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* Thursday, September 14, 2006

Rational US News Article on MySpace

Good US News & World Report article on MySpaceI was hesitant to buy the latest issue of U.S. News & World Report because the cover story is about What Parents Need to Know about MySpace: Your Guide to a Kid’s World on the Internet, but in the end I figured it would be good fodder for a blog post about hyperbole in the media. My eyes started rolling on page 48 when I read, “To many parents, who may have gotten an eyeful of its sometimes titillating profiles and photos, MySpace seems like Lake Wobegon gone horribly wrong: a place where all the women are fast, the men are hard-drinking, and the children take an above-average interest in imitating them.”

However, the further I read, the more my eyebrows arched in surprise, impressed with both the content and the tone of the article. I highly recommend it, and I think every public library director should make sure her board members and staff read it. In fact, I’d love to see a collaboration between ALA , state library associations or libraries, or even just local libraries with U.S. News to distribute the article to parents through libraries. It only mentions the Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA) in passing, but it helps illustrate that parents can do far more than this legislation ever would and that online social networking is now a fact of life. It would be like banning email, which you’ll notice Congress isn’t debating, even though it’s a form of online social networking. Hmmmmm….

As Stephen Abram said at the South Carolina Public Library Technology Institute yesterday in response to a question about this legislation, we don’t teach our kids to drive by removing all of the roads.

“Parenting in this virtual world doesn’t require a whole new set of skills, though a little technological savvy sure doesn’t hurt. What it does require is a willingness to pay attention, ask a lot of questions, and set some rules and stick by them, even at the risk of making your kids mad at you-familiar parenting territory.

But too often, that’s not happening. Parents who would never allow their child to go to a party unless they knew that an adult would be present let their kids pilot themselves through the online world without any supervision whatsoever. A June survey of 267 pairs of teens and parents in the Los Angeles metropolitan area by a psychology professor at California State University-Dominguez Hills found that two thirds of parents had never talked with their teen about their MySpace use, and 38 percent of them had never seen their child’s MySpace profile. ‘Parents are chicken,’ says Parry Aftab, an Internet privacy lawyer and executive director of WiredSafey.org, a nonprofit aimed at keeping kids safe online that has trained 450 teenagers in online safety and sends them out to speak to schools and other groups. ‘They don’t understand the technology, so they’re reluctant to get involved.’

But this is not the time to give in to your inner technophobe. You may have never sent an instant message, uploaded a video, or written a blog, but you can help your kids develop the judgment to better protect their safety online and set standards that will help guide their behavior. This is especially important since legislation that recently passed the House of Representatives and is currently under consideration by the Senate would ban social-networking sites from schools and libraries, leaving parents as the only consistent adult arbiter of their children’s day-to-day social-networking behavior.”

The article goes on to make specific recommendations for talking to your kids about MySpace and similar sites, and it explains that how the term “friends” online is very different for kids than it is for adults. There’s even a great graphic that dissects a sample MySpace account and warns what to watch for. It’s interesting that the author listed a few specific, online applications, and I’d love to see public libraries pick up on that. This article could be the basis for a lecture (or better yet, a hands-on class) for parents to help them proactively help their children online. Why not let them play with instant messaging, uploading video, and writing blog posts on the library’s computers? Let’s partner with Wired Safety to train more kids in more communities and grow this resource. What better way to help educate and connect them to their kids’ online worlds, while also showing that parents don’t need to rely on government to raise their kids?

Since a form of the House's DOPA legislation may still come up in the Senate during the current session, it’s important librarians understand the impact of this type of legislation. ALA is working on a couple of things that I’ll point to soon, but if you haven’t been tracking this or have only heard the hype about the issue, please make sure you read this article (and its sidebars). ALA’s Washington Office has been great in educating me that the language of these bills is really more about banning “interactive web applications” from school and library computers, not just “social networking” sites or MySpace. It’s much broader than most people realize. You might not use – or even understand why someone else would use – MySpace, but everyone online uses interactive web applications. Remember, one of the legislators voting on your use of “interactive web applications” in a public library is the same person that thinks those applications would be delivered via internet tubes.

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