More than half of teens who use the social networking site MySpace have posted information about sexual behavior, substance abuse or violence, new research shows.
About half of all teens who use the Internet also use social networking sites, such as MySpace and Facebook. MySpace boasts more than 200 million profiles, according to the studies, and about one-quarter of those belong to teens under 18.
Two studies have appeared in the January 2009 issue of the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine which showed 54% of the profiles contained information on risky behaviors, with 24% referencing sexual behaviors, 41% referring to substance abuse and 14% posting violent information.
Apparently the kids were more into opening themselves up to each other than they were about safety. None of the kids posting such details were thinking a few years ahead, when potential employers might look at these social networking sites (because site are cached by Google and the other big search engines, nothing ever written on the Net is gone, even when deleted).
In one of the studies, the researchers randomly selected 190 profiles of people between 18 and 20 who displayed risky behaviors, such as sexual information. Half were sent an e-mail from a physician that pointed out that the physician had noticed risky behavior on their profile and suggested changing the displayed information. The e-mail message also provided information on where to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases.
Almost 14% of those who got the e-mail deleted references to sexual behavior, compared with 5% of the others.
So at least some were listening.
“This was a creative and unique way to reach kids,” said Kimberly Mitchell, the author of an accompanying editorial in the same issue of the journal and a research professor at the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire in Durham.
Mitchell advised parents not to try to forbid their children from using these sites altogether. “It’s important for parents to understand how important these social networking sites are to kids,” she said. “They’re here to stay, and they’re not all evil. There can be some really positive aspects to these sites… Teens live in the here and now, so parents need to talk to kids about the longer-term impacts and help them think through some of the repercussions.”
Moreno suggested that parents ask teens to show them their MySpace or Facebook pages. “Teens will definitely balk, but they balk at lots of things, like curfews,” she said. “Some parents feel it’s a violation of privacy, like reading a diary, but it’s out there, it’s public.”
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