Parents get primer on pitfalls of social Web sites like MySpace.com: Told to 'Spy. Spy. Spy' on their children (South Florida Sun-Sentinel)
Wednesday October 11th, 2006
Weston · Parents, it's OK to be nosy and snoop through your kids' diaries -- their cyber diaries.
That was the message delivered by the Broward Sheriff's Office on Tuesday during a MySpace.com safety seminar at Everglades Elementary School in Weston, the first in a countywide effort to educate parents about the pitfalls of popular networking Web sites.
"Spy. Spy. Spy," Sgt. Anthony DeMarco told the crowd of about 40 parents, school administrators and district officials. "Your parents did it to you. Now, it's your turn."
But instead of flipping through the pages of a book hidden under a mattress, today's parents must look through virtual journals. Some go so far as to hire computer technicians to rummage through hard drives.
DeMarco encouraged parents to talk to their children. Ask which Web sites they visit. Tell them which sites they can visit and which they can't. Watch Web addresses. Block the bad ones.
"Children are a lot less likely to be doing inappropriate things if they know at any time someone can look over their shoulders," he said.
About 21 million, or 87 percent, of 12- to 17-year-olds use the Internet, according to a 2005 survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. About a third of teens say they have Web pages or blogs (online journals), the survey said.
"You can make this your full-time endeavor, to monitor what your kids are doing in cyberspace," said Rae White, of Weston, who has children in high school, middle school and elementary school. MySpace.com is a free, 3-year-old Internet site used by more than 17 million bloggers to create Web diaries, complete with pictures, videos and personal thoughts. Some of the Web pages are mundane. Others are raunchy, highlighting sex, drugs and violence.
There are other social-networking sites popular with teens, such as Club Penguin, Friendster and Facebook.com. Users create profiles, have buddy lists and can invite some people to view their Web pages and block others from seeing them.
"Where we would go to a party or mixer to meet people, [kids] sit in their room typing," DeMarco said. "There's a generational gap."
The idea to educate parents about the dangers of social Web sites formed last year after a seminar on Internet safety that DeMarco presented at Cypress Bay High School in Weston. When the seminar ended, DeMarco said, about 25 parents approached and asked: "What about MySpace?"
Parents wanted to know things like how to find their child's profile, what a blog is and how to block people from looking at the site. "It's really confusing," said Katia Iole, of Weston, who has deleted her seventh-grader's MySpace Web page several times. Mom said she discovered the contraband page by snooping. When Iole turned on the computer, the site popped up as her daughter's home page.
On Tuesday, she learned about a new tool -- eBlaster. It's a computer program that secretly forwards to parents copies of e-mails and instant messages their children send. The program costs $100 to $150.
"I'm going to move to the Amazon -- no network, no Internet," Iole quipped.