Hanging Online



Estimated Reading Time 3 Minutes
Heather Butler’s 12-year-old daughter Emily spends an hour a day on the family computer. She chats on MSN Instant Messenger with her friends from school, surfs popular Websites and works on her homework all at the same time. She recently asked her mom if she could join MySpace, an increasingly popular social networking Website where some of her friends are members.
Emily wants to create a profile that describes her hobbies, interests, and favourite music, movies, books and TV shows, and wants to be able to share her photos, join common interest groups and message her friends online. Her mom is a bit worried.

“Kids don’t understand how public it is. I told her she is not getting an account. I still have some control, and by the time I don’t, hopefully she will have the Internet smarts,” Heather says.

The situation at Butler’s house is similar to many across the country. (Children these days are predisposed to being Internet savvy.) Statistics Canada reports that three out of four households with school-aged children regularly access the Internet. And the latest trend of youth using online networks to communicate is remarkable. A 2006 American survey found that 55 percent of children aged 12 to 17 use social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, and 41 percent of 12- and 13-year-olds have created a profile on one of these Websites. Kids are spending less time hanging out at malls and parks and more time in ‘virtual’ hangouts where they can chat with old and new friends all over the world.

ONLINE NETWORKING 101
MySpace and Facebook are the two most popular networking sites. If the statistics are right, your child probably has a profile on one of these sites (maybe both), and if they don’t now they soon will. Joining these networks is simple – all you need is an e-mail address. MySpace says it does not allow anyone under 14 to join, yet there is no enhanced security to ensure young children can’t sign up. With over 100 million users, MySpace is the largest online network that allows members to update their personal information, message friends, post videos and photos, and write journal entries. They can also design and redecorate their pages to put their own personal touch on their profile.

Facebook is the more traditional networking site of the two. Originally set up for college students, it now has over 20 million members and is open to anyone with an e-mail address. Users cannot put their own style onto their profile – each person’s page looks identical – but they can message friends, update their profile, write notes and post pictures just like on MySpace.

WHAT IS YOUR CHILD DOING ON THESE SITES?
The simple answer is this: they’re hanging out. Most of their time is spent chatting with friends. Instead of spending a couple of hours talking on the phone to one friend, children are spending two hours or more talking over the Internet to multiple friends. They are socially multi-tasking. They’re also surfing the net, reading up on their favourite actors, musicians and TV shows.

WHAT YOU CAN DO
Get involved. Learn the ins and outs of these networking sites. Both Facebook (facebook.com) and MySpace (myspace.com) let you take a tour of their sites where you can find out how to join, who can join and how much personal information you have to provide to join. Become a member yourself.

• Set up your own account.
• Look at your child’s profile and ensure it’s set to ‘private’.
• Make sure they aren’t posting personal information (such as address or phone).
• See if they have any strangers as their friends.

Joining the ‘online network revolution’ allows you to keep in touch with your kids whenever you’re away. Who knows? They may even tell you things over the Internet that they wouldn’t tell you over dinner.

The best way to ensure your child is using these sites safely is to get educated.

Talk to your children about what they’re doing on the computer.

Set rules on the amount of time they can spend on the computer and what Websites they can visit. PC

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