Myspace, your kids
Myspace.com, the online gathering place, has been in the news lately. So, we thought we'd see whether Vineyard teenagers had joined up for some of the Myspace action. And indeed they have, as this morning's special report by freelance writer and editor Nis Kildegaard and Times News Editor Nelson Sigelman shows. The Times devoted considerable resources to the preparation of this collection of reports, because we think many parents may be unacquainted with this web-wide electronic dialog that, for all its privacy safeguards, is actually open to all.
If you are one of those parents who've visited Myspace to see what it's all about, or perhaps visited your son or daughter's outpost on Myspace, your reaction may be along the lines of, "So, what else is new?" Or, maybe you've helped your adolescent compose her Myspace debut. It's just kids being kids, the kid-worn parent may say. None of what Mr. Kildegaard and Mr. Sigelman have discovered will surprise you. But, if that is your reaction, we suspect you are the exception.
Rather, like many other parents, perhaps you thought Joe or Jan was just upstairs, online, doing homework research. So, won't you be surprised by what you find on this Internet meeting place that is so inviting to secondary school and post-secondary school boys and girls? And, if you are the parents of younger children, you may regard this morning's review of the participation of Vineyard young people in the Myspace phenomenon as a heads-up for what lies in store.
Of course, kids like to get together with other kids. And, kids like to kid around. Just because a Martha 's Vineyard Regional High School sophomore girl poses in her underwear and describes how she got trashed on beer and weed over the weekend, it doesn't mean she actually did. Did she?
It's not easy duty for a parent to evaluate Myspace and a beloved child's participation in it. It's easy to misjudge what one sees, to find pathologies where there are just high spirits and tomfoolery, to see grave threats where there is just silly posturing by your kid in the online company of dozens of kids just like him - or, more likely, her.
Then there's the danger lurking in online acquaintanceships between young people and unknown others whose intentions may be horrifying. Such connections and the criminal activity associated with them are all too common in the news these days. Nevertheless, in fact, the incidence of such headline-making collisions between innocent youth and predatory adult remain rare enough that other concerns ought to occupy the attention of parents. Modern teenagers, including Vineyard high school students, are sophisticated and intelligent enough to evaluate the risks presented by online travel beyond their familiar circle of friends, family, teachers, coaches, and community. They like to think of themselves as global citizens, sharing a cultural perspective with peers across the country and around the world. They also have a sense of drama. They take pleasure in posing, not necessarily as the kids they are but as the kids they might like, but don't dare, to be. And they are savvy enough to expect that the Myspace friends they make may not be everything their web presences pretend they are. At least, that is what one hopes.
So, this glimpse of teenage, online life makes a complicated puzzle for parents. Putting the pieces together will require considerable due diligence by mom and dad. There are so many questions: Why more girls than boys? Why are so many of the images sleazy, purposefully sleazy and meant to be erotically charged? Why do kids see themselves that way and want others to do the same? Or, are they just dressing up, on stage, in a one-girl show? Is it just a hoot? Why is much of the commentary coarse and tasteless? Why are the lovely, young, unlined faces leering? Why is the girl sucking on a pipe? Is this just their business, and should we just let them alone with their friends?
Are these kids on Myspace the kids or children we thought we knew, but don't know well at all?