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Making MySpace Your Space, Too

Your tween may spend time in an online world that totally baffles you. Here's what you need to know.

Social networking sites can help you strengthen your relationship with your tween.
Social networking sites can help you strengthen your relationship with your tween.

Online communication has evolved. While email remains an easy, popular way to reach people, the introduction of social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook, and Xanga have revolutionized the way that kids connect.

MySpace features so many forms of online communication — no wonder it's so popular! Originally created as a way for bands to spread and share their music and get feedback, it is now known for being what its tagline says: "A place for friends." Here, some main points you should know about MySpace and similar sites:

What's good:

  • Personal information is out there for the world to read — that means you have access to it too. Now you have a new portal into your child's world.

  • Connects your child to school peers for easy access on projects, homework, and studying.

  • Fosters social skills and can be an outlet for creativity.

  • Offers communities — that may not be available to your child otherwise — where he can nurture interests that shape him as a person.

What's bad:

  • Personal information is out there for the world to read — which could make some teens vulnerable to unseen strangers.

  • It's easy to squander lots of time on these sites — a distraction for kids who have schoolwork or extracurricular activities.

  • Inappropriate pictures or conversations can be exchanged.

  • Online communities can be just as clique-y as those in the real world.

Clearly, there are two sides to the coin. MySpace does its part to protect users from internet predators (more on that later), but parents understandably still worry about who their children are talking to. If you want to find out more, it's best to go straight to the source: Make your own MySpace profile so you can learn the process that your kid went through to get on the site, and spend a few hours browsing around to see what it's all about.

Setting Up a Profile
Use these step-by-step instructions for making your own MySpace profile:

  1. Visit MySpace and click the Sign Up link in the top right corner.

  2. You'll see a form that says "Join MySpace Here!" Provide all the required information, but don't worry, your email address won't automatically be published on your public profile. What will? Your first name, age, and location — all which you can make private later. Also note the checkbox where you can choose to allow others to see your birthday.

  3. Create a password you can remember and agree with the terms of the site and its privacy policy. Go ahead and read them to get a sense of the MySpace rules, especially the one that says kids under 14 years of age aren't eligible for a profile.

  4. Verify the letter-and-number combination in the image above the Sign Up button. Don't worry, if you mess up the order, the page will refresh with a new verification combination.

  5. Click Sign Up to finish.

Now that you've provided the basics, you have your own profile! Notice the options you have: you can edit your profile, add pictures, add videos, start a blog, and more. Teens tend to put a lot of time into their profiles in order to show off their personalities to other MySpace users. Most profiles include these basics:

  • About Me: A personal bio, quote, or statement so others can get a feel for who you are.
  • Interests: More often than not, hobbies, passions, or things that bring you happiness.
  • Music: Artists or bands that you enjoy.
  • Movies, Television, Books: List your favorites.

From here, you're free to look around; your first stop is probably (surprise, surprise) checking out what your own child's profile looks like. Simply use the Search link on the top of the MySpace page and type in either your child's name or the email account to which his profile is linked. If  the page isn't coming up, click the Browse link on the top of the page and modify the criterion to fit your child's description (zip code, age, and gender should do the trick). You may need to sift through a results page at this point until you find him. Unless your child entered false information to thwart your efforts, you should be able to view his page using the above steps.

Exploring MySpace is the best way to see what it's all about, but if you want to delete your account now, go to Account Settings on your MySpace homepage and click the Cancel Account link. That will take you to a page with a Cancel My Account button, which will send you an email with instructions on how to delete your account once you click it.

Other Web Sites and Alternatives
If you don't feel comfortable with your child using MySpace (or if she's under 14 years of age), try Imbee or Whyville, two social networking sites that are geared towards younger teens, tweens, and even pre-preteens. Both have an emphasis on safety, learning, and fun, and Imbee in particular touts itself as "the first secure social networking and blogging destination for kids." That said, there are many ways to keep your child safe online, and Common Sense Media has a great list of tips to print out and read together.

And remember, communication — the face-to-face kind — with your child is imperative. Chances are, if you strike up a conversation about MySpace and ask him why he wants to be on it, he'll open up and tell you about what appeals to him. You may even learn a few things!

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