||Jonathan's Resource Ezine
Weekly Resources, Ideas and Articles from The Source for Youth Ministry
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
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HAVE YOU READ "PART I" OF THIS ARTICLE?
Here for the first half of this article where
Jonathan reveals the truth behind the rumors...
PART II-A Window into the "MySpace" Generation:
Gleaning from the MySpace Epidemic... or Objecting
By Jonathan McKee
Good question. If you spend five minutes browsing MySpace.com or if you read about the dangers
in Part I of this article, you'll probably be upset that the web site is such an epidemic in youth
But it is.
So is Grand Theft Auto...
So is gangster rap...
So is Abercrombie and Fitch...
So should we listen to that one guy on the Christian radio and ban it?
Look at what that kind of reaction has accomplished in the past. It gave Scorsese's film, "The
Last Temptation of Christ," more publicity that it could have ever asked for. People flocked to
the film to see what was so offensive. The film makers laughed. After all, "No publicity is bad
Abercrombie and Fitch has capitalized on past attempts to boycott or ban the store and its
magazine. In 2005, the store took a risk and did no advertising and still came up in the top 5 for
revenue during the Christmas season. Last month the Baltimore Sun reported, "Abercrombie beat the
odds by taking a contrarian approach. In a year of heavy promotions and bargains, it did virtually
no advertising or discounting. Instead, it stayed with the racy imaging that has caused public
controversy but continues to draw teenagers to its stores. (Baltimore Sun, January 6, 2006)
So how can we respond to the MySpace Epidemic?
Glad you asked. I see two ways: First, we can increase our awareness about it to protect our own
kids from it. Second, we, as youth workers or parents, can consider gleaning from this porthole
into the teenage world.
But there's the rub. In using it, are we endorsing it?
Let's dive in a little deeper. Here's my two cents to parents and youth workers.
What Youth Workers Can Tell Parents
Recently, my own 12 year old asked me if he could sign up for a MySpace.com account after hearing
about it again and again at school, church, and karate class. I decided I had better take a peek.
After two minutes of browsing through the site, occasionally stumbling across racy pictures and
foul language, the answer was clear. I immediately blocked the entire site using a feature from
my CyberPatrol service.
For parents of junior high students the answer is easy. "Sorry, you have to be 14." In
other words, wimp out and delay the decision for two more years. (Then you don't have to be the
bad guy-even MySpace says "no" to under 14.)
But if your kids are 14 or older, I admit, the answer would be more difficult. Consider this:
Until a few months ago, MySpace posted, "If you're under 16, MySpace is not the place for you,"
the site cautioned. "Go away." Now the site has the exact same verbage, but with 14 as the age.
Did kids rapidly mature in the last few months? Or is MySpace STILL not for kids under 16 years of
age? (Maybe somebody in a corner office doesn't like settling for the #7 slot. Facebook, similarly,
now has a high school section, where they used to only be for college aged users. I know they must
not enjoy being #38. ...Did I mention that we're content with
TheSource4YM.com's #225,054 slot?)
If my son was 14 today, the answer would still probably be "No." The ads alone can be
inappropriate (Find Naughty Singles). There are days when the ads seem to be racier than
others. Last week I was looking at the site with another youth worker and 1 in 4 ads were a little
on the raunchy side. Today I refreshed on a page 10 times and never saw a provocative ad once.
This is a difficult decision for a parent to make because there are plenty of good kids with
innocent pages on MySpace. I've visited the pages of hundreds of youth group kids where they
shared encouragement and scripture with each other. These kids had truly innocent pages, and some
kids will want to be part of these online Christian networks.
