The Allure of MySpace
A few months ago, a 16-year old New York girl began exchanging messages with a stranger on the social networking site, MySpace. It was a tragic mistake. One day the stranger a 37-year-old man drove to where the girl had an after-school job and sexually assaulted her. How did he know where to find her? She had listed her place of work on her MySpace profile.
MySpace. It's a place for kids to go to escape parents and teenagers know it. So do sexual predators.
The body of another MySpace fan, a 14-year-old New Jersey girl, was found in a dumpster in Newark, strangled. In California, the body of a 15-year-old girl was found floating in an irrigation canal. Both girls had MySpace accounts, and police are investigating the possibility that they met their killers through it as well.
Clearly, kids do not realize the danger. According to the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, more than 2,600 reports were made involving adults going online to lure minors. The center has received nearly three hundred complaints involving MySpace alone. U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan says MySpace "creates a smorgasbord" for pedophiles.
Tragically, our kids make it all too easy for them often. Nearly 40 percent of American high school kids have posted their personal information online information that allows predators to learn who they are, what they look like, where they live, and where they go to school. According to the PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, teenagers consider MySpace the way to communicate with friends; checking for messages, and receiving them, is part of a daily computer ritual. And they reveal a chillingly naive attitude about what they're doing. As one boy told the POST-GAZETTE, "I don't think it is so much of a worry . . . everyone posts pictures and puts their ages up. It's kind of like a rite of passage to have MySpace."
Clearly, teaching our kids how to be safe online has to become a rite of passage for us as adults. For several decades, we have seen increasing efforts in our culture to drive a wedge between children and their parents from toymakers advertising toys parents don't approve of, to sex education that sends the wrong message, to films that encourage kids to engage in dangerous behavior. MySpace has become a huge success in part because it exists as a space where kids can go to escape parental influence. It's no accident that MySpace advertises itself as "a place for friends."
While kids usually think they can take care of themselves, the Scriptures are full of warnings that children need their parents, their wisdom, their protection. In the book of Proverbs, we find a father warning even his young adult son to beware of the attraction of evil and the danger of making the wrong friends.
Parents need to make sure their own kids are safe by preventing access to MySpace, perhaps, or keeping a sharp eye on whom their kids are conversing with online and how much information they have divulged. Warn your kids about the predators out there; make sure they never give out personal information. And all of us must demand that the authorities vigorously enforce laws protecting kids from online predators predators who consider online social networks "a smorgasbord" for evil.
From BreakPoint®, May 30, 2006, Copyright 2006, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. BreakPoint® and Prison Fellowship Ministries® are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship Ministries.