Friday, January 19, 2007

RM January 5th - Teens acting safely on internet

A UNIVERSITY study carried out in the States has found that most teenagers who use social networking site MySpace.com do so responsibly however the study also revealed there are still some areas of concern where our young people are leaving themselves vulnerable.

I have written about the dangers of Bebo and MySpace before and whilst I do not wish ever to give the impression that I think they are bad news and dangerous, I don’t. But I do know the information that is available on young people on these sites does raise cause for concern.

The lure of these sites are huge for lots of people and teenagers are no exception. Firstly they can decorate their homepages reflecting their personality. They can meet up online and chat with their pals. They can post pictures, upload music and generally be very creative with their pages.

They are so popular that your teen might be asked by their schoolmates for their Bebo homepage before being asked for their phone number.

There have been fears and scaremongering about the dangers of sites such as Bebo and MySpace, and while many of these do have some basis in reality, there are certainly many educational benefits to the sites and the vast majority of uses will not experience anything negative using the site. However this depends on the savyiness of the young person using them and does not take into account the growing incidences of bullying using these sites.

While I welcome the findings of the American study, you only have to have a look at young people’s profiles on Bebo to know there are still many, many young people giving away too much personal information on the internet. Or where 13 and 14-year-old girls give themselves names like sexygirl or lovekitten. That’s just too suggestive to me and completely inappropriate language for young teens. It is one thing to chat like that with pals, it is another kettle of fish posting it online for all and sundry to see.

The study found that half of teenagers in the study posted their pictures online, many also provided details descriptions of themselves, while 15 per cent included suggestive pictures of their friends.

It appears however that the safety message is getting through to young people with more than 90 per cent with public profiles not including their full name in the profiles. 40 per cent of teenagers kept their pages completely private to everyone bar their friends.

I’d like to say that you can see these more safety-conscious trends on the Irish teenager’s pages on Bebo. You can’t. We can see names, photographs, where they like to go, who their friends are. A wealth of information that really should not be put out into the internet is out there.

The best way to deal with your child using sites like Bebo and MySpace is to talk to them about the dangers and about what they should and should not be revealing on the internet. Banning your child from using these sites will not work, informing them and therefore arming them with the appropriate information is far more constructive.

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2 comments:

Bernie said...

I was impressed by the sophisticated understanding of Bebo and MySpace revealed in several projects at the BT Young Scientist Exhibition last week. In fact, some of the teenagers had a better perspective than a few of the pundits babbling on national radio about the topic.

Red Mum said...

I saw that too and was also very impressed with the fact that some of them were researching the very same issue of safety.

The exhibition and the young wans taking part were all very impressive. It all looked like mighty craic.