Current Online Trends

Online transparency with regards to one’s personal life has become more and more pervasive over the past few years. With the evolution of the Internet and its capabilities has come the ability to find out almost anything about someone online. There are some specific venues that can be particularly dangerous for teens because of the information these sites allow and encourage them to post about themselves. Parents should be educated on these sites and on what they offer their users. As a parent, you don’t necessarily have to restrict your teen from using them, but you should definitely know what they’re used for and who uses them. On this page we’ll provide you with information about some of the most popular sites teenagers are using today.

MySpace

How It Works

MySpace is an online social networking site driven by music and housing nearly 50,000,000 members of all ages around the world. It is, in fact, the most popular website in the world. With all of the negative press surrounding the site in recent months, it is important to understand the facts, dangers and myths being passed from the media to parents and families.

Registering for a MySpace account is free and requires only a legitimate email address to activate. Currently, the registrant must be 14 years or older, however, no method is in place to verify birthdates. Upon successful registration, the new user can add a profile picture, photo album, bio and contact information along with their interests and also, where they go to school. Profiles also include a blog, or journal, where the user can write anything they wish for their friends to see.

A MySpace profile revolves around friends, or a collection of other MySpace profiles belonging to other people grouped and linked to and from the user's page. Most of the communication happening between MySpace users is with their respective friends. Finding friends is easy. Once the user has set up their profile, they are able to use the site's search function to seek out classmates, friends and celebrities by name, email or screen name. Once the user has found a profile, they can send that person a "Friend Request". The next time the person logs on to their profile, they are notified of this request and can either approve or deny it. Users can also send friend requests while browsing profile of the user they'd like to befriend, using a button in place on every profile.

Once the user has sent and received friend requests that have been approved, they have created their network. Users continue to add friends as time goes on, and can remove friends at any time. These friends are allowed to place comments on the user's profile, which are viewable to any person visiting the user's profile. They can also send private messages through the site's email system, which are seen only by the user.

While most activity on MySpace is between friends, profiles are public domain and can be viewed by any person surfing the web. Because of the obvious risks involved with this, MySpace's administration has imposed many restrictions to secure users. In order to use the site's search function, the searcher must be registered with the site. In addition, any unregistered user is may view a profile, but cannot view the user's photo album. While, as mentioned earlier, MySpace registrants must be 14 years old, users under 16 years old must have a private profile. This means that surfers who are not on the user's friend list only see the user's screen name, location and picture when visiting the profile. All other information is hidden. Of course, this security restriction is flawed - MySpace has no way of validating the actual age of the user. To provide higher security to any user, MySpace allows privacy for any profile at the user's request.

Talking to your Teen

It is a common fact that most teens, whether you know it or not, are MySpace members and actively nurture their profile. Most likely, they share contact information, pictures and thoughts with friends from school and other activities. Most, in fact, view their profile as a status symbol.

As a parent, the entire concept of MySpace may be confusing or worrisome. It is understandable that you may feel inclined to completely ban your teen from the site! The truth is, however, that with the Internet being as accessible as it is, it is possible that they will access the site from other locations, other than your home. Even if you force your teen to cancel their membership, it is entirely possible that they will create a new profile and continue to use it. As prevalent as Myspace is through the teenage culture, parents must communicate with their teens and come to a compromise.

Chat Rooms and Message Boards

Today's Internet is becoming more and more interactive. Most television stations, celebrities and musicians have websites with pictures, information and more importantly, message board communities. Sue Scheff and other parents at P.U.R.E. have also met parents who have used message boards to communicate with other parents.

In the early days of the Internet, many people used chat rooms to message each other nearly instantly. Now that Instant Messenger services such as AIM, MSN Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger are available, chat rooms have become nearly extinct.

Message boards are different from chat rooms. In a chat room, users register and talk to other users in nearly real time through an interactive client on a website dedicated to only chatting. A message board is a part of a larger site, such as the website for TV channel MTV, and consists of a forum for registered users to leave messages, or posts about the site's subject. These messages do not use an interactive client for real time display and reply, but instead work as a virtual cork board for messages to be left, read, and replied to by other users. In both cases, anyone can register for an account with little to no validation, and any member can communicate with any member.

Many teens enjoy visiting message boards on the sites of their favorite celebrities, and participate in conversation with other fans. Most message boards have moderators; hired by the site's administrators to "police" the behavior of posters. These moderators are able to delete inappropriate posts and ban violating members.

While chat rooms and message boards can provide a great platform upon which teens can come together and share information and experiences, they are also dangerous when it comes to taking responsibility for actions. In real life, when we say certain things or exhibit certain behavior, we are aware of the consequences of those actions. We know that what we do is being showcased in public and we therefore, for the most part, censor ourselves in order to avoid reprimand and disagreement from peers. In reality, we are responsible for our words and actions and own them on a daily basis, whether we are at work, school, or just hanging out with friends.

