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All we need are buckets of mud and a dream. Who’s with me?

By Alice Bradley

You might think this parenting-news gig is pretty sweet, but let me tell you, it’s a weekly exercise in horror. Want to know what my afternoon was like? Head over to Google News and search for the words “parents” or “child.” The 364,000 items that pop up are all one of the following permutations: Parents Distraught Over Child’s Horrible Death; Child Dies in Horrible Death, Parents Blamed; Child Murders Parents, Horribly; Parents and Children Die in Bizarre Murder/Suicide Pact, Take Grandparents With Them. After a few minutes of this kind of masochistic research, I hid under my coffee table until it was time to pick up my son from school.
It seems like bad news is everywhere, all the time, and guess who has to write about it?Not the one who gets to write about the Golden Globes, that’s who. Then again, when good news happens I find myself incapable of writing anything smart about it. Take the discovery of Shawn Hornbeck and Ben Ownby, a wildly positive news story; I tried to write something smart about it all week, but in the end all I could manage was, “Isn’t that something?” Then I chuckled amiably and wandered off, my thumbs hooked in my overalls.
But enough about me! On to the (bad) news. Or rather, the aftermath of some pretty horrific news. After their daughters were sexually assulted by adults they met on MySpace, a group of parents are suing NewsCorp, MySpace’s parent company. According to the suit, MySpace had received numerous complaints about online predators and, while they’ve worked to make their site safer for children, their actions were “too little, too late.”
My first thought here was, shouldn’t the parents shoulder some of the responsibility? The suit has charge MySpace with, among other things, “negligence.” But don’t the parents, you know, live with these kids? Aren’t they supposed to be raising them and so forth?
But then, MySpace knows that their site attracts youngsters and, therefore, the criminals who want to get ahold of them. And in their quest to gain more and more subscribers, they offered little to really keep the kids safe and the non-kids out. I just went to over to MySpace , and was amazed that their safety information wasn’t more prominently featured. With a catchy slogan, like “Keepin’ It Real Without Really Meeting!” Or “Makin’ Sure Your Buds Aren’t 40-Year-Old Sweaty–Palmed Psychotics!” Instead, the “safety tips” (not even “safe-t tipz”? See how catchy you could make it, guys?) are way down at the bottom of the page, right next to the privacy policy. Because if there’s one thing kids care about, it’s making sure their personal information isn’t being sold to third-party vendors.
I feel distinctly unqualified to weigh in–although that never stopped me before–as my son is four, knows nothing about this “Internet,” and hides nothing from me. But I only have a few more years of feeling smug and worry-free; according to the FBI, one in five children between the ages of 10 and 17 have been approached for sex online. And those are just the ones who report it. To the FBI.Therefore, as soon as my son becomes computer literate, I intend to move him and my family to a mud hut in an undisclosed location.
So I turn to you, parents of Internet-savvy children: what do you think of these lawsuits? Does the responsibility lie with the technology, or the family? Both? (I’ll bet some of you even-keeled types are going to say both. I can feel it.) What do you do to keep your kid safe? Has your child had any creepy encounters? Have you thrown your computer out the window? Do you no longer trust anything electronic, and send your child to school with an abacus?
Those of us with small, illiterate children look forward to your perspective with a mixture of dread and more dread.

Alice Bradley
About the Author

Alice Bradley

Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.


Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.

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  • dave

    January 19, 2007 at 12:36 pm

    I think it’s a pretty unfair attack on MySpace. Usually people doing these lawsuits say it’s not about the money, but rather it’s about making sure that future children won’t be similarly affected. But this lawsuit notes that MySpace apparently DID take steps to address the problem – their whole point is “too late.” Their lawyers said
    “In our view, MySpace waited entirely too long to attempt to institute meaningful security measures that effectively increase the safety of their underage users,” said Jason A. Itkin, an Arnold & Itkin lawyer. (from the url you posted)
    So, to take a pretty questionable case (maybe we can sue movie theaters for allowing single adult males into the theaters?) and then more or less admit the problem is being addressed, well, that makes me a little queasy. Maybe when my kids are a few years older, I’ll change my mind, but this feels more like someone looking for deep pockets.

