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Understanding Social Networking Sites

with Aaron Kenny, Vicki Courtney | October 11, 2007

In the 50's, the soda shop might have been the place to go to see and be seen, but today kids prefer to do their socializing online. On the broadcast today, Dennis Rainey talks to author Vicki Courtney and SafeBrowse co-founder Aaron Kenney to find out what parents need to know about teenagers' favorite online hangouts.

In the 50's, the soda shop might have been the place to go to see and be seen, but today kids prefer to do their socializing online. On the broadcast today, Dennis Rainey talks to author Vicki Courtney and SafeBrowse co-founder Aaron Kenney to find out what parents need to know about teenagers' favorite online hangouts.

Understanding Social Networking Sites

With Aaron Kenny, Vicki Courtney
|
October 11, 2007
| Download Transcript PDF

Vicky: Really, I feel it's irresponsible for parents not to have the ability to go in and get onto your child's exact page, see what's sitting in their inbox, see what sort of bulletins their friends are sending out, and that's when you really can see exactly what your child is seeing.  And I'll do that once every week.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, October 11th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  We have lots of advice for moms and dads today about what you can do to make sure your children are safe online.  Stay tuned.

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition.  Do you have a MySpace page?

Dennis: You know, I don't.  And I have a question for our guest on the broadcast today because she has her own MySpace.

Bob: You don't have one?

Dennis: Or is it Facebook?

Vicky: I have both, Dennis.  We can be friends if you get one.

Bob: Okay, you don't have either one?

Dennis: I'm sorry, Bob, there's plenty of information posted about me at FamilyLife.com.

Vicky: Or Google.  I looked you up.

Dennis: Yeah, well, I'm in there somewhere.  But, anyway, no – do you?

Bob: I have a Zanga site, but I haven't graduated yet to Facebook or MySpace, and Zanga is kind of old and nerdy, so I'm not even keeping it up anymre.

 Well, don't you think?  I mean, to be on Zanga, you've got to be nerd.

Vicky: It's time to graduate, Bob.

Bob: It is, isn't it?  Vicky Courtney, who is with us today, has got her own MySpace and her own Facebook, and Aaron Kenny is also with us.  Do you have either one, Aaron?

Aaron: I do have MySpace.

Bob: But not Facebook?

Aaron: No, I don't have Facebook.

Dennis: You're not a teenager, Aaron.

Aaron: No, but I've got to know what they're doing and how they're using it.

Dennis: So that's why you're on there?

Aaron: Right.

Bob: Aaron works at InternetSafety.com, and they create a product called Safe Eyes, which is a filter for parents to help monitor what's going on on the Internet, and, Vicky, I know that's why you have Facebook and MySpace so you can drop in anywhere and find out what's going on, right?

Vicky: Absolutely.  Well, I do events for teens across the country.  I write to that market and have three teenagers, so by default of all that, any one of those that I just mentioned would qualify you.  If you're a parent of a teen, you need to be on there.

Bob: Now, I had somebody who pulled me aside recently, and they said, "I cannot believe that Christian musicians, Vicky Courtney, people like this – they didn't bring you up, but I'll just throw you in the group …

Vicky: They will when the book comes out.

Bob: I can't believe that they would put something on MySpace because the ads on MySpace that pop up right there on your page are lewd.  Do you know what I'm talking about?

Vicky: Actually, they don't pop up on your page, and when a lot of these – you know, supposedly, when you're signing on maybe you could see the ads, but what I found in my research is the kids are not scrolling down to read the MySpace home page and see the ads.

 So your actual page is clean.  It may have a banner of something at the top, but I've never, honestly, seen anything …

Bob: That was rude or inappropriate?

Vicky: No, I think most of those are on their actual home page and, again, most of these teens, you have to remember, they have their page bookmarked so they're going directly to their page to sign on.  I'm not trying to justify it, but I'm saying, again, you know, there is a balance to what you're saying, and I have seen a lot of teens and people in ministry – I hope I would be one of those – who their page is a shining light for Christ in an oftentimes place of darkness.

Dennis: Vicky, explain to our listeners, because undoubtedly there is one who doesn't understand what social networking sites do and how they function.

Vicky: Social networking sites, in a nutshell, are the new hangout.  I mean, it may have been the mall 10 years ago, or the malt shop in the '50s.  Today it is MySpace, it is Facebook, it used to be Zanga, Bob.

Bob: Thank you, thank you.

Vicky: And it's really – it's a virtual hangout, if you will.  So, you know, before, if you're going to the mall, you're interacting or not interacting, but you're in the presence of those people that are at the mall.  Now we're talking about, you know, if you're a part of the MySpace community, I think it's up over 130 million users.  Facebook is up in the 20, 30 million – it's catching up now to MySpace, and on the heels.

 So the community has gotten a lot bigger, and so it's the hangout.  This is where the kids are going instead of going for face-to-face, well, I'll run into my friends at the mall, they're talking back and forth through the social networking sites, and you can have a friend list.  Some of these kids have – I think I read where the average kiddo out there has 50 to 75 friends.

Dennis: Are you one of your kids' friends on their list?

Vicky: Oh, absolutely.  They wouldn't be allowed to participate in these sites unless Mom is a friend.

 Now, I did notice the other day, though, that I'm not in their Top Friends list.  I'm not sure – you know, I didn't get my feelings hurt.

Dennis: But that gives you access to see what their other friends are saying about them?

