Be careful not to give teenagers too much space

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Selma Times-Journal

My sister-in-law is 14-years-old, but acts as if she just turned 21. Barbie Dolls are as far away from her mind as G.I. Joe’s are from mine. Her priorities are on boys, boys and oh yeah, boys. A few lessons I have learned from her are boy, have times changed and more importantly, if my wife and I ever have a girl I am in big trouble.

I remember when she was seven or eight and she was the sweetest little girl in the world. She sang in church every week and had a heart of gold. Her heart still has a sweet spot, but the singing is over and her youthfulness has transitioned into full-blown teenager-ism. While visiting with us, I learned about MySpace.com. What I learned scared me as I looked over her shoulder viewing some of the profiles of her friends – both boys and girls. I was astonished. When I was a kid we didn’t use the Internet as a tool to meet friends, but it seems the Internet is the only source for many of the kids now to find that special someone.

If you have a teenager, a computer and Internet access, most likely you have heard about MySpace.com. If you haven’t heard of it, you could bet that your kids have browsed the millions of profiles on the site. They more than likely have their own profile on the site where they have given out personal information for all to see.

The site allows the users to provide information about themselves such as their birthdays, favorite colors, and hobby’s, schools, what kind of cars they drive and even their favorite foods. To a young kid all this seems as innocent as saying “hi” to a stranger, but some people could and would use that information for ill purposes.

Just a few weeks ago a 16-year-old Michigan girl was persuaded by a man on MySpace.com to catch a flight to the country of Jericho. Fortunately for the girl and her family, authorities found the young woman and persuaded her to return home, without taking the chances of flying across the world to meet someone she developed a relationship with on the Web site. She was on her way to meet someone she believed to be a 25-year-old male friend. However, that still is yet to be seen, since her travels were cut short.

This situation isn’t the first and won’t be the last. Dateline NBC has done numerous shows describing the horrors of perpetrators using the Web to lure their next victim. Although meant solely to be a “fun” place for kids and adults to meet people with similar interests, those who have other ideas have found another haven to procure their illegal natures.

The fad has even hit home with teachers and even church youth directors, all who have begun creating their own accounts to give them the ability to view profiles of their students and members. The profiles allow younger kids to lie about their age, display provocative pictures and send the message that they are more mature than most parents would ever approve of.

The Internet, when not used properly is a tool for culprits to prey on innocent kids.

Sadly, there are going to be more instances like the 16-year-old girl in Michigan, but they won’t all have happy endings like her situation did.

Unfortunately, it will probably take someone losing their life before more attention is given to securing this site from others to use for the wrong reasons.

As for parents, we have a responsibility to know what our children are doing. According to some, the only way to keep the young people safe from online predators is to keep them off-line. Some have even said that putting a profile on a site like MySpace.com is like putting a sheep in a coral of wolves.

Some basic rules of keeping your kids safe are to put password protection on the computers in your home, regulating what sites your kids can access. Another option is to have a family computer, out of the bedrooms of the kids. This keeps them more honest as it relates to where they are spending their time on the Internet.

I’d like to think that 99 percent of the kids on the site are doing it just for fun, but it sure scares me. I’d much rather have my sister-in-law spending her time doing other things than updating her profile on MySpace.com, but I may just be an old fogy. I guess, though, I’d rather be safe than sorry.

Jesse Lindsey is publisher of The Times-Journal.