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A startling discovery: Teens listen to adults

Submitted by on Tuesday, 6 January 2009 No Comment
Ordinarily, I don't cotton to snoops, and a snoop crossed with a meddler is even worse.

But God love Dr. Megan Moreno and her snooping, meddling soul.

As part of a study into Internet use among lower-income teens, Moreno poked into 190 MySpace profiles that included references to sex, drinking, drug use or smoking.

She contacted half of the account holders and, three months later, 42 percent of those she emailed had made profile changes she gently suggested.

"You seemed to be quite open about sexual issues or other behaviors such as drinking or smoking," The Associated Press quoted her message as saying. "Are you sure that's a good idea? ... You might consider revising your page to better protect your privacy."

Note to self: Set up a MySpace account for Big Guy and ask "Dr. Meg" to email him and say he might want to consider eating more vegetables.

Moreno doesn't view what she did as spying; she equates it to looking a posters on a teen's wall. And when a teen publicly posts interests and hobbies online, they expect people to look, she said. They just need to consider possible consequences of what they give people to look at. And at times, they need adult guidance in seeing those consequences.

When Moreno provided that guidance, almost half of them followed it.

There is, of course, a giant gap between looking at posters and pilfering diaries, and I'm not sure exactly where my middle ground is yet.

I know I won't have nearly as long to find it as my parents did. For them, by the way, any reasonable suspicion was reason to rip open an incoming or outgoing letter, with reasonable suspicion defined as the presence of a stamp and envelope.

An 11-year-old acquaintance got a cell phone for Christmas, and while she slept last night she received 25 text messages. And this kid's a budding insomniac. I know this is going to sound like my mom complaining about phone calls from people we'd just seen at school but, sheesh. Twenty-five text messages at age 11?

I like to think I'm fairly geeky and creative, but I can't even begin to imagine what online life will be like by the time the guys get seriously involved. Or how I will deal with it.

Would I demand that the guys let me see the messages? No, not without reasonable suspicion, and it'd take more than the presence of a cell phone for me to be reasonably suspicious.

Would I block them from creating Facebook or MySpace accounts? No, but they'll have to let me see them. I won't friend them, though. That would just be creepy.

Would I hack their email? No, not without suspicion bordering on provable fact.

I'm hoping, maybe naively, that it never comes to that. I'm hoping the guys and I will be solid enough that we'll be like a friend of mine and her teens, who regularly share with her online friends and consult her about MySpace design, if you can call it that.

According to an abstract of Moreno's study, researchers aren't ready to say yet whether they believe social media are a good way to reach teens with positive health messages.

One thing they are ready to say, though: Don't fear online. Accept it, and work with it.

"It's important for parents to understand how important these social networking sites are to kids," said Kimberly Mitchell, who wrote an editorial that accompanies Moreno's study, told The Washington Post. "They're here to stay, and they're not all evil. There can be some really positive aspects to these sites."

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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