January 20, 2009 —

A study recently appeared in the January 2009 issue of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine in which researchers looked at 500 profiles of self-reported 18-year-olds on MySpace. They found some very startling results. Did you know that 54 percent of teens write about risky behavior on their MySpace profiles?

In addition to the more than half of teens writing about risky behavior online, 41 percent posted about drugs, alcohol, and abusing other substances. Just as shocking, however, is that the teens' profiles were set as public, which means that not only can their friends see their information posted online, but so too can anyone searching MySpace. Unfortunately, many of our teens are unaware of the consequences, including risks to personal safety. You can visit CyberAngels or any of the other web sites I linked in my previous article to learn more about risky online behavior.

If you haven't talked to your teens about the Internet, you might use the Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine study as a conversation starter. Ask your children what they think about their peers posting photos and journal entries about drug use and other risky behavior, and encourage them to ask questions or to talk about their own experiences online.

You also can use this conversation to review your own family rules for online behavior. Let your children know why these rules are in place, and remind them that they are ultimately responsible for their behavior online. You can visit the Five Moms archives for more tips about protecting your children online.

Most importantly, remind your children that you are there to listen and answer questions.  By talking to your children about their behavior online, you are setting a precedent of open communication. While our teens might not always want to turn to Mom, Dad, or other guardians for advice, it can be reassuring for them to know that if they do have any questions about MySpace, the Internet, or substance abuse, we will be there to listen.