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Weekly Resources, Ideas and Articles from The Source for Youth Ministry
Tuesday, February 14, 2006

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Feature Article

A Window into the "MySpace" Generation-PART I:
The "MySpace" epidemic might just be the new hub of youth culture; should we glean from it... or object to it?
By Jonathan McKee
2/14/2006


A decade ago I would have told you that if you wanted to get to know a kid, "Go look at his/her bedroom." Now I'd tell you to look at their MySpace page. MySpace.com is a porthole into the world of today's teenager and tween. Should we look into this porthole... or swim away?

People, churched and unchurched, are already casting their votes. If you've glanced at the TV or the newspaper lately, you've been hearing all the hype about MySpace.com:
    "It's a petting zoo for pedophiles!"

    "Kids post graphic pictures of themselves and reveal too much personal information."

    "Criminals use the site to set up drug deals or sell illegal merchandise."

    "Schools are blocking MySpace.com on school computers!"
In the youth ministry world we're beginning to hear even more generalizations.
    "Christian parents are allowing waste to be pumped into their kids' heads through their broadband lines!"

    "The profiles are filled with racy pictures, profanity and ignorance-no Christian belongs on Myspace.com!"
But not everyone is throwing the baby out with the bath water. Some youth ministries are making use of the site. They figure, "Most of our kids are riding this boat, let's grab a paddle!" They use MySpace for communication and even publicity for their programs or events.

Some Christian kids are oblivious to the dangers of the site. Others are claiming that the site is okay if you're careful. Experts are beginning to outline safeguards that parents can implement.

Are the "experts" right? Can a kid be on MySpace and keep their innocence? Or are these "safeguards" another instance of parents throwing up their hands and giving up? Are MySpace safety efforts just the proverbial "condom" for today's kids using the popular site?

What is MySpace This Month?
Almost every news station in the country has been doing special reports on MySpace in the last month, but few are giving you the whole scoop. Each day MySpace is growing bigger, more lucrative and ... younger? The site originally declared to be only for those 16 or older (by MySpace's own "terms") until recent months when the age mysteriously dropped to 14-years of age. Same warnings-just a different age. Hmmm.

MySpace is a free social networking internet service that allows anyone with a valid email to set up their own custom MySpace page. It is everything "Generation @" wants. It combines blogging, instant messaging, chatting, pictures, and music downloads, all in one nicely wrapped package that's free of charge. Whodathunkit?

Users fill out individual profiles and surveys posting everything from their birthdates, schools, favorite movies, music they listen to, and sexual preference. Friends can post immediate comments or can contact the person directly. People dialogue and make comments back and forth for all to see-it's like an interactive reality show.

MySpace isn't proprietary. It's a central place where users from MSN, AOL, Yahoo-you name it-can all come together, hang out, and chat.

This online teen hangout was founded in July 2003 by the "now very rich" Tom Anderson, a UC Berkeley and UCLA alumnus who wanted to provide a place where people could post music, chat, and spread the word about what's hot. Popular from the start, MySpace exploded into an epidemic in early 2005. In July, 2005 Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation (the parent company of Fox Broadcasting) bought MySpace for a small chunk of change... $580 million.

The Epidemic
MySpace is no longer just "a" place to hang out... it's THE place to hang out.

For many college students, Facebook.com is still the site of choice. Facebook requires a college email address and prides itself in keeping out 12 year old kids posing as 19 year olds. But overall, Facebook doesn't touch the popularity of MySpace.

MySpace boasted 40 million members in December 2005. Now, barely a month later, the site already has over 50 million members. It's the 7th most popular English speaking site on the entire world wide web. (13th most popular page GLOBALLY.) Some of the only sites beating MySpace on the entire internet are Yahoo (#1), Google (#3), Ebay (#4) and Amazon (#6). Myspace now tops internet giants like AOL, Microsoft's official homepage, and CNN. And MySpace blows away any of its competitors like Xanga.com (#23) and Facebook (#38) (By the time you read this article, MySpace may be even bigger. You can check it out for yourself at Alexa's site CLICK HERE)

MySpace is huge!

Most of you would agree we are starting to hear more about MySpace day to day. During just one hour of youth group last Sunday I heard seven separate references to MySpace.

"Your new default picture is awesome!"

"I loved the rant in your blog last night."

"I can't believe Travis said that about Kelsey?"

I was in the library yesterday and noticed five students huddled around two computer monitors. I slipped behind them and glanced at the screen... MySpace.com. "Oh, I know that girl. She's in my P.E. class." The kids had clicked on their school and were scrolling through over 400 thumbnail pictures of kids that either currently attended there or were alumni. Occasionally they would click on a picture and read the person's profile, scrolling through their photos.

For literally millions of teenagers, MySpace is "the place to be" on Friday night. The local hangout has become a cyber-hangout. This isn't that surprising from a generation that averages over 6 hours per day of media consumption. Not just teenagers, but tweens too. According to a study from Kaiser last year, 11-14 year olds average a total of 6 hours and 33 minutes per day of media consumption. More and more of that time is becoming unsupervised MySpace time. After all, 28% of just 11-14 year olds have internet access in their own room.

