Monday, August 07, 2006

NELMS article

My, My,

This is the connected generation. They are the “digital natives”. What defines them is the instant and continual access they have to one another across multiple media! The other day I asked my son to check up on a friend who I just found out was ill. He responded that he checked her AOL profile, discovered the nature of her illness, IM’d his friend for her cell number and already spoke to her and after sending her an electronic “get well soon” card from She was apparently doing better. My son is 14 and THIS is what we are dealing with.

Now along comes a dream tool for the ”tween” who is desperately wanting to connect with friends and control their own PR,. ( I know there are other social networking site but this appears to be the clear winner with middle schoolers at the moment.) If the need to stay connected with your peers is a burning fire, think of as lighter fluid!

What is it?, according to, is “an interactive, user-submitted network of blogs, profiles, groups, photos, MP3s, videos and an internal e-mail system.” It is fourth most popular web site in English on the web. As such, it is worth a lot of money to advertisers and has the likes of Rupert Murdoch sinking hundreds of millions of dollars into it. (580 million to be exact)

How does it work?

You sign up. Middle school kids usually lie about their age in order to get this right. The minimum age is 14 or older. Let’s just say it isn’t policed very well.

You create a profile page. Here you can say things about yourself, describe who you would like to meet, your interests and favorite movies and music. You can also provide personal info about yourself, your school , and your lifestyle. This is where it can, obviously, be dangerous for a non-savvy early adolescent. If a user doesn’t go to “account settings” and adjust their “privacy settings”, limiting their profile to “my friends only”, the whole world will have access to this profile. Other ”account settings” will allow you to change your password, set IM privacy settings, group settings and block certain users.

You then send the web address, or URL, of your MySpace page to your friends and relatives and they can apply to be your “friend”. The user then can approve these people and this “friend” then is granted additional abilities to interact with you. Control of this list of friends is essential to staying safe(r) while using the site. If you find that your child has hundreds of friends, I would dare say, they are probably too accepting.

What do kids do with this?

Basically kids use this to continue their in school rants, to flirt, to create a persona that they want the world to see, to stay connected, and sometimes to bully one another.

They also can use it as a form of social stratification by keeping some kids in or out of their “friend list”. You can select eight friends to appear on your “top 8” friends list within you r profile. These typically represent you best friends. I am SURE that more than one middle schooler has been found crying outside of a guidance counselor’s office over their removal from a friends “top 8” list.

Also, I have noticed that kids are using it as a way to distribute photos and movie clips. This is more worrisome due to the fact that it reveals way too much about the person and some of the photos can be inappropriate.

It is typically pretty innocuous. This is basic adolescent chatter, but as you would expect, kids will test the limits of this medium also.

How do you stay safe on this? actually posts a fairly reasonable set of safety tips on their web site. Click the words “safety tips” on the very bottom of the page and discuss these with you child. This is probably not the most visited section of the web site.

Here is what they say to parents, from their web site:

•Talk to your kids about why they use MySpace, how they communicate with others and how they represent themselves on MySpace.

• Kids shouldn't lie about how old they are. MySpace members must be 14 years of age or older. We take extra precautions to protect our younger members and we are not able to do so if they do not identify themselves as such. MySpace will delete users whom we find to be younger than 14, or those misrepresenting their age.

• MySpace is a public space. Members shouldn't post anything they wouldn't want the world to know (e.g., phone number, address, IM screen name, or specific whereabouts). Tell your children they should avoid posting anything that would make it easy for a stranger to find them, such as their local hangouts.
• Remind them not to post anything that could embarrass them later or expose them to danger. Although MySpace is public, teens sometimes think that adults can't see what they post. Tell them that they shouldn't post photos or info they wouldn't want adults to see.
• People aren't always who they say they are. Ask your children to be careful about adding strangers to their friends list. It's fun to connect with new MySpace friends from all over the world, but members should be cautious when communicating with people they don't know. They should talk to you if they want to meet an online friend in person, and if you think it's safe, any meeting should take place in public and with friends or a trusted adult present.

• Harassment, hate speech and inappropriate content should be reported. If your kids encounter inappropriate behavior, let them know that they can let you know, or they should report it to MySpace or the authorities.

In my opinion they are off the mark on their 5th bullet. In order to stay safe, DON’T add strangers as friends and DON’T meet people you do not know. Ever. Period. This has resulted in many terrible situations that we are all too aware of. I put my foot down on this aspect of social networking.

**If you decide that you don’t want to deal with this and want to delete your child’s profile they offer instructions for doing so at this address…** suggest that parents be reasonable and open and that they communicate often with their kids about this, They also recommend a central area for internet use in your house. (My own son doesn’t currently have, or need, web access in his room. Although, he could rig access to it from his PSP or cell phone. Drat!) Lastly, they suggest that you get your kids to share their MySpace page and profile.

As was reported recently on eSchoolNews, it is increasingly a part of the curriculum for incoming college freshman also, where the web site of choice is

What are some other opinions on this?

One one side. Gary Stager, the prolific ed tech writer and knock-out presenter, thinks we all just need to “grow up”(see He states, “Schools endanger the very students they seek to protect when they bubble-wrap kids and the curriculum.”

On the other hand, eSchool News on-line points out the increased need for discretion on-line, particularly while on sites like The article states, “Besides the obvious danger of posting personally identifying information, they say, the potential exists for embarrassing information to come back to bite students later in life when they apply for college or a job.”

The bottom Line

As the father of a 14 year old, this isn’t as easy for me. This isn’t some abstraction that I can easily be philosophical about. This is a reality for my son and his friends that I am already dealing with. As a parent, I have to wade through the “ick factor” on this to really understand this tool.

I also have to balance my need to provide a climate of trust with the necessity to play out my role as parent. My son knows that I read his page from time to time. I know that if I push too hard it would be easy for him (he’s a clever little bugger) to create an “underground profile” that he could keep changing that would keep me out of the loop. We currently live in a state of détente.

Have I confronted him with content that was posted on his page by his “friends”? Yes. The result has been some interesting conversations. I was able to pose questions like, “How did you feel about that posting?, “Why do you think he/she is portraying themselves in that way?, What do you think your mother and I expect from you?, How do you have your privacy settings set-up? Can you show me your friend list and tell me who each of these people are?”

Without my ability to have this conversation my son I would be more worried. But, frankly, I remain concerned. Does this mean that at some point in the future I won’t take away this ability to use this site if it is abused or it becomes too big a distraction. No Way! I still retain my ability to be the bad-guy. In my opinion, I have to, if I care about my son.

So, there is the frustrating dichotomy. The tension is between the need to provide a trusting environment in which my son can learn and grow and the need to provide a buffer zone of safety around him at all times.

What do you think? Respond below!!!

Additional resources:
Wikipedia Entry for


Judith Comfort said...

thanks for the terrific article. i am going to pass it on to some of my high school colleagues, along with a link and credit to your blog, of course!

Jim Forde said...

Thanks made my day.

jim :-)