But a few innocent pages do not make the entire site safe. For a 14 year old boy I wouldn't want
him to have the temptation to wander off to other areas that aren't so innocent. Males are visual
creatures and are easily lured by visual temptations. For a 14 year old girl I worry about the
pressure to respond to "friend" requests and smutty conversations or postings. Sometimes the most
innocent of girls will give in to these pressures because of self esteem issues or simple na?ve
As kids get older, the decision to "block" MySpace" will be even more problematical. When my son
is 16, the answer might not be "no." Listen to my logic. When my son is 16, I will only have two
more years until he's going to be on his own making these choices by himself. So rather than just
deflecting anything that comes his way, my goal would be to equip him to learn discernment. Any
kid that doesn't live in a shoebox is going to see MySpace at a friend's house, school or
somewhere. I'd rather my son see it in my house with me in the same room for accountability and
With a parent in the room, kids are much less likely to wander into trouble. If I'm with my son
and he runs into something objectionable, we can quickly steer clear and then talk about it. If
the occurrence becomes too common, maybe he'll even realize on his own that it's not a place for
Here are some suggestions of how parents can use MySpace:
For divorced parents the situation may be more difficult. If one parent allows MySpace, it's hard
to restrict the kid from the other end. My friend is in this situation and he required his
daughter's password for her to have access to the site while in his house. He also helped her set
the privacy settings. His ex-wife was receptive to this when she was made aware of some of the
dangers. Even when his daughter is with her mother, my friend is able to peek in on her
occasionally through the site. He can look at her private messages by accessing her account with
the password. He has also started his own account, keeping in touch with his daughter regularly
through the site. MySpace is her language, and he has learned to speak it. This has really helped
him connect with her and get even more involved in her life.
- If your kids are under 14, just block the site: As we've said multiple times, even
the creators of MySpace don't allow users under 14. If you allow your 12 year old to create a
MySpace page, you're allowing your 12 year old to lie. They can't create a page without
testifying that they're at least 14. It's that simple. If you're okay with your kid lying...
don't stop there. Lie about their age when you pay for movie tickets and you'll save quite a
bit of money! (sarcasm implied)
- Require full access: By "full access" I mean that parents should have the password
for their kid's page giving them access to read the private emails, block users, activate
privacy settings, and remove comments. Parents of girls need to especially note this. Girls
are frequently solicited on MySpace. It's not an uncommon occurrence to receive "friend
requests" from random guys of unknown age and origin. Even the most innocent kids will receive
disturbing proposals from guys/men who saw their picture while browsing through the profiles
of young girls.
In addition, some parents might want to only allow their kids to use it with a parent
present-meaning "in the same room." This might sound absurd at first to both parents and
kids. But think about the reasoning behind this. If the kid has no other choice, they'll
probably choose Mom + MySpace. Parents frequently tell me they are looking for opportunities
to dialogue with their kids about real life issues. Here's their chance.
- Go over the MySpace safety tips: I gave examples of the MySpace safety tips in
Part I of this article. These tips are easily accessible through the button on the bottom of
any MySpace page, but I have YET to meet a kid who has actually read them. Parents should
review these tips in detail with their kids, making sure they understand some of the
consequences that can result when they are not followed.
- Don't allow unsupervised browsing: The "browse" feature on MySpace is where people
can really wander into racy areas. Browsing is when you do a search for other people who you
want to meet, or to just gawk at their pictures and profile anonymously. You type in the zip
code (if any), age range, gender, status (single, married, divorced...), and what you're
looking for (dating, networking, friends, or relationships). Then click "Update." This will
bring up a list of thumbnail pics for you to look at. "Advanced" browsing features are also
available that allow you to select sexual orientation (straight, gay, bi...), body type, etc.
There might as well be a button that says, "Click here to see half-naked skanky women."
After a few times browsing, I told my wife that EVEN I should not browse unsupervised. Certain
girls post graphic pictures of themselves-rarely naked, but you'll find a lot of underwear and
bikini shots. But the pictures aren't the only thing that can be risqu?. The language, the
dialogue and even the fictitious names people select would achieve an "adult" rating on many
of the pages. These people usually associate with other people of the same mindset... it's
pretty easy to follow a trail of smut.
When I was a kid, Friday and Saturday nights were a popular time to go "cruising." Our city
had a loop that every troublemaker in the city used to "cruise" looking for girls, parties and
fights. The police in our city were forced to create traffic laws restricting passing certain
areas twice and doing U-turns in specific intersections. "Cruising" had become out of hand.
The MySpace Browse feature is unsupervised "cyber-cruising." Imagine cruising with no rules,
no dress code... and in the privacy of your own bedroom. Add anonymity to the equation and it
gets worse. Imagine what people do when they are not responsible for their actions.
