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Why Do Adults Misunderstand Social Networks?


(photo by pfly)

Apparently a Michigan Catholic school is banning students from using MySpace (news article via Bloggers Blog). If students don’t have their profiles removed, they are suspended.

While I think it’s questionable for any school to regulate student activity outside of school functions, my focus here is different. What is it about social networks (and the internet in general) that adults misunderstand?

Kids will simply move

Young people are usually on the technological bleeding edge. Parents and schools are way behind. If kids are banned from using MySpace, they’ll just find another place. It will have similar problems.

But the worst part is that parents won’t know what their kids are doing (and where they’re doing it). If a child has a MySpace page, it’s easy enough for a parent to keep tabs on it. If schools ban kids from the well-known networks, they’ll just interact somewhere unknown to parents. This place will be secret and anonymous. What does that solve?

Predators are still there

If we turn our backs to MySpace, the predators will simply go away. WHAT?! As we’ve seen with chat rooms, IM, Facebook, MySpace, etc, predators will find victims. Society has had problems with sick people victimizing children forever; the internet didn’t change that. Sure, predators can find victims a little easier on MySpace, but they’re still out there without it. Do schools ban kids from the playground, because kids have been hurt there?

Social networks can be great tools

Aside from these arguments, adults shouldn’t misunderstand the true power of social networks. They must be used responsibly, but great good can come from them.

For example, social causes have mobilized supporters and volunteers through MySpace. Rock for Life, a pro-life group oriented toward teens has used its MySpace page for this purpose with great success.

I’ve heard other non-profit groups refuse to even venture into MySpace, because of the negative things that exist there. But this just throws the baby out with the bath water. The internet as a whole has horrid things on it, but that doesn’t mean we should turn our backs to it.

Business people and companies are even using MySpace for marketing and PR (info on lawyers here and here). Shouldn’t teens learn about these cutting edge business methods?

In the end, parents should always monitor what their kids do, especially online. Simple precautions and common sense can protect people of all ages from being victimized online. But don’t ignore the great utility and good that can come from different technologies and services.

[tags]myspace, social networking, social networks, rock for life, detroit[/tags]

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