I’ve been surfing around on www.myspace.com in preparation for a discussion I’m facilitating this weekend on Youth, Ministry, and the Internet (thank you to all who posted your insights!). I had never been to MySpace until this week. A few thoughts:
- It’s an amazingly unregulated website. The quality of pages varies greatly, and I seem to have picked up some vicious spyware and other bad stuff while noodling through the website. As someone raised on traditional websites such as www.cnn.com or www.yahoo.com, MySpace is pretty overwhelming.
- Yet the flexibility and customizability of MySpace is genious. It gives the largely young – teens and twenties – membership a chance to express themselves in numerous creative ways.
- Since the web can be semi-anonymous, many youth express thoughts or feelings or ideas that, in my generation, you would write in a journal, share by passing notes in social studies class, or tell close friends at the pizza joint after school. But thanks to the internet, you can share your self-mutilation habit, your love of rabbits, or your sexual curiosity with millions of people with a click of your mouse.
- But it’s not just about sharing your thoughts (it’s not just a megaphone), but MySpace allows you to connect with other people. Add people to your "friends" list or join any number of webrings that connect you to people who share certain interests or attributes – such as a webring for your high school, for Christian athletes, or for hot young bods looking for action.
- And so, trying to think like an adolescent boy (not too hard), I easily stumbled upon some MySpace pages featuring pornographic images stolen from porn websites. Less frequent, but still present, are pictures of actual high school and college kids in various stages of undress or even sex acts. Many more girls post sexy – but clothed – pictures on their sites. The comments posted on these girls’ sites include the IM names of people interested in cybersex, requests for more pictures, etc. etc..
- Finding communities to share curiosities surrounding sex, eating disorders, self-mutilation aside, MySpace is actually filled with lots of inoccuous – actually, rather simple and unspectacular – musings of kids. "math class totally sucked. i cant wait till summer. jenny is such a dum ho. my little sister is driving me nuts. later."
- And of course, MySpace offers a forum for good, not just idle chatter or harmful behaviors. Earlier this week, postings on MySpace encouraged students in Texas to protest pending immigration reform, sparking a massive student walkout in some school districts.
As much as some kids might be really drawn into sites such as MySpace, and might be influenced by what they see there, I still believe that the most enduring and significant influence on kids are their flesh-and-blood friends and family – not any virtual community that they’re involved with or any freaky pictures they’re viewing online.
That said, parents, concerned adults, church leaders, and especially youth ministers should be online, familiar with what is out there, and part of their youths’ online community. We should talk with them about what they see and experience online. We should monitor (as possible) the web activity of our kids (just as our parents attempted to monitor and limit our TV or telephone time!).
But most importantly, we should trust our kids. If we’ve equipped them with good sense, strong self-identity, love of self and neighbor; if we’ve nurtured and formed their faith; if we’ve helped them learn how to make sensible decisions; if they have a strong sense of right and wrong, and know when something is unhealthy or harmful; if we’ve done all of this, we need to simply trust that when our kids go online, when they go to a 7th grade party where they’ll be playing Spin the Bottle, when they go on their first date, when they go to college, that they’ll be able to handle the pressures presented to them and that they’ll cry out for help when they need it.