Another one of the dangers with browsing is the fact that 18 is the minimum age you can
search for. So most of the profiles that come up are more mature (I use that term loosely)
individuals, hence, more mature content. If kids select their schools, however, then they can
browse for kids closer to their own age. MySpace will then offer a more customized "school"
search for ages as low as 16 currently (but I can't help to wonder if that age will drop as
well). These 16-year-old profiles are usually less trashy. Rule of thumb: the lower the age,
the less chance of hitting risqu? pictures.
But most young kids on MySpace right now don't have their true age in their profile. The
majority of kids I interviewed have had MySpace for at least 4 to 6 months. Back when they
signed up the age limit was 16. So every 12, 13, 14 and 15-year-old I know is "16-years-old"
or "18-years-old" on MySpace. This makes the browsing feature highly inaccurate even if you
actually wanted to use it for noble purposes.
Note: many of the young, na?ve church kids that I talked with were not even aware of this
"browse" feature. They used the site just to communicate with their friends. This made me
wonder if parents should not even go into detail with their kids about the "browse" feature...
it might become the attractive "forbidden" fruit. Parents might want to just reinforce a
general rule that the site is only for corresponding with existing friends not searching for
Regardless, I wouldn't want my kids browsing at all. Browsing has too many down sides.
Someday, if I let my kids even use the site, it would be to contact and communicate with
existing friends only. That leads to my next suggestion...
- Activate two important privacy settings: MySpace allows users to choose "privacy
settings." You do this by clicking on Account Settings from your own home page (right next to
your own picture). Once on the Account Settings page, click on Privacy Settings. Two of these
are very important to take advantage of. One, select the option called the "My Friends Only"
setting. This way, only MySpace friends (the user chooses who his or her MySpace friends are)
can view your full profile and all your pictures. The default setting is where anyone can see
your profile. In other words, any naked 40-year-old man can examine your kid's pictures,
comments and complete profile. If you activate the privacy setting however, they have to send
an "Add a Friend" request which must be approved by the user.
The second setting to take advantage of is choosing to approve comments. This "Approve Comments
before Posting" setting keeps others from posting anything on the user's own page without his
or her approval. You can also check "Friend Only Blog Comments" so that only friends can make
comments in the first place. Some parents may want to help the kids make these decisions.
Parry Aftab says it well on MySpace's own safety tips page: "Just remember that while your
kids may know more than you do about technology, you know more about life. And you are allowed
to set the rules and enforce them. You're still the parent!" (MySpace.com's Safety Tips
and Tips for Parents page)
- Peek in on your kids and their friends: Kids are so brutally honest on MySpace that
they say more than they realize. One mom I was talking with compared it to carpooling. She
said, "Teenagers forget about the driver sometimes when they're talking with their friends.
I've learned more information about my kids and their friends in that driver's seat than
anywhere else." MySpace allows you to be a fly on the wall to 90% of the conversation kids
are having-kids post vulnerable stuff in their blogs and comments. They save some
conversation for the private messages, but if parents have their kid's password, they can
access that as well.
- Don't overreact: One of the most important things parents can do about this
situation is to NOT overreact. These articles have highlighted many of the dangers of MySpace
and may scare us. The worse thing a parent can do is impulsively go in, unplug the computer
and tell their kid, "This computer is THE DEVIL!!!" These actions will just confirm in our
kids' minds that we are old, "out of touch," and we "don't understand." The fact is we DO
understand, so we shouldn't overreact and lose all credibility with our kids.
Pray over the decision of how to respond. Get on the site yourself and take a peek. If your
kids are current users, calmly tell them that you want to look at the site with them. Talk
with them and begin implementing the above suggestions. You're still the parent, but don't
forget love and understanding.
How Youth Workers Can Use MySpace
Although MySpace can be a dangerous place for kids, it can also be a great tool for youth
workers. I've met youth workers who regularly visit MySpace to communicate with kids and stay
current with their culture. After PART I of this article circulated I was inundated with emails
from youth workers who use the site regularly to connect with their kids and encourage them.
Some Suggestions of How Youth Workers Can Glean from MySpace:
One of the difficult situations youth workers are facing is the balance between using the site
and trying not to endorse it. Using MySpace is not a sin. But let's be honest, it is an arena that
we may not want to encourage kids to explore.
