Mental Health Repercussions, Dangers of MySpace Continue to Amaze Mainstream Media
> 7/5/2006 12:40:36 PM

Another day, another story in a large market newspaper alerting the world to the potential dangers of MySpace. If these stories were all one had to go on, one might think that most newspaper writers just learned of the existence of the Internet last week. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, we'd like to draw attention to this story, and once again point out that MySpace and other sites like it aren't evil.

It seems that every time you turn around there is another story about how MySpace and other social networking websites are putting children and even adults at grave risk. This time the danger comes from the ability of youths and those interested in topics like eating disorders, self-harm or prescription drug abuse to join groups of like minded individuals. Together these groups pool their collective information on the topics, whether it's how to best begin cutting one's self or where to get scripts without a doctor.

To be clear, the types of groups and forums created in MySpace are not new or unique. As long as there has been an internet, people have been sharing information, be it in a constructive manner or in one that takes a more destructive tone as the groups in the Washington Post story.

What might be argued, and fairly at that, is that MySpace has made joining and exploring this format of discussion easier for a new generation of internet user. One only needs a passing understanding of the web, and the ability to read, to set up an account and start participating in chat threads and groups. This relative ease has given these often young web surfers access to information that previously wouldn't have been available. As with the other negative aspects of social networking sites discussed in the slew of news stories that have been cropping up, the solution to this new worry is simple. Surf with your kids, watch what they're doing and monitor their activity until they are old enough or mature enough to make healthy decisions.

The bottom line is that if a 15 year old wants to know about drugs, they're probably going to find out about it somewhere. If not on MySpace, then in the locker room or on the bus home. A supportive environment, strong role models, effective parenting: these are all tools that have been proven to cut down on risky behaviors. Limiting website access, as far as we've ever seen, has not been a proven strategy.

As we've made clear in our past discussions of this topic, the recent mania surrounding social networking also completely ignores the positive aspects of the new medium. A brief search of MySpace revealed groups that focused on such topics as vegetarianism, dealing with depression and exercise. Amazingly, the same website that is virtually turning America's teens into drunken gambling addicts with rabid STDs, might actually have some beneficial uses. Security measures on the site continue to improve (with $30 million lawsuits cropping up, MySpace owner News Corp. has no choice). But nothing will ever be perfect. We need to take responsibility for the things we can change, and make sure that not only are our kids not logging on to find out how to cook up meth, but that they don't have the reason to do so in the first place.

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