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The Things Teens Post Online

These days, there are virtually no teens who aren't using social networking sites to connect with friends and share details of their lives. And the majority of those teens are sharing information publicly that may hurt their chances of getting admitted to colleges or securing a desirable job.

That's the word out of two studies on adolescent revelations of risky behaviors on MySpace and on reducing the display of those behaviors on MySpace. The studies were conducted by the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s Research Institute and the University of Washington.

For the first study, researchers targeted 500 random teenager profiles on MySpace and found that 54 percent of the teens discussed and/or posted photos revealing sexual behavior, substance abuse or violence. In the study, girls were less likely to display violent information than boys, and teens who reported a sexual orientation other than “straight” showed increased displays of references to sexual behaviors. Profiles that demonstrated engagement in sports, hobbies or religious involvement were associated with fewer displays of risky behaviors.

"In the '90s we talked about a digital divide that separated rich from poor. That divide is quickly narrowing, but a new one is emerging rapidly: The 21st century digital divide separates too many clueless parents from their Internet-savvy children,” says study co-author Dimitri Christakis.

In discussing the study, Christakis encourages parents to become Internet savvy and stay ahead of their kids' Internet knowledge base. Parents need to monitor kids' activity online just as they do in the real world, he says, noting that teens historically lack judgment, something that hasn't changed with this medium that makes the "coolness" of risky behaviors more potent.

The second study on these risky behaviors gives parents an easy solution to the current social networking scene -- send an e-mail to the teen referencing the publicly available information on the teen's MySpace or Facebook page. When lead author Megan Moreno did just that to 190 teens, 42 percent of them either changed their pages or made them private. Moreno and Christakis also recommend Googling a teen's name with them and talking about what you find.

An incident in Michigan this week illustrates their point. A middle school student in Farmington faces disciplinary action at school after posting a threatening message on a Facebook page. A parent saw the message and alerted the school district, which locked down the school for a short time yesterday while police investigated.

Do you think schools should punish kids for behaviors they post online? And do you think teens will lose out on opportunities because of the information they share on social networking sites? What worries you most about these sites? What good do you see from them?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  January 6, 2009; 8:00 AM ET  | Category:  Teens
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Comments


Didn't we just do this topic?

Posted by: jezebel3 | January 6, 2009 8:14 AM | Report abuse

I saw some local teenagers' myspace pages when researching real estate information and was surprised that they post online exactly how they talk, you know? "I'm going to kill you after gym class." A major problem is that in writing, much of what they say takes on a whole different tone than it would if spoken.

Posted by: bbcrock | January 6, 2009 9:55 AM | Report abuse

No, I don't think schools should punish the kids -- I think their parents ought to punish them.

My stepdaughter posting a number of appalling things online in her teens. She was grounded off the computer each time. Ultimately, she stopped. When she turned 18, we stopped checking to see what she'd been posting. I do think some kids will lose out on opportunities because of the garbage they post. But let's face it, stupid ought to hurt.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | January 6, 2009 10:01 AM | Report abuse

"let's face it, stupid ought to hurt."

I once overheard an evil stepmother say, "She deserved to get raped."

Was that you, WorkingMomX?

Posted by: GutlessCoward | January 6, 2009 10:48 AM | Report abuse

No, Gutless. Are you honestly equating those two statements?

Posted by: WorkingMomX | January 6, 2009 11:01 AM | Report abuse

Should schools punish behavior kids post online? If the teen is confessing to punishable behavior, and the the confession comes to the attention of the person responsible for punishment, then sure, why not? Well, further investigation would be in order--kids as well as adults have been known to claim responsibility for things they haven't actually done. But yes, kids should know that their online postings are available to all and can be considered a confession. And if something has been done that needs a consequence, why would you toss out a lead just because it came over the internet?

I'm not sure why you would stop monitoring your teen just because s/he reached the age of 18. Not with the intent to punish him/her, but to continue to provide some guidance. It is pretty well established that human brains, particularly the decision-making cortex, are not fully developed until the early or mid twenties. I don't think kids are fully aware of the consequences of their postings and the permanency of them.

Posted by: janedoe5 | January 6, 2009 11:02 AM | Report abuse

"I do think some kids will lose out on opportunities because of the garbage they post"

So will adults. It's the Net.

Posted by: jezebel3 | January 6, 2009 11:03 AM | Report abuse

Jane, it doesn't sound like you have children. Did you know that we can't even get my stepdaughter's grades from the university, even though we pay the overwhelming majority of the bills for it, unless she signs a documents releasing them to us? At 18, you are legally an adult. If you haven't developed habits and knowledge that are going to help you in life, you're in a lot of trouble.

Jezebel, the firm I work with actually rescinded an offer to someone because of what he'd posted on the Net. So you are absolutely right.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | January 6, 2009 11:11 AM | Report abuse

WorkingMomX, the solution to stupid is education, not punishment. I've known a few parents that got it backward with disastrous results. Just saying.

Posted by: GutlessCoward | January 6, 2009 11:21 AM | Report abuse

anyone willingly using social networking sites for personal reasons deserve every little bit of attention they get, for good or bad.