  • northern girl

    January 19, 2007 at 1:11 pm

    Parenting a computer literate girl teen has me turning grey overnight…there isn’t enough Clairol in the world. Anyway…
    When I found out my daughter had a MySpace page, I hacked it and her email(she is my underage child, for pete’s sake, on MY computer) and I monitor both. Obsessively.
    Big Brother, thy name is “Mother.”

  • cagey

    January 19, 2007 at 4:20 pm

    Hmmm, why don’t the parents include Al Gore in that suit? After all, isn’t the Internet also to blame and as such shouldn’t it be appropriate to include its inventor?
    I think this is another case of parents willing to point fingers at everyone except themselves.

  • Reiza

    January 19, 2007 at 4:47 pm

    I’m a big fan of parents being VERY informed when it comes to computer usage and I’m not a big fan of blaming others, but I see both sides.
    My cousin has 3 daughters. They all think they’re being savvy on MySpace. One of them even outright told me, “We’re not stupid.” Yet one of the girls has a pedophile on her friends list (Long story, but he assaulted a little girl who never pressed charges or even told her parents).
    In addition to that, another cousin’s daughter has a page on there with WAY too much information about herself and some awfully provocative pictures. She’s SIXTEEN. Her father tries to stay pretty involved, but her custodial mother lets her put this stuff out there.
    I think MySpace needs to step up, but at the same time, I think every parent should be on their kids’ friends list as well as on the kids’ friends’ friends lists as well. That way, they’re privy to what bulletins are being sent and comments posted (sometimes, even if your kid is smart and doesn’t post their real info, a friend will accidentially).
    In short (too late), I think parents AND MySpace need to be far more vigilant.

  • Becky

    January 19, 2007 at 10:47 pm

    I think the majority of the responsibility lies with the parents.
    We teach our children not to run out into the street. While it’s the driver’s responsibility to be vigilant, they are NOT responsibile for the actions of a child who jumps out from between two cars in front of them.
    Can we really expect a company to try to protect children who don’t want to be protected, and who may be just as likely to lie as the criminals? After all, if the kids aren’t listening to their parents safety lectures (I’m assuming they’re getting SOME parenting here), how likely are they to listen/read the warnings of a stranger?

  • Jenn

    January 20, 2007 at 12:50 am

    Yeah, I’m about 99% with you on the parents thing.
    But then, as someone mentioned above, it’s not just *your* kid. I read around for awhile amongst various kids that went to the same school as my son…and while they weren’t giving out too much info about themselves, one of them posted tons of pictures she took with her phone at school. So there are all sorts of pictures of *other* kids, unbeknownst to at least some of them and almost surely unknown to their parents.
    And of course, said girl had her current and previous schools listed, so it wasn’t that hard to figure out where this all was.
    Then again, I don’t know how MySpace prevents people from doing that, either.

  • monster mama

    January 20, 2007 at 9:31 am

    As a mom to a super savy computer wiz-age 6…he’s been using the computer since age 4-I think the majority of the responsibility lies with parents. That being said, where there is a will there is a way. Children, older children that is, as well as child predators will find the loopholes-they almost always do. While my son has a computer in his room-he uses mine for internet access, it will be a long time (maybe not until he moves out!) that he will have internet access in his room. Thankfully my 6 year old still informs me of his internet findings-recently I ran a search for him on his new FAVORITE thing-tamagotchi’s. I left the room to work on dinner and 10 minutes later he was in the kitchen informing me of this COOL! Tamagotchi he had found…..I JUST HAD TO SEE IT! shortly after his informing me, I went to check it out… was a CHARLES MANSON tamagotchi….an online game with swastika and the works. I told him there were better things out there for him to look at, closed the window out and found him something else. I was shocked……you can run a search on anything sweet and innocent….yes Alice-even kitty cats! and pull up a plethora of crud waiting for our innocent young ones to lay their eyes on. It is our responsibilty to filter out the bad! I don’t rely on the school system to educate my child….it is a place for him to go and learn, yes! But his education doesn’t stop because the bell rings! It is my job as his parent to educate and love and protect him……..I think with monitoring-safe internet use is possible…….but you have to stay proactive and involved in what they are doing and looking at……
    enough said…..of course he is only 6…… to me when he’s 12 and designing programs for computers that I can’t even figure out!

