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learning.now: at the crossroads of Internet culture & education with host Andy Carvin

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January082007

Are Kids More Responsible Than We Thought?

A recent study suggests that many young people who use MySpace are more responsible online than conventional wisdom might suggest. Let’s take a peak at what teens are doing - or aren’t doing - with their MySpace pages.

Professor Justin Patchin of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire partnered with Professor Sameer Hinduja of Florida Atlantic University to analyze the behavior of young people on the popular social networking site, MySpace. As part of their research on cyber bullying, they examined the contents of nearly 1,500 personal Web pages published by teens on MySpace. Their findings suggest that many kids, but not all, are getting the message about online safety.

“The results of our research show that problems with MySpace are not as widespread as most people assume,” said Prof. Patchin. “The media and many parents have demonized MySpace, but we found that an overwhelming majority of adolescents are using the site responsibly.”

Among their findings:
  • Almost 40 percent of the profiles included the youth’s first name, and about 9 percent included their full name.
  • About 4 percent included their instant messaging name, and 1 percent included their e-mail address.
  • Less than 1 percent included their telephone number. But when extrapolated to all teens on MySpace, nearly 75,000 youth may be including this private information.
  • Almost 57 percent of the profiles included at least one photo of the teen, often of themselves with family, friends or people they met at a social gathering. Many others provided detailed descriptions of their personal appearance.
  • About 5 percent of the teens included photos of themselves in a swimsuit or underwear, and 15 percent included photos of friends in a swimsuit or underwear.
  • About 81 percent of the youth included the name of the city in which they live, and another 28 percent named the school they attend.
  • About 18 percent of the sites included evidence of alcohol use, 7 percent included evidence of tobacco use and 2 percent included evidence of marijuana use.
  • Nearly 20 percent of the profiles included profanity, and almost 33 percent of the sites included swear words in the posted comments.

While some of these statistics suggest a positive trend, there are still points of concern. With approximately one in five MySpace pages containing evidence of alcohol consumption, and others featuring drug use or scantily-clad photos, it would seem that some young people have yet to recognize the potential impact of including this type of content on their future prospects, both in terms of college and employment. Having said that, it’s heartening to see how more MySpace users are refusing to include personal contact information such as phone numbers, email addresses and instant messaging user names. And for many of these users, they will only make it available to personal contacts; strangers who visit their MySpace page will not find contact information.

“We were happy to find that a sizable number of the teens are being responsible and not letting strangers see their profiles,” Patchin continued. “It appears many of the concerns adults have about MySpace could be assuaged if teens would simply set their profiles to private. Youth must still be careful about what they include on the site, but at least they have some control over who sees their information.”

Still, as the research shows, even if less than one percent of MySpace users include certain types of contact information, that still translates into tens of thousands of teens. “Even though we found that a relatively small percentage of adolescents are placing themselves at risk by including inappropriate information, we can’t overlook the fact that that small percent may represent more than 1 million vulnerable youth,” Patchin said, noting that MySpace now reports more than 130 million registered users.

“Adults visit the online world but kids live in it,” he added. “Kids aren’t hanging out in public places so much anymore; they’re hanging out online. MySpace and other social networking sites can be a positive social experience for kids. Adults need to accept that and not try to keep their kids away from it.”

However, it’s an open question as to how adults can better engage their kids when it comes to online networks. Patchin offers his own suggestion:

We encourage parents to sit with their kids to create a MySpace profile together. Teens can teach their parents about the technology and parents can talk to their kids about making responsible choices online. MySpace can be a way for parents to get closer to their kids.

As for myself, I have some doubts at how successful this suggestion would be. For one thing, the majority of kids already have their own MySpace page. Parents who suggest to their teens that they’d like to make a joint profile together would probably be countered with a look of absolute horror. Having said that, I still believe it’s a useful exercise for parents to create a public profile in MySpace and let their kids know about it. The more we start using these social networks ourselves, the better informed we can be about them - and the more aware that teens will be, knowing that they don’t have the run of the house to themselves. -andy

Filed under : Research, Safety, Social Networking

Responses

How many of the students with inappropriate/illegal images also are using their names? I’m not saying it is ok or completely harmless, but it may not be as much of a risk for say, getting a job, as people are afraid it will be.