The Internet gives us a medium upon which we often feel we can act in any way we please without having to face any repercussions. Though this essentially isn’t true, teens are at times lured in by the anonymity of the web, enticed by the idea that they can say anything to anyone without consequences. In a sense, the Internet takes away the idea of taking responsibility for one’s own actions. This is perhaps one of the most appealing facets of it, yet also one of the riskiest. Part of maturing has to do with being able to recognize faults and mistakes and having to make up for them in the best ways possible. If we remove the idea of accountability, then we also take away a teen’s ability to mentally and emotionally develop fully.

Instant Messaging Clients

Many teens today are using Instant Messaging Clients, interactive, real time chatting interfaces, which are downloaded and accessed directly from the computer's hard drive. There are 6 main companies providing this service: Microsoft (MSN Instant Messenger), AOL (AIM Instant Messenger) Yahoo (Yahoo Instant Messenger), Skype, ICQ and Google (Gmail email messenger). In any case, the client can be logged in to with the user's ID and password. They can then send "instant messages" back and forth between friends, who must be added by the user.

Because these clients are contained on your home computer, it is easy to keep an eye on your teen's activity. Often, teens will use instant messengers to talk with their friends much like they would over the telephone. They can talk to many other users at the same time, and have conversations between groups of people. It is generally safe, especially when the computer is kept in a visible and safe place. Parents who are concerned about teens using instant messengers while they are home alone might allow the installation of the software only on the computer's administrative account, which can be password protected.

Online Video Gaming

As more and more American households purchase home computers and game systems such as the Nintendo Wii, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, kids, teens and parents are getting in to gaming. For many families, game systems are shared and can be an enjoyable family activity. Some teens enjoy spending time with brain-intensive games made for solo play. With the new generation of gaming systems and PC's, players are even able to log on to the Internet and play games with fellow gaming strangers around the world. While many are able to have healthy relationships with video games, too many teens are finding themselves stuck inside this virtual reality, especially when it comes to online, multi-player games.

Because there have been numerous articles and websites published on the popular games out today, we won't go in to details on titles here. If you are looking for information on certain games, we suggest Ask About Games , a site complied of rating and game information just for parents.

Facebook

Facebook has perhaps become one of the most, if not the most, popular social networking site on the Net. Facebook experiences hundreds of thousands of sign-ups per day. It was developed by a college student, and is run largely by young people, so it’s always updating and keeping up with current trends. On this forum, users create a profile with their information on it. They have the option to post a photo of themselves, provide contact information, showcase religious and political views, favorite music, movies, and books, and even create photo albums.

The social aspect of Facebook is its most enticing feature, as it allows users to keep in touch with friends via several different applications. A user may add someone as a friend and that person must confirm that he or she is a friend. The ways to communicate and have your voice heard are ten-fold. For one, Facebook features an application called a “wall,” or the section on each person’s profile that allows his or her friends to make comments. Comments are largely not monitored by Facebook, so wall comments can often be obscene and contain vulgarity or references to other profane material. In addition to the wall, Facebook has also introduced “Facebook Chat,” an instant messenger service a user can utilize while logged in to Facebook. The site also allows its users to send and receive messages from each other, just as an email client would.

Like any online social network, Facebook can and does pose problems for teens if they aren’t careful. It is open to anyone, so the clientele spans across many age groups, schools, and other networks. However, Facebook does offer privacy options, and parents should inform their child of the dangers of not employing these privacy settings. There are settings that can make it so that only a user’s friends can view his or her profile. According to one’s preferences, he or she can set his privacy options so the profile is as protected as possible. As long as these settings are in use, Facebook is a safe and friendly way to keep in touch with friends.

Photobucket and Flickr

Photobucket and Flickr are two websites that allow users to upload photos and share them with other users. They can be categorized under the social network grouping because they permit members to make comments and, much like Facebook and Myspace, add friends. Users are also encouraged to make comments on other peoples’ photos. Photobucket and Flickr are potentially less dangerous than other actual social networks because their main purpose isn’t to create connections between users; rather, the main goal is to present an online platform where people can host all of their digital photos in a neat and organized fashion. Sharing and commenting between friends is merely an option of both services. However, sometimes, teens will join the site solely for displaying party pictures or photos of them essentially testing the limits of their adolescence. Again, privacy settings are the key to preventing these types of dangerous situations from occurring.

Both Photobucket and Flickr offer their users privacy settings like those featured by Facebook and Myspace. Flickr’s “Privacy and Permissions” page allows a member to decide who can download and share their photos and videos, who can print their photos, and who can blog their material. It also allows users to decide if they want their profile or photos to appear in searches. Flickr’s privacy options are extensive and, if used to their extent, can provide a secure environment on which teenagers can safely post and share their media.

Photobucket’s privacy settings are a bit less extensive than Flickr’s, but they can still provide a good deal of protection nonetheless. The “Album Settings” section allows a user to decide whether or not to make an album public or private. If the member chooses the private setting, that profile will not be made available on any Photobucket search and will not be viewable by anyone but that person’s friends. Both of these sites can be perfectly safe for teenage use if used in the correct way.