  • Kelsey

    January 20, 2007 at 9:36 am

    I also have a very young kiddo, age 2, and not old enough to be posting her delicate areas on MySpace. I agree that the majority of the responsibility here lies with parents. Although I have to say, the kid’s only 2, I’m home with her full time, and I am amazed at all the trouble she manages to get in right under my own nose! So I can understand, to a point, how parents might not be totally aware/up to speed on how to protect their kids. It’s hard to know what technology will look like by the time she’s doing school projects and homework on a computer, but we’ll work hard to keep it out of her room and out of some other remote location, like a rec room in the basement.
    I’m currently doing graduate work in library media education and one thing that hasn’t been mentioned is the fact that many schools are now stepping in to help fill the education void about online safety. It takes a village you know. . .

  • monster mama

    January 20, 2007 at 9:36 am

    I meant to add in my post that while I don’t rely on the school system to singlehandedly educate my child….I refuse to rely on “parental controls” to filter out the crap my kid can lay his eyes on when online… filter is as good as my own two eyes!

  • Deliciously Naughty

    January 20, 2007 at 10:06 am

    I teach 10/11 year olds and have spent the last few years teaching 11-13 year olds. These kids know more about the web than I do after using it for their whole lifetimes.
    There’s nothing on Myspace or any other website that meant for older kids or adults to prevent an 11 year old from lying and gaining access. It’s unfair to place blame on them. They ask members for their birthdate info. What else can they do that wouldn’t violate the surfers right to privacy?
    Unless a parent goes through their child’s history every day (hard, if the kid knows to clear their history each time)it’s hard for them to know anything about their child’s surfing habits. It’s unrealistic to expect parents to stand over the shoulder of the child.
    Perhaps what’s most important is to teach children about responsible web surfing. I have met parents who are exactly the type to NEVER show their child an article about a kid who raped after meeting an adult on MySpace but then would turn around and blame the site for not protecting their kids.
    Kids need to know what the dangers are. Using web filters isn’t enough. My school wouldn’t let me access dooce, but I was able to click on a link to a sex blog, so there you go.
    Ten, eleven, twelve and thirteen year olds are way more savvy than they’re given credit for. Most of their families have cable and they’ve seen more swearing and sexual imagery than we’d seen by sixteen. But they’re still trusting-which is where they get into trouble.
    Honesty is the only answer.
    Sorry to have such a long response.

  • Tracy1cg

    January 20, 2007 at 10:43 am

    What the previous poster said is definitely something to think about. That aside, I have a blog, I’ve looked into blogs in my region and most were of kids and the vast majority of those had info just in the blog description that I’d never want my kids to post for the pervs in cyber-space to see. Where are their parents? I think some people take “respect their privacy” way too far. I mean, when it comes to safety issues, my kids have no privacy. That’s it. It’s my job to protect them.
    Here’s a site that your readers might find helpful, if not scarry:
    You enter enter your address and it will show a “house”, that’s yours. All the little colored boxes are Sex Offenders. Click on them and you get a name & picture of the person along with his crime.
    So you post on two blogs now? Arg- I could barely keep up before!

  • TSM-terrifically superiorily mediocre

    January 20, 2007 at 12:51 pm

    Yet another Tracy, here.
    I’d love to say I’m one of those even-keeled folk you spoke of, but truth be told, I’m just SO not.
    I have three..count ’em, three kids who use MySpace. Part of the priviledge of using both the internet and MySpace at our house is knowing that Mom and Dad (otherwise known as nosey and privacy-invading) WILL be reading everything at any given time, most likely after they’ve written something they shouldn’t have.
    So my opinion is that parents shoulder a large portion of the responsibility. It’s truly not that difficult to go in and read who they’re talking to, what they’re saying and then at dinnertime (because we are the perfect family that NEVER eats over the kitchen counters or *gasp* at the computer desk) discuss anything that might be a concern.
    “So Sissy, who’s this Imya Mutha fellow on your top 8 friends, and why does he say you look hot? I mean, you’re NINE.”
    Might be a red flag, but maybe it’s just me.

