It’s not just twentysomething indie rockers who have found the myspace.com community portal to be, as Camille Dodaro of the Boston Phoenix termed it, “the ultimate time suck.” Plenty of younger web cruisers populate the site as well—to the chagrin of Dr. Marjorie E. Castro, superintendent of schools in the Croton-Harmon school district.
Castro, who oversees the students in this quiet, picturesque everybody-knows-everybody village a half-hour north of New York City, fielded calls recently from parents in the community concerned about the popular site’s effect on their children. “A number of parents have been to the site,” she explained, and have found that their kids—”just beginning high school and eighth grade,” and thus too young to be interacting in that space—were discussing such topics as suicide, drugs, and sexual activity.
It’s one thing to explore such subjects “within their age level and with adults in the community,” Castro clarified, but for kids so young, the engagement with strangers of unknown age and motive was seen as too much for comfort, resulting in a cautionary “Parent Alert” sent off to district parents this week. Faintly alarmist but ultimately anodyne, the memo asks not for censorship or action against MySpace, only that parents “be alert to their child’s use of the computer and especially the Internet.”
For its part, MySpace has a clearly stated policy on age in its Terms of Service: “You further represent and warrant that you are 16 years of age or older . . . Your profile may be deleted without warning, if it is found that you are misrepresenting your age, and you are younger than 18.” That policy, however, is about as enforceable as those regarding age restrictions for porn- and alcohol-related content: barely, if at all, given the Internet’s relative anonymity. MySpace invites people who are aware of exaggerated-age community members to contact them with the user’s URL or friend ID number; imprecise though it may be, it’s perhaps the best course of action for parents concerned about their underage children’s online habits. Short of, um, talking to them.