MySpace requires users to be 14 to become registered members, but it relies on users to be honest in reporting their age. MySpace does have an outlet for reporting underage users, but the company still must attempt to verify users’ ages before deleting their accounts.
NCMEC panelists said a key problem that parents have in dealing with their children’s MySpace use is that teenagers will not always do as they are told.
Stephen Carrick-Davies, chief executive officer of Childnet International, reminded the NCMEC conference of Crane’s Rule: “There are three ways to get something done: do it yourself, hire someone, or forbid your kids to do it.”
Others at the NCMEC event suggested that if teens aren’t allowed on MySpace or the other big social networking sites, they will find ways to meet online through other, less secure venues.
Some parents are taking a proactive approach to the perceived MySpace problem, using technology to monitor their teens’ Internet use. There is software that can show parents which sites their teens have visited and others that can track individual MySpace profiles.
But Tim Lordan, the executive director and counsel of the Internet Education Foundation, asked attendees at the NCMEC conference: “What kind of relationship do you set with your teens once you start spying on them?”
Mr. Nigam took a different approach, saying that “what’s really important is that parents engage in a dialogue with their teens,” regardless of the method they use.
Mr. Nigam also said that MySpace is developing pamphlets for parents and user manuals for law-enforcement officials, so that older generations can understand the best approach to keeping children safe.
But some noted the importance of old-fashioned communication.
Ernie Allen, the president and CEO of NCMEC, closed last week’s conference by saying: “If parents aren’t telling their kids they love them, someone on the Internet will.”
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