where you can spend points that you’ve earned online doing various things. A Hotties area let’s you vote on various profiles; you can join groups that share similar interests to yours; play video games and even read advice columns in a modern-day Ann Landers style. In a marketing savvy twist, members can join panels to participate in studies, while reaps the benefit of having assembled a youth panel for marketers to study.

Profile pages show that lots of very young (12-14 year olds) are on the site, and in addition to posting photos, favorite movies and music and other personal information, other members can ask you a series of personal questions. A large number of the questions are sexually explicit and so are the answers.

Real or Memorex

Of course not all of these words and all of these photos and all of this blatant sexual chatter may not be real. Teens, we know, will try on personalities. Online or off, they like to boast of their conquests and they exaggerate their “coolness”. Still, it’s guaranteed that if your child knew that you’d be reading their profiles and the intimate details of their lives, they’d tone it way down. And that is probably a good thing.

High Schools administrators have begun lurking on these sites to make sure that their school reputation remains untarnished. Parents are starting to log on to see what the fuss is all about. Parents have always had to reign their kids in and one of the most effective ways of doing this has always been the unannounced “drop in”. Cyberspace needed be any different.