Every school across America is filled with kids talking about exchanges on MySpace the night before. School administrators are concerned that the use of sites like MySpace is reshaping school culture, "with exchanges at night influencing what happens the next day in school. Fights at school have broken out because of exchanges that began online." (Boston Globe, December 8, 2005)

The following user comments speak volumes:
    MySpace used to be about real life.
    Now, real life is about MySpace.
    -Posted on MySpace by Ol, 2/8/2006 1:33 PM

    because of myspace... i failed two courses last semester, and i am currently retaking them... i hope you know... because of you tom.... i will never graduate college! WOOHOO! i love you baby just thought you should know! -Posted on MySpace by DollFaced Vulture, 2/8/2006 12:07 AM
Are the Rumors True? Is this cyber-hangout as racy and dangerous as everyone says? Don't take Dr. Phil's word for it; jump on the site and take a peek for yourself. Take a look at the ads. Click on a few profiles and read what kids are blogging about themselves. Look at just a handful of the pictures and see what these "14-year-old" girls are posting.

Just realize, different people have had totally different experiences with MySpace. I interviewed a number of junior high students who use the site regularly. Several of the students had absolutely no clue about some of the danger areas of the site. They only used the site to communicate with their friends, never venturing outside of that arena. Other students were well aware of the ability to browse the site looking for "relationships" or risqu? pictures.

If you take a peek for yourself, you'll immediately notice that you can't access everything unless you're a member. So you can always do what I did and sign up for your own account-then you'll have full access. After all, it's free.

Last week I decided to test the waters. I took 10 minutes and jumped on Yahoo to sign up for a new email (MySpace only requires an email address-I went with Yahoo). Then I signed up for a MySpace account as a 15 year old kid. Here lies one of the problems: MySpace can't prevent people from lying about their age. That's why so many tweens have memberships. The 14 year old age-requirement seems to be more of a suggestion.

I posted a picture of my pet as my default picture and I even filled out the profile of a "hypothetical" 15 year old kid at a local school. When I signed up, Tom (the founder) automatically became my first MySpace friend (a default for the site).

I then set my profiles and preferences. On MySpace, you can choose to let people post comments on your page, or you elect to screen all comments and add them yourself. The process was educational.

Click on the TERMS and SAFETY TIPS on the bottom of any page-they're actually pretty thorough. Here's a section from the MySpace Terms:
    Please choose carefully the information you post on MySpace.com and that you provide to other Members. Your MySpace.com profile may not include the following items: telephone numbers, street addresses, last names, and any photographs posted by you may not contain nudity, violence, or offensive subject matter.
The Safety Tips, written by Parry Aftab, Esq., Executive Director of The Wired Safety Group, expand into even more detail. I was impressed-they were very well written. Here's a few of the tips provided:
  • If you're under 14, MySpace is not the place for you. Go away. If we find out a user is under 14, we will delete his or her profile.

  • Never publicly post in ANY online forum any personally identifiable information. What is personally identifiable information? It's any personal information that could be used to find or identify you in real life. This could be such information as your real name, address, telephone number, cell number, your sports team, health club, or links to websites or other profiles that might give this information away. Even without meaning to, you can give this information away by taking a pic in front of your car with your license plate or home address showing in the photo.

  • While it's fun to meet new people online, always remember that the friends you make online should NEVER replace people you know and are friends with in real life. No matter how often you have chatted with someone or how much you think you know about them, you never really know who you are chatting with online. That cute 21 year old guy may not be cute, may not be 21 and may not be a guy!

  • We have all heard the stories about in-person meetings going bad. The simple fact is, people can "be" anyone they choose to be online. Just because they sent you a picture, does not mean it is THEIR picture. Or their picture taken within the last three decades. IF you feel that you must meet someone you are only familiar with from online conversations, be sure you choose to meet them in a VERY PUBLIC PLACE. A busy coffee shop, or shopping mall (near the security guard station) would be a good first step. Meet during the day. And BRING A FRIEND! (or several, preferably big tough sumo wrestler friends.)
If only kids followed these tips.

The biggest problem with this type of social networking site is that you don't know who is looking at your personal profile and using that information to get close to you. Predators are out there... and they're "shopping" on MySpace.

I don't have to convince you of this fact. You only need to turn on the news, pick up a newspaper or do a quick Google search to read reports about those who paid the price because they didn't use good discernment on MySpace.

Last month a 37-year-old man solicited a 16-year-old girl by visiting MySpace.com. "The man misrepresented himself as being younger, then tracked her down. The man showed up at the victim's after-school job and followed her to the parking lot, where he forced her into his car and attacked her." (The Daily Advertiser, January 20, 2006) The article goes on to explain that the assailant knew where the 16-year-old girl worked because she posted it on her MySpace profile.