  • karen

    January 21, 2007 at 12:16 am

    What?? You’re assigned what to write about?
    Another bubble burst.
    MySpace? Scary stuff. But the parents? Should have been there, or more there. Don’t sue someone because you can’t admit you were responsible (oh, but that’s the American Way!).
    But kids? They’re often sort of clueless and open and trusting. My 10-year-old non-Internet savvy son was convinced he had won me a new! laptop! and he was so excited about it, and so distraught when I told him that it was nothing but a trick and by the way he just downloaded a bunch of malware without knowing it.
    The answer? Lock them in their room until they’re 25?

  • ozma

    January 21, 2007 at 12:27 am

    My kid is one of those kids who hates to be alone, can’t play by herself (well, she can but chooses not to), wants and desires our attention every second.
    God, now I’m thinking can she just stay like this until grad school? Or after? Can she always stay like this?

  • emjaybee

    January 21, 2007 at 12:25 pm

    My son’s only 14 mos, so we have a little while. But most likely I will have monitoring software on his computer when he has one. But I will tell him it’s there (if not WHERE it is), so he knows not to write anything he doesn’t want me to see. He can keep a paper journal, if he wants, for that stuff.
    Which of course won’t keep him from setting up an account on MySpace or somewhere from another computer I don’t monitor. Undoubtedly some greasy little friend will show him some porn at some point no matter what I do. So we’ll have to have lots of talks about safety, and hope that’s enough.
    Mud huts sound better every day.

  • Isabel Kallman

    Isabel Kallman

    January 21, 2007 at 4:42 pm

    Karen, there are no assigments. Although sometimes there is dialogue with the writers on ideas. Columns are topic-oriented; further info is in the “About” area.
    Thanks for visiting and please continue the dialogue.

  • Vikki

    January 22, 2007 at 10:24 am

    Well, my children are 5 and almost 2 so they don’t really use the computer. This makes me extremely qualified to say all that I am about to say. Ahem. I don’t know what the answer is but I do think parents need to take some responsibility here. Perhaps suing MySpace makes the parents feel a little less guilty about their own lapses in supervision.

  • marian

    January 22, 2007 at 10:52 am

    l. No internet access in your room.
    Putting internet access in your kid’s room is like leaving a pound of butter out uncovered on a counter when you have cats in the house. Just put the butter away. Don’t expect the cats not to jump up on the counter.
    2. The internet-access computer is positioned where you can easily walk by behind them while they’re on it, without making them paranoid.
    3. Check the browser history religiously.
    Of course, they have internet access elsewhere — friend’s houses especially, so make sure you know what the household internet policy is at friend’s houses.
    4. Make your feelings known but don’t become fanatical. There’s nothing more enticing to a young teen than going after the one thing your parents warn you against repeatedly.

  • JenP

    January 22, 2007 at 11:36 am

    I have a 14 yr old son who has a MySpace page. The criteria for having it and using it in our house is that I have his password (for both MySpace and the email associated). He knows I view it regularly (about every other day).
    The only “friends” on his page are those he approves (a filter available to everyone). The rule was set early on that he was not to add strangers to his friends list.
    When his Biology grade fell to a low C this semester, I changed the password, replaced his photo with a picture of a dunce cap and changed the headline to “I’m off-line until I get my grades up”.
    Worked like a charm! He had a dozen or so kids at school encourage (tease) him to get his grades up so he could get back online.
    My current issue is with the many celebs, pro atheletes and bands that have MySpace pages. The kids all go to these pages, but I find they are mostly marketing blurbs, or ads for unrelated events.
    The scumbags have found a way to sell their crud to our kids for free…whatever it is.
    My opinion: Parents hold the bag here. 100%.

  • Kristin

    January 22, 2007 at 12:59 pm

    I know that the Shawn Hornbeck and Ben Ownby story is supposed to be wildly positive, but being sexually molested is permanent luggage, so really in the end that isn’t a huge positive either. But then Child Abduction or Molestation is one of my big fears and that is why my kids don’t sit on Santa’s lap at the Mall

  • Alyce

    January 22, 2007 at 3:48 pm

    MySpace is not to blame for illegal activity (propositioning children for sex, rape, et al).
    Parents can watch, restrict, guide, and insist, but unless kids are shackled 24/7, parents just aren’t enough.
    Don’t you remember what it was like to be 13, 14, 15? You thought you knew best. You thought your parents were strict and old-fashioned. You probably got away with more than you got caught for. They couldn’t have stopped you if they tried.
    The lucky part is that what you were sneaking off to do was mostly PG-rated and it was with your mostly sane, mostly same-aged friends.
    The key here is the kind of activities that are going on online. And until we are up front with kids about sex and relationships, they will explore on their own. And maybe you won’t get lucky that when they are sneaking off that it’s to meet Jimmy from down the street. Maybe instead they’ll be meeting inmate #C85963 recently released from Lompoc.
    Communicate, communicate, communicate.
    And keep your fingers crossed.

