P.O. Box 12068, State Capitol
Austin, Texas 78711
Tel. (512) 463-0112
Fax (512) 463-0923
CYBER-PARENTING: MY RULES FOR MY SPACE
My five children can't believe that when I was a teenager my entire family shared one telephone located in the hallway of our home. Any and all conversations took place out in the open.
No calls from the bedroom. No call waiting. No cell phones. No e-mails. No computers. Even if I tried to whisper, my parents always knew who was on the line and the nature of our discussion.
Fast forward a few decades and landline telephone conversations seem like the dark ages. Young people today communicate in an entirely different language of emails, text messages and instant messenger. They not only communicate with their friends, but they are also part of a virtual world which includes conversations with people they have never met face to face.
As parents, how do we protect our young people from online predators in an ever-changing cyber world?
Not so long ago, parents could simply unplug the USB cable for a computer "time out." Wireless created a loophole for that one. Keeping up with the technology is difficult. Keeping up with online trends is practically impossible with new fads emerging online every day.
It is no wonder parents are often blindsided by trends such as the rise in popularity of MySpace.com. As a teen-ager, when I referred to "my space," it meant I wanted some privacy. Today, it means sharing an unsettling amount of personal information with everyone on the Internet.
MySpace.Com allows users to create their own personalized web page, which display pictures, hobbies and endless lists of favorite songs, groups, movies, books, sports and celebrities are common.
Much of the information is harmless, but when students post information such as their full name, their school, their favorite place to eat and the names of their best friends, it opens the door to unwanted attention.
Each page has a message feature allowing web surfers to communicate to individuals whose "my space" page catches their eye, which has sent up red flags for many parents. Cyber predators are reportedly trolling these sites and engaging youngsters in seemingly innocent conversations, all the while obtaining personal information.
Next session I will offer legislation directing the Texas Education Agency to develop curriculum that will arm our students and their parents with information needed to protect themselves from online predators. It will be an elective resource that local school districts could utilize should local trustees decide to incorporate it into a related course.
Meanwhile, I want to share with parents some of my own rules and research about myspace.com.
- Beware of talking to strangers. Our parents were wise and ahead of their time. This old adage takes on new meaning via the Internet. Do not share personal information with strangers under any circumstances (i.e. address, full name, school name, etc.).
- No blind dates. I realize that many adults have found romance over the Internet. It is a bad idea for teen-agers. It is impossible to know for sure whether they are communicating with someone who is 15 or 55.
- Try to stay hip. Invest some time to learn about the latest fads in technology. Talk to your children, to other parents, and to your children's teachers. Visit web sites for parents trying to keep up such as www.internetsuperheroes.com and www.teenangels.com.
- Remember who's in charge. Place computers in common areas of the home. Regulate time spent online. Encourage actual activities over virtual activities.
When all else fails, go with the one piece of parenting advice that will never become technologically obsolete. The most rewarding pursuits in life are offline!
SENATOR JANE NELSON, R-LEWISVILLE, represents Senate District 12 including parts of Denton and Tarrant Counties. She is Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services.