In the Tampa area a high school teacher who was accused of making sexual advances to a 14-year-old girl on the Internet was arrested on computer pornography charges. The St. Petersburg Times contends that William Warren Greico, 42, "first approached the girl after he saw her posting on myspace.com in August. Billing himself as a man named "Tyler," the Seminole High School English teacher sent his picture to the girl and a message asking if she'd like to be friends, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office." (December 22, 2005)

In Portland, a 27 year old faces up to five years in prison after being convicted of four charges that included sexual misconduct and furnishing alcohol to a minor. "The criminal complaint resulted from a romance that began after Perry read the girl's profile on the computer service MySpace.com. The girl, who was 14, published mostly accurate information about herself on the site, but lied about her age, claiming that she was 19 in order to set up an account. (Portland Press Herald, December 19, 2005)

Now, ironically, she wouldn't even have to lie about her age.

And these attacks are not just on young girls. About one-third of the cases of Internet sexual exploitation are men exploiting boys. Such is the case in this disturbing article just two weeks ago in a Tracy, CA newspaper:
    STOCKTON - A Hughson firefighter was sentenced Thursday to a year in jail for engaging in sexual activity with a 16-year-old Lodi-area boy he met online.

    Andrew Camagna, now 33, will also have to register for life as a sex offender. He pleaded guilty in November to one felony count of lewd acts with a child, in addition to three misdemeanor counts of possessing child pornography.

    He and the boy, who attends a high school in Lodi, were found in Camagna's truck at 3 a.m. March 27, when a California Highway Patrol officer stopped to check out the vehicle parked on Woodbridge Road.

    The two were engaged in sexual activity, and a San Joaquin County Sheriff's detective testified at a hearing last summer that Camagna had instructed the teen to lie about his age to the officers.

    Camagna was arrested, and investigators soon learned that the two had met on MySpace.com, a popular Web site where friends meet up and exchange messages. "MySpace.com is a haven for predators," Deputy District Attorney Janet Smith said after the sentencing. "I understand that teens use it to make contact with each other and that's fine, but there are so many predators out there." (Tracy Press, February 2, 2006)
So how do we respond to this cultural epidemic with all the dangers it brings?

CLICK HERE FOR PART II OF THIS ARTICLE

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Jonathan McKee is president of The Source for Youth Ministry and author of the new book "Do They Run When They See You Coming? Reaching Out to Unchurched Teenagers." This book helps us better understand youth culture today and equips us to reach out to an unchurched generation (CLICK HERE FOR THE BOOK). Jonathan studies youth culture and trends, speaking and training across the country and providing free online resources, training, & ideas for youth workers at www.TheSource4YM.com


We're Giving Away Hundreds of Last Year's CD's: We're clearing out our 2005 OUTREACH RESOURCE CD's by giving them away with ANY book order



We've only got a few hundred of last year's 2005 Outreach Resource CD's left and we're clearing them out!

Why do you care?


Good question: because we're giving away one of the greatest resources for training your leaders, both student and adult, to reach out to "the unchurched."

CLICK HERE FOR MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK AND CD

A GREAT RESOURCE TO MOTIVATE AND EQUIP YOUR LEADERS
One of the great resources on last year's 2005 Outreach Resource CD is the "ready-made" PowerPoint seminar called "Reaching Out to the Unchurched." You can use this 38 slide PowerPoint presentation to teach your student and adult leaders about the mindset of "The Unchurched" today. This presentation parallels chapter 3 in Jonathan McKee's hit book, DO THEY RUN WHEN THEY SEE YOU COMING? published by Youth Specialties.
  • LEARN THE TOP 5 BELIEFS THAT RESONATE IN TODAYS POSTMODERN, PAGANISTIC, AND PLURALISTIC SOCIETY

  • LEARN HOW MTV, MOVIES, MUSIC AND CELEBRITIES AFFECT YOUTH CULTURE AND ARE A MEGAPHONE FOR THESE 5 BELIEFS
  • DISCOVER THE GOOD NEWS ... THERE IS HOPE IN REACHING THIS GENERATION.
"Do They Run When They See You Coming" is recommended by Mark Oestreicher, Bo Boshers, Jim Burns, Kurt Johnston, Walt Mueller, Chap Clark, Wayne Rice, and more!


CLICK HERE TO ORDER THIS BOOK AND GET THE FREE CD


Jonathan Seeking Tampa Youth Workers: If you're a youth worker near TAMPA... Jonathan is coming to your area soon and would love your help!

A Personal Note from Jonathan: I'd love your help! This May I'll be coming to Tampa for one of our all day seminars. This will be a great resource for youth workers to bring their staff and volunteers to. If you are a youth worker in the TAMPA area and would like to help me spread the word, please email me at jon@TheSource4YM.com

And here's the details for this TAMPA training:

WHEN:
    Saturday May 20th, 9AM to 3PM
WHERE:
    St. James United Methodist Church
    16202 Bruce B. Downs Blvd. (3/4 mile south of I-75)
    Tampa, FL 33647
COST:
    Two choices:
    • $20 (includes lunch)
    • ONLY $10 for paid pre-registrations (VISA/MC accepted) on or before May 15th (includes lunch)
TO REGISTER:
    CONTACT David Smith at (813) 978-8880
CLICK HERE FOR MORE ABOUT THIS TRAINING WORKSHOP




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