  • CrazyForHer

    January 22, 2007 at 3:58 pm

    I have to fault the parents on this one. First of all, I am going to guess that the computer is in their bedroom with unlimited access to the Internet. That’s only a guess. They also have cell phones to text thier friends (predators) in case of power outage.
    The big question here is where the hell are these parents. Maybe I am not qualified to even ask this question. My daughter is three and I can’t use the bathroom without the door being flung open with suspicious eyes looking at me. That’s okay because in about 8 or 9 years, I will be doing the door flinging!

  • Janell

    January 22, 2007 at 6:08 pm

    A woman caught her daughter on MySpace and quickly ran into my book store to discover about it this last weekend. I recommended this book:
    I would be mortified if my mother looked at my myspace page, but if I was a mother, I’d moniter that everyday. Many years ago when I was 14, I was approached to have “online sex” in a chat room. Guess what? I never told my mom.

  • RLJ

    January 23, 2007 at 10:12 am

    This isn’t going to sound pretty, so I won’t even try. Child abuse has gone on forever and usually by someone the kid knows. The internet changes this, because it means the kid can “know” all kinds of persons their parents have never heard of. But the physcial sex abuse still requires the kid to actually MEET the abuser. Why don’t parents know where the hell their kids are and who they are with 24/7 until they are old enough to be responsible for themselves?
    Also, today kids are much more aware of the dangers these days than when I was a kid – and I’m only 29 – and they certainly know more than my parents’ generation who had never heard of child sex abuse. I do think teenagers have to take some responsibility for their own safety too. They are kids; but they are not idiots. One of the litigants is a fifteen year old. Now in my now-not-very-popular opinion, a fifteen year old who has sex does so because she wants to. I hear she’s in counselling. I’ll bet she is – legal counselling so she can be coached to say all the right things at trial. If he committed a tort, sue the guy; if he broke the law, imprison him. But suing MySpace? Give me a break.

  • Melanie

    January 24, 2007 at 10:18 pm

    I blame parents. I’m one, so I can, right? It’s our freaking job to watch out for our kids. Period. And if MySpace isn’t safe for kids, than kids shouldn’t use it unsupervised. Because freaking PARENTS need to care for their children. I need to just say freaking a lot today, I think. AND be really judgmental. I just read a book about child sexual abuse and it was heartbreaking, so I’m a little uptight right now. (If you’re interested, it’s by Katrina Kittle and its called The Kindness of Strangers – it was really good but very hard to read, stomach-churning-wise).

  • Stephanie

    January 25, 2007 at 12:09 pm

    I don’t understand what’s wrong with asking MySpace to be held accountable for the “product” they create. We ask the same of car companies (e.g., airbags, LATCH), fast food companies (e.g., healthy alternatives to burgers and fries) and tobacco makers (e.g., t.v. and package warnings).
    I don’t believe this is an issue of negligent parenting, but of individual parents trying to fight for a safe community for all users of MySpace. Not every young MySpace user has a parent like you or I — educated, stay-at-home, high standards — and I feel it’s our responsibility to create a better community, inside and outside of our own homes.
    Perhaps suing isn’t the best response, but it seems to be bringing attention to something which is pretty late in coming.

  • Cynthia

    January 26, 2007 at 3:10 pm

    Whether the lawsuit has merit, or the parents need to take the responsibility, MySpace is notoriously lax in protecting it’s users. My friend, an adult tech saavy guy (computer programmer), was being stalked, harassed and impersonated via MySpace. It took repeated requests to MySpace, police involvement, and threats of legal action to make them do something about blocking the stalker’s IP and removing the page impersonating my friend. MySpace has a responsibility to it’s users and considering that so many of it’s users ARE underage kids, you’d think they would be proactive about it for their own sake.