Responsible Parenting is Lost in Cyberspace

    Personal responsibility – foiled again.

    News Corp., the parent company of MySpace.com, the popular social networking Web site, is being sued by four teenage girls and their families because they were sexually assaulted by men they met through the site. The suits allege that the site was negligent by not creating safety measures to protect users.

    Before I go on, let me to emphasize that sexual assault is never acceptable, and that these men were completely wrong for taking advantage of the young girls. But that said, these assaults were not the fault of MySpace. MySpace did not give out these girls’ phone numbers, and MySpace did not send these girls on dates with unknown men.

    The concept of the Internet predator is not a new one. In fact, the danger of online predation is so widely recognized that Dateline NBC was able to make an entire reality series (“”To Catch a Predator””) about it. Rather than sue a Web site, these girls and their parents need to take some personal responsibility. Regardless of age, anyone who gives out personal information to strangers they encounter on the Internet is making themselves vulnerable. In the case of these underage girls, it is the parents who are negligent for failing to teach their daughters safe computer practices and failing to monitor their whereabouts.

    Just as parents decades ago taught their kids not to talk to strangers, parents in the technology age need to apply those lessons to the computer. And telling children isn’t enough – it is the job of adults to enforce these rules. Parents are responsible for knowing not only who their kids are talking to, but what they are doing and where they are going.

    Where were the parents when these teens left their homes to meet up with men they met online? They weren’t paying attention; and now they’re outraged, suing MySpace for millions of dollars. But the fact of the matter is that they dropped the ball, and now they are using a popular company as a scapegoat.

    These parents come from the same school that fails to teach children right from wrong – then blames bad behavior on television and videogame violence. The same group that eats at McDonald’s every day then blames obesity and poor health on the food chain. These are the people who blame corporations, or “”society,”” for all their problems.

    But these problems are not the responsibility of corporations, and it is ridiculous to fault major businesses or expect them to act as regulatory agencies. According to that reasoning, we should sue grocery stores for selling alcohol, because it contributes to drunk driving accidents. Or maybe we should sue power companies and Internet service providers, for making home computing possible, thus allowing teenagers to meet strangers online.

    A Jan. 19 San Francisco Tribune article covering the MySpace lawsuits stated that an attorney representing the families said that MySpace is like “”a day care facility or a restaurant that didn’t adequately protect its customers.””

    Excuse me? A day care facility?

    Forget for a moment that MySpace actually has a number of safety measures to protect younger users – such as not allowing children younger than 14 to use the site – and since the lawsuits, Web site administrators have taken even further measures, such as barring adults from contacting users younger than 16 without knowing their full name and e-mail address.

    The reality is that even if MySpace were to install a thousand new safety measures, predators would inevitably find ways around them. Clearly this is not the way to make people safer; instead, children need to be taught to think responsibly and realize the serious consequences of their actions, and parents need to monitor their kids more diligently. There is no better protection than children who are educated about the possible dangers surrounding them and parents who are ready to intervene if something should go awry.

    The problem here is not “”society,”” or corporations, but parents who use the Internet as a method of day care for children who are clearly unable to make responsible decisions. The computer is not a babysitter and neither is the television, so it is ludicrous to blame them when a problem arises. Especially since problems like this, even specifically with MySpace, have been happening for a long time.

    Obviously, these girls have experienced a horrible trauma that might even haunt them for the rest of their lives, but what makes this truly tragic is that it could have so easily been prevented. People, and in this case parents, need to stop looking for someone to blame and just step up and take responsibility for their actions.

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