- Peek into the porthole: MySpace is a glimpse into the lives of kids today. Youth
workers can use the site to learn a little more about the thoughts and attitudes of kids in
their area or youth culture in general. More specifically, they can get their thumb on the
pulse of the kids in their actual youth group. I was sitting with a youth worker last week
who jumped on the MySpace pages of a few of his student leaders. One of the pages was pretty
revealing as to what kind of activities this kid was involved in with his friends-ones not
worthy of a student leader. This youth worker met with the kid and talked about what was
posted on his page. The conversation uncovered some other important areas that needed to be
discussed. The youth worker helped this student find an accountability relationship to work
through some of these issues.
Another youth worker told me about a time he was looking at some of his kids' pages when he
noticed some scary content on the page of one of the girls in his group. Her page was filled
with suicidal talk, foul language and self deprecating dialogue. The youth pastor immediately
called the girl's mom and told her to take a look at her daughter's page. It was an
eye-opening experience for the mother.
- Encourage existing MySpace users to invite friends to programs, events and
activities: Youth workers are constantly asking kids to invite their friends to youth
programs. In the "analog" age we used to hand out flyers to kids to pass out to school. Now
we can create digital flyers. Youth groups can advertise their programs, events and
activities on their web site or on their own MySpace page. Then kids can pass around links
for these pages on their MySpace pages.
One of the reasons MySpace was created originally was to spread the word about bands and
concerts. The same can be done for activities and events. MySpace has a feature where kids
can "post bulletins." Users access the feature under the heading "My Mail" on their own page.
When they click "Post Bulletin," they can generate a message that will go to all their
friends. This is one of the newest ways that "Generation @" communicates with each other
about where to hang out Friday night. Where would you rather that place is: the party at
Jake's house... or the church?
- Create a MySpace youth group page: Numerous churches and youth groups have web
pages... why not have a MySpace page? Here's the beauty of having a MySpace page: kids from
your group can make the youth group page their "MySpace friend." Other kids will see the page
in their friend's list of "MySpace friends."
When your group has activities, you can simply post a bulletin. When kids are emailing their
friends or posting bulletins, they can just link the youth group's page.
My church's college group has their own MySpace page. They have three guys that maintain the
page and contact people in the area regularly. These guys are so dedicated that they spend
hours each week browsing for people in their area to invite to the group. This is probably
the only positive use of MySpace's browse feature. It allows you to search for people of
certain ages in certain postal codes.
I actually have a friend who began coming to our church's college group because he was invited
through MySpace. (You won't hear that story on 20/20.)
I encourage you to pray carefully before even using this tool. The youth workers I know who use
MySpace don't talk about it Sunday a.m. or Wednesday nights. They don't want kids who are NOT
current MySpace users to get the feeling from church that they SHOULD be on MySpace. So tread
these waters carefully.
Male youth workers should also seriously consider using MySpace only in a public setting. It's no
secret that pornography has become a major stumbling block for men, and men in the ministry
definitely are not above that temptation. The Apostle Paul wasn't kidding when he said to "Flee"
from sexual immorality (I Cor. 6:18). He didn't just say, "be kinda careful..." he said, "RUN
AWAY!" Don't flirt with danger. If youth workers are going to use MySpace (especially if they are
going to "browse" MySpace), don't do it alone. If you were going to go be a witness in the Red
Light district, you wouldn't go alone at midnight. You'd go with a group.
At a glance, MySpace appears to be an unchaperoned online playground for teenagers. Actually, I
don't know how far off that observation is from the truth. But if Jesus were roaming the streets
today, I can't help to wonder if he would log on to MySpace and interact with lost kids.
As I read through the Gospels I see Jesus rubbing elbows with the sinners of the day. He sat down
to talk with promiscuous women, had frequent conversations with prostitutes, and dined with tax
collectors (usually to the disapproval of the local religious leaders). He never put himself in
precarious situations with these people, but he publicly interacted with them.
And that's the catch, isn't it. How can youth workers use MySpace without putting themselves in
vulnerable situations? Let's be honest. Some of us might need to block MySpace from our own
computers and only log on when we're with a co-worker or spouse in the room.
But MySpace can be a valuable tool for ministry-it's where today's teenagers hang out. Kids speak
MySpace fluently. Maybe for some of us... it might be time to enroll in language lessons.
Jonathan will be posting some of the responses to these articles next
week. Email us with your reaction to these MySpace articles at
(If you don't receive this free EZINE already,
HERE to sign up!)
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
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