Readers Forum: Parents ought to control kids' Internet use
08-13-2006, Tulsa World - Gavin W. Manes
http://www.tulsaworld.com/opin . . . 813_Op_G2_Paren28939
A recent article titled "Online but off guard: Survey finds risky teen Internet behavior," brings up a real and timely point. As technology advances so does our children's technological savvy. Today a 4-year-old can navigate the Internet and a 13-year-old can post a detailed profile on an Internet social network.

These social networks are creating controversy and the problem is twofold. Teenagers do not realize the amount of revealing information they share through blogs and profiles, and predators have learned how to easily "shop" for their victims online.

According to a survey by BurstMedia, more than 80 percent of teenagers use the Internet for at least one hour a day, and 60.4 percent visit a social network online. From there, 60.7 percent create their own profiles, with females being 13 percent more likely to do so than males.

Profiles contain a wealth of personal information, including age, school name, hometown and interests. Blogs are often included in these profiles, where children can post their thoughts for anyone to read. Chat rooms and instant messaging programs allow easy communication between friends, but can also be used by strangers to solicit more detailed personal information.

With all of this information openly distributed on the Internet, it's easy to see why sites such as MySpace and Xanga have become an effective tool for predators. Many social networking sites have advanced search options where subscribers can search strangers' profiles for specific characteristics and age groups. After reading a few blog entries or browsing through profiles, the predator knows where the child is going after school.

Social networks have become aware of this problem and are looking for ways to combat it. This month My-Space announced new regulations that will not allow users over the age of 18 to access profiles of users under the age of 16 unless they know their full name and e-mail address. However, there is no way for networks to know the real age of those subscribing to their Web sites. Under the new regulations, one "14-year-old" will still be permitted to view the full profile of another 14-year-old.

Even if social networks could restrict the capabilities of its users, it's only a matter of time before a new competitor comes along with fewer regulations. Cyworld, a Korean social network, already announced plans to launch a U.S. version of the site this month. And with fewer regulations, it is predicted to stage an attack on MySpace.

So how do we make sure our children stay safe on the Internet? It's up to parents, and I don't mean by taking away the computer. The Internet is essential to this generation and denying access does not kill the problem. Children need to learn the dangers and the benefits of the Internet from reliable sources that care -- their parents.

Parents need to have open communication about the Internet with their children on a regular basis. According to the NPD Group, 94 percent of households own computers. Talk about how your children spend their time online, who they communicate with and which sites they subscribe to.

Just like on the Internet, open communication can lead to all kinds of sharing. Parents need to understand what's going on with technology as much as children need to understand the consequences of posting daily activities on a blog. Who better to learn from than each other?