Perhaps one day they will learn that they really DID have something to hide because they cant seem to get that promotion or health care coverage...

...And if they don't think it will affect them at some point, they are just deluding themselves...


Posted by: indep2 | January 6, 2009 11:26 AM | Report abuse

Gutless, I completely agree. But if you're educated about the consequences of things you might do, you really have no excuse when you make bad choices and end up in hot water. It sounds vengeful, but it's really not. If we were, for example, to continue to check my now-21 year old stepdaughter's web "presence", and tell her not to when she posts things that are dumb, or inappropriate, or whatever, what does that get her other than the inability to self-regulate?

Posted by: WorkingMomX | January 6, 2009 11:28 AM | Report abuse

I do have children, though younger than your stepdaughter. I am well aware that college grades can be withheld from parents--I did that myself as a college student.

I think the difference is we are talking about two different things--and what I am talking about may not be possible with your stepdaughter. I mean that we as parents can point out to our children what we have seen about them on the web.

You don't have to tell them what to do about it. And I also think that sometimes another respected adult can point out things that would not be well-received from a parent. Again, it is not about telling the adult child what to do. It is about giving someone food for thought. They can choose to think about it or not think about it, do something or not do something based on what you've said.

Posted by: janedoe5 | January 6, 2009 11:48 AM | Report abuse

If you are dumb enough to put it out there, you are dumb enough to have it used against you. Kids are going to put things out there if you punish them or not. Teach them the reasons for not doing it.

Besides, for every kid that used their real name on these sites, there are 20 who do not. This study is invalidated because they didn't factor that in.

Posted by: mikeMM | January 6, 2009 11:49 AM | Report abuse

WorkingMomX seems to be an authority on parenting everywhere she post, however, she only has this stepchild. How much do you want to bet this poor girl is almost sick of her stepmom poking her nose in her business? The girl is 21 years old. It's time to let the girl grow up already.

Posted by: mikeMM | January 6, 2009 12:14 PM | Report abuse

Did you know that we can't even get my stepdaughter's grades from the university, even though we pay the overwhelming majority of the bills for it, unless she signs a documents releasing them to us?
------

I think everyone in the world knows this. You lent your daughter money- you have zero relationship with the university and are not its customer.

Posted by: bbcrock | January 6, 2009 12:19 PM | Report abuse

I once received a resume from a young twenty-something who had been out of college for a few years (I'm not that much older). On the resume was his webpage address. I went to check it out for curiousity sake. On the page, he talked about how he hated his current job, and how he f'd up this and f'd up that, and how they paid him but he didn't do half of what he was supposed to do. Needless to say he did not get an interview...so I agree, "Stupid ought to hurt."

On the other hand, when I was hiring a babysitter once, I checked to see if she was on Facebook and she happened to have a public profile. I checked out comments she had written, posts written to her, photos, etc, and learned a lot about her and saw that she didn't have anything objectionable on there. That went a long way in telling me she at least didn't have the bad judgment to put stuff out there publically.

Posted by: trygo | January 6, 2009 12:33 PM | Report abuse

If you are paying for the education you should be able to see the grades. When I was an undergrad, parents saw the grades, since they were paying for it. As a grad student, where they were not making a financial contribution - they had no grades to see. I suppose that the person paying the bills could say to the student that they won't keep paying the bills until they see the grades. But seriously - that's a personal contract that the student has.

The university doesn't care who's paying the bills...

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 6, 2009 12:43 PM | Report abuse

"WorkingMomX seems to be an authority on parenting everywhere she post, however, she only has this stepchild. How much do you want to bet this poor girl is almost sick of her stepmom poking her nose in her business? The girl is 21 years old. It's time to let the girl grow up already."

Thanks for playing, MikeMM, but you're wrong, I've got two other kids. And thank you so much for calling me an authority!! That's the best compliment I've had today.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | January 6, 2009 12:44 PM | Report abuse

The key word is "seems", MomX. I didn't want to say "thinks" because I have no idea what you are thinking.

Posted by: mikeMM | January 6, 2009 1:06 PM | Report abuse

WorkingMomX seems to be an authority on parenting everywhere she post

But you are SO wrong mikeMM! Everyone here knows Army Brat is the supreme authority!

Posted by: anonthistime | January 6, 2009 2:05 PM | Report abuse

But you are SO wrong mikeMM! Everyone here knows Army Brat is the supreme authority!

Posted by: anonthistime | January 6, 2009 2:05 PM | Report abuse


Righteous.

Posted by: jezebel3 | January 6, 2009 2:08 PM | Report abuse

Seems to me that kids, like everyone else, should face the consequences of their actions - whether it's on-line, or in real life. If somebody does something dumb, or potentially illegal, there are going to be repercussions. We don't do our kids any good by shielding them from those repercussions.

"Experience is the best teacher." If our kids don't experience the repercussions of their actions, will they learn to do better, or will they just keep doing the dumb/illegal actions?

Maybe other people's kids learn from a stern talking-to from their parents, but mine had to fall off the horse once to learn *why* they were told to grip the saddle with their knees. (Just to pick one recent example from a holiday visit to their aunt's.)

