BY DOMENICK J. MAGLIO
The days of thinking children are safe in their own rooms, in their secure gated communities are gone. Children as young as eight years old are going into cyberspace to expand their universe. They travel without an understanding of the dangers to which they are exposed.
My Space, like "Face book" for college students, contains photos that verge on soft porn. The difference is younger children are flocking to "My Space"
Parents of young children are obliged to go online and browse the website www.myspace.com to judge for themselves. You will not be alone.
Although under many parent's radar screen, over 40 million mostly young people throughout the world use this site to become virtual friends with total strangers. Over 87 percent of youth in the 12 to 17 age bracket are actively involved online. Ask your 10-year-old about My Space and he will probably have some knowledge of it.
The concept of being highlighted online is spreading like wildfire in the youth culture. It is seen as being sophisticated. In our fragmented existence children have little responsibility in helping the family and too much idle time on their hands to create a fantasy existence. As the proverb states, "An idle mind is the devil's workshop."
Our youth, with their abundance of unsupervised time, are writing up biographical sketches with often provocative photos exposing too much skin and too much information to attract new so called "friends". The interests and photos are usually altered to present an image of what she wants to be rather than what she really is.
There is no easier way to develop an identity than to instantly project one to an unknown audience. Most of modern young people know more about the perverted world of Hollywood than they do about their own relatives.
On My Space anyone is given a stage to be a celebrity to an anonymous audience. Children feel invincible. They may have been taught the dangers of being online but they think any problems would never happen to them, only to someone else.
The real danger to our children is that there are many deviant people who can view the child's website by only clicking on their picture, name, address or zip code. By this simple procedure your daughter or son becomes vulnerable to become the next potential victim of a predator.
Do not feel too complacent if your child is younger than 15 years old. According to the guidelines of My Space, anyone under the age of 15 would have a limited website viewed only by their friends who have their email. However there is no check on any material entered on the site, including age - so younger children often make themselves appear older.
My Space is not a master plan to gain access to children. It is an enterprise for making a profit. The business purpose of My Space is to make money through advertising. The more people driven to the site the more a business can be charged for ads.
My Space has found a sure fire way to increase traffic to its site. It provides a vehicle for youngsters to become "popular" at least online and in their own minds. The seductiveness of My Space for children is to develop a network of "friends". The more risqué the photo the more hits you get. You are advertising yourself to get people to click on to contact you. The number of "friends" is listed on the person's website so the more friends the greater the bragging rights of being "cool".
Young people placing their photos and interests online is a frightening process for those of us with life experience. Children with a limited number of years on earth have an equally limited knowledge of human nature. More and more stories are appearing with people who have met an evil person online and have come to a bad end. The unlimited access to millions of people will only add to the number of these tragedies.
There is no denying that cyberspace is a reality of modern times. There are no fool proof means of ensuring our children are not venturing into this precarious world except one: their WORD. We need to depend on our children pledging themselves to do what they say they do. They must tell the truth.
Instilling a moral code in your children by teaching them to be honest will prevent them from doing things behind your back. The cost of embarrassing one's parents becomes too great to distort their personal history to impress others.
Involved parents are the antidote to the world of ever expanding temptation. Stronger parenting will stop "boys and girls going wild" into the dangerous world of online fantasy and into the arms of waiting predators.
Domenick Maglio, a Ph.D, is the founder and director of Wider Horizons School, a private K-12 college preparatory school since 1983.