Youth Culture Window
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!"
In the youth ministry world we're beginning to hear even more generalizations.
"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!"
"Christian parents are allowing waste to be pumped into their kids' heads through their broadband lines!"
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.
"The profiles are filled with racy pictures, profanity and ignorance-no Christian belongs on Myspace.com!"
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.
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.
Are the Rumors True?
-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
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 risqué 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 only kids followed these tips.
- 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.)
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.
So how do we respond to this cultural epidemic with all the dangers it brings?
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)
Good question. If you spend five minutes browsing MySpace.com you'll probably be upset that the web site is such an epidemic in youth culture.
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 publicity."
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 naïve curiosity.
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 input.
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 him.
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 risqué. 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 risqué 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, naïve 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 new friends.
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 invitedthrough 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.
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