Posted by: SueMc | January 6, 2009 3:56 PM | Report abuse

My sister in law works in HR, and her best friend works in college admissions. Both of them routinely search online for information about applicants -- often, because the *applicant* provides the web address.

They can't believe the things people put on their Facebook and MySpace pages.

My sister in law tells applicants when their online information contributed to the hiring decision (part of a form letter), and the applicant almost always reacts as if she read their diary. Many threaten lawsuits.

It'll be interesting when this generation starts running for office -- their campaigns will look like commercials for "Girls and Boys Gone Wild" videos.

Posted by: gettingdizzy1 | January 6, 2009 4:06 PM | Report abuse

atlmom1234, as far as the university is concerned, their contract is with the student and the student is responsible for paying the bills. Whether mom and dad are actually writing the checks is irrelevant. So mom and dad have no right to see the grades unless the student allows it, and that's how it should be.

Of course the parents can just tell the student they are going to stop writing the checks if they don't get to see the grades, but that needs to be worked out between them. It's none of the university's business.

Posted by: dennis5 | January 6, 2009 4:53 PM | Report abuse

Dennis: that's why I said: the university doesn't care who's paying the bills. I completely agree with what you said...exactly.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 6, 2009 10:04 PM | Report abuse

Teens are spilling their most intimate details online and its their PARENTS that are the internet incompetents…? Please, someone explain to me how detailing your private life permanently to the entire world is somehow savvy. Here is the reality: most teens and people in general are simple users, as simple as their parents were. The only difference is how many web sites they know about. For example, do you encrypt your most intimate email? Keep your private keys off your computer? Even know what Im talking about? Really savvy kids…my arse.

Posted by: bushieisa | January 6, 2009 10:47 PM | Report abuse

Parents do need to pay attention to what their teens are posting on the internet for many reasons. It is a parent's responsibility to hold their teen accountable for their behaviors. Teach your teen appropriate ways to express themselves while they are experimenting with independence. If you start the conversations and build trust your teen will more likely make good choices. So if your teen knows more about the internet then you do-- get with it as a parent --educate yourself and become familiar with the ways that your teen is communicating. And if your teen is posting information that you feel is inappropriate talk about it--stay true to your values and talk with your teen about them. And as always there are consequences for bad choices-- so warn them and then if they mess up support them but let them learn from their mistakes.

Posted by: coachjamie | January 7, 2009 12:04 AM | Report abuse

Until recent generations, middle class kids (and richer) would get into fights. Now they flame each other online - until it gets really nasty and they sue each other. I guess this is better than a bloody nose(????)

Posted by: cmecyclist | January 7, 2009 4:57 PM | Report abuse

Study says kids should not show "bad" behavior on myspace because it can be checked by colleges. This is not fully true. A myspace user controls the content, access to and longevity of the content. Unlike news, myspace content is gone once deleted by the user. A user can remove any words or photos.

The user controls access. Myspaces can be private, so only "friends" have access. Even on a public myspace, some features are only open to "friends." A friend request is approved/denied by the user and a friend can always be deleted. ONLY a friend can see the Comments on the bulletin board, receive and send messages, post a Comment, or see friend-only photos.

A user can delete the whole page anytime.

There is NO way to send an email to a myspace user, unless the user posts an address. Only a Friend can send a message on myspace. The researcher misused Myspace, which is against the Terms of Service and a crime.

The study is flawed. If I got a myspace message from a busybody, I would assume I was being stalked. The behavior is changed not by induced common sense, but for fear of the weird "friend.”

These myspace users did not give KNOWING CONSENT to participate as HUMAN SUBJECTS in this study, making this unethical research.

RESPECTING THE PRIVACY OF OTHERS IN A PUBLIC SPACE is common decency. We ignore conversations and let people be. DO the same with myspaces. Do not be a voyeur, pervert, or busybody. RESPECT OTHERS, especially KIDS.

Posted by: vinmargaux | January 7, 2009 9:16 PM | Report abuse

A stepmother and/or the mother of one is as much a parent as a natural parent or the parent of two or six children. This said in reaction to the comment: "WorkingMomX seems to be an authority on parenting everywhere she post, however, she only has this stepchild. How much do you want to bet this poor girl is almost sick of her stepmom poking her nose in her business?"
Only children and step parents are not "lesser" and comments like these just add to the stereotypes that I've spent years trying to dispel.
Susan Newman, Ph.D. www.susannewmanphd.com

Posted by: snewmanphd | January 9, 2009 8:28 AM | Report abuse

"A stepmother and/or the mother of one is as much a parent as a natural parent or the parent of two or six children. This said in reaction to the comment: "WorkingMomX seems to be an authority on parenting everywhere she post, however, she only has this stepchild. How much do you want to bet this poor girl is almost sick of her stepmom poking her nose in her business?"
Only children and step parents are not "lesser" and comments like these just add to the stereotypes that I've spent years trying to dispel."

I agree with Dr. Newman - what type of mean spirited person says something like that?? So are folks who adopt children somehow less of a mother???

Posted by: busybeelove | January 13, 2009 10:54 AM | Report abuse

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