Island moms surprised by what they see
At The Times' invitation, on Monday four Island mothers joined writer Nis Kildegaard for a virtual tour of Myspace.com. It was the first time Michelle Moore, Sarah Aliberti, Debby Simon, and Sheila Morse had visited the website.
The tour began with a look at a page belonging to S., a young girl from Edgartown whose posting Mr. Kildegaard described as typical of what is found on Myspace. Clicking on the photo gallery brought up several photos of S. in her prom gown.
Next was a view of a page belonging to a young girl from Vineyard Haven who had posted a photo of herself displaying her tattoos.
"Oh my-gosh," said Ms. Simon of Oak Bluffs, the mother of girls ages 7 and 11.
Clicking on another link brought up a photo of G. of Edgartown holding a small pipe. The four women looked intently at the image on the screen.
"Oh nice, smoking a pipe," said Ms. Simon. "So she wouldn't mind if her parents saw that?"
A search for pages posted by people within the high school zip code brought up 409 participants. Using more narrow search criteria of the regional high school brought up 246 pages, not all necessarily current students.
"Where are the boys?" asked Ms. Aliberti of West Tisbury, the mother of two young boys, ages 2 and 6.
Mr. Kildegaard said the majority of pages belong to girls. A quick review of pages belonging to boys revealed the underlying themes to be sports, dogs, and cars. A photo taken by one boy of three friends standing in front of the urinals in the high school bathroom prompted the women to laugh.
But the mood turned more serious as Ms. Aliberti read a post from N, of Oak Bluffs, who listed her age as 18 but provided a birth date that identified her age as 15, describing the depressing circumstances of her life and her desire to get drunk.
Ms. Morse said she was surprised, given all of the media attention focused on the risks of online interactions, that young people would be so careless about providing private information on the Internet.
Providing some context, Mr. Kildegaard brought up a page used by a young woman to highlight her literary pursuits. Asked for their reactions to what they had seen on Myspace, the four Island mothers agreed that some of it was disturbing.
"It was an eye opener," said Ms. Simon.
"You would think they would be a little more reserved about what they are putting out there in the public eye," Ms. Morse said.
All of the women agreed that, as with so many other parenting challenges, the first line of defense is parental involvement.
"Parts of it are really scary," said Ms. Moore, the mother of two young girls. " I mean it makes me want to go home and make sure I keep talking to my kids so communication stays open forever.
"I'd like to know at what point the parents stopped being involved in the kid's life so they don't know their daughter has pictures of herself in her underwear."