How many minors have listed phone numbers in phone directories? Is there a limit there?

Most kids spend to much time on the computer and parents generly say it is ok untill their child spends nearly every waking moment on the computer; by then it is to late for most parents to do much, because their child will ignore them and just find another way to get on the web. Parents trying to build a profile with their kids is good but the kid will often make another if they what to do and post something they know is stupid and/or wrong. Parents simply need to get more involved in their children’s lives and stay that way.

Is Andy Carvin serious? He thinks these percentages are good? I don’t think the potential dangers for child abuse should be quantified this way. I think he greatly underestimates the resourcefulness of child abuse predators. I think social service agencies and the police would back me up on this. A glaring problem with the statistics from this study, which is pretty typical, is that they were isolated from each other. They need to be taken as a whole. It’s the combinations which are dangerous, and that’s not addressed.

In 2007, grades 7-12 should be 2 days in school, home school the rest of the week. Share TV, radio, books, computer etc. Some buildings are empty for 2-3 years. Schools are crowded. EMPTY buildings/stores should be searched inside by USAF, USMC, NAVY, government, etc. every 3 months like room inspection in military.

En 2007, grado 7-12 debe de ser 2 dia en escuela, escuela en casa el resto de la semana.
Yo comparto, la tele, el radio, los libros, y computadora, y mas. Algunos edificios estan vacio por 2-3 anos. Las escuelas estan llena de gente. Edificios/tienda basio deben ser investigado por militar/gobierno y mas cada 3 mes como investigan los cuartos en el servicio militar.

They aren’t worried about profanity on their sites affecting their future employment opportunities, because they know they’re going to be hired by people like me (5-10 years older) or by people of their own generation who couldn’t give a flying **** if they swear or not in their personal life; as long as they do their job and do it well and contribute to company culture and success, all is good.

I live in Australia and my 3 daughers aged between 15 and 11 use the my space and msn quite regular, I thought they did it responsably until recently one of the children left there phone and home, I answered it and found it to be an older male from the UK. When I gave him some questioning he hung up and called back in half hour expecting to get my daughter. I SAW RED! I questioned my daughter when she returned home, “why did u give out your number on the internet?” she repiled that she didn’t and I didnt believe her at first until my friend claimed that people can get your personal info off the claim form for an email address, MY QUESTION IS: Is that possible? could my daughter be telling me the truth.

Yours Truely
Technology Illeterate

I teach at the university level and have a Myspace profile (along with one on Facebook, as well). My students will sometimes invite me to be a “friend” or into a special interest group (Save the Earth is one that comes to mind). Because students can find me on these social internet places, I generally check out all invitations to be a friend. I received one of these invitations from a Kathleen (a most common name among university women) and so I logged into Myspace and checked out the profile of this person. I didn’t recognize her picture, so I thought I’d check out her friends (sometimes the students will find me through mutual friends). When I clicked on her list of friends, I was shocked to see that she had four friends - their pictures were one of a nude female and three of erect male genitalia. As the Supreme Court put it - when it’s porn you can recognize it and this looked like porn to me. I tried to find some way to report this person, but there wasn’t anything obvious to click on. I simply closed it down and denied the invitation. I’m a middle aged woman, mother of 5 and educated. What if I weren’t? What if I were a young person with little supervision, or if I were a predator? I was pretty shocked that this was what I ran into on Myspace - who’s monitoring this stuff???

Renee writes:

Is Andy Carvin serious? He thinks these percentages are good?

I don’t believe I ever said they were good. I did say, though, even one percent of kids revealing personal info translates to tens of thousands of kids. Unfortunately there’s a dearth of longitudinal data, but if this data is correct, it does seem to suggest an improvement. Does that make it “good”? No. There’s still a lot of work to be done. -andy

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