Vicky: Not necessarily.  Now, I can see their page, and if it's been posted directly to their page I can see it, but I do have for my minor-age children is their actual password information.  And I share that in the book that, really, I feel it's irresponsible for parents not to have the ability to go in and get onto your child's exact page, see what's sitting in their inbox, see what sort of bulletins their friends are sending out, and they'll send bulletins out to their whole friend list, and that's when you really can see exactly what your child is seeing.  You can see by putting in their password.  And I'll do that once every week.  I'll spot check my minor-age children, see what's sitting in their inbox.  What they've send out, you can see that as well.

Bob: But don't they say to you, "Mom, now I've got no privacy."

Vicky: Let me tell you, I've done over 100 interviews on Internet safety now, and I've been bullied every now and then by radio hosts and TV hosts and such saying, "Aren't you invading your kids' privacy by going into their accounts or putting monitoring software on the computers," I'm big on that as well.

 I think that's ridiculous.  When one in five of our kiddos have been solicited for sex online, and nine in 10 stumble across hard-core pornography sometime between the age of 9 and 17.  I feel it's irresponsible for parents not to be monitoring, spot checking, accessing these accounts directly to figure out at least what's coming in from the other end, even if you trust your child.

Dennis: Aaron, your company has produced something that we want to make available online.  It's called InternetSafety.com Game Plan.  And this is actually a list of 10 things – I'd like you to share a couple of them, if you would, but it's an agreement between a child and a parent where they sign, and they say, "I will do these things."

 Now, this is not going to guarantee your child does these things but you know what?  It does mean you have communicated with your child what your expectations are.  Share with our listeners what's on this game plan.

Aaron: Right, well, some of the things that are on there are things that the child will agree to, and some of the things that the family will agree to.  Like a child will agree to have an open communication about the Internet, and the family will agree to that also.  And the individual child will agree not to post personal identifiable information online.

 But it's all part of an overall strategy for Internet safety.  We have five tips that the game plan plays into, actually.  The first is be net savvy.  Be a net savvy parent.  You know, get Vicky's book and understand what your kids are doing online.

 The second thing is to chat with your kids about it.  Don't make it something that we don't talk about.  You know, don't just let them go off and do their own thing.  Talk with them and understand what they're doing.

 Then agree on the game plan, and that's the set of rules that you were talking about was, you know, agree with that with the whole family.

 And then protect your computer.  There are the technological solutions like Safe Eyes that can help you employ some of these rules.

 And then, lastly, explore the Internet as a family.  Have your kids show you what they're into online and learn from them.

Dennis: You know, the thing I like about your process here, Aaron, is it really lays out how a parent can systematically, logically, and in an informative way go through what the Internet is all about with their child around some tangible rules.  Vicky, you have some actual talking points that you go through that really expound on some of the ones Aaron just had that you go through with your children in your book.  Do you want to share some of those with our listeners?

Vicky: Sure.  In the back of the book, and then these can also be found in downloadable format on the "LoggedonandTuned Out.com site.  I give parents talking points that when you sit down with your child, and you go over these points, initial – get them to initial, just put their initials besides it saying, you know, "I will not share my last name."  "I will not upload pictures of myself in swimwear or PJs."  That's huge for girls. 

 Even my own daughter, 17-year-old daughter, she doesn't think, and she'll go to a pool party or go to the lake with friends, and, you know, they've got these digital cameras, they all have them now.  Gone are the days where you can only take 12, 24, or 36 pictures and go pay to have them developed.  These memory cards hold 500-plus pictures.  These girls come back, they hook it up, USB cord, and upload all the pictures without thinking, straight to their Facebook or MySpace page onto albums.

 So I have things like that that are very tangible, where you're sitting down with your kids, you're covering that, they're initialing it.  A lot of what Aaron was saying – make it a family project.  I love what Aaron said when he said, you know, you're talking about it, you're getting them involved, but what he's saying here is you're letting your kids know that you are going to be present, ever present. 

 This is not going to be a virtual free-for-all for you in our home.  Mom and Dad are part of the process, and it's not a one-time conversation, it's an ongoing conversation.  You don't just sit down and have the sex talk one time.  It's, you know, you take advantage of teachable moments, you continue to go over these things.

Dennis: One of the lines teenagers use with their parents – "You don't trust me.  You just don't trust me, Mom."  How do you respond to that?

Vicky: What I say is, you know, trust is something you earn, obviously, and I may trust you, you haven't given me any indication not to trust you right now but, quite frankly, I'm not sure I can trust others or what's coming in from the other end.  I share accounts of that in the book, actually.

 And so I've asked my children – give me the benefit of the doubt here.  Your Dad and I are called to be good stewards with you in raising you and launching you out there.  It's our job to teach you to use the Internet in a safe manner, and we're called to protect you, quite frankly.

Bob: You know, I don't know if you saw this, but we got an e-mail from one of our listeners who was talking about a social networking site.  They said, "Our daughter had been approached by a young man who wanted to take her out, and we did what all responsible parents would do – we employed Dennis Rainey's 'Interviewing Your Daughter's Date' book, and put him through the interview, and he was a fine young man from the youth group, and so we let her go out with him.

 Well, then we went to his social networking site, and we found language being used on the site that we don't think is appropriate.  We found him talking about activities and things that he was doing that didn't line up with what he had said in the interview.  So we had to go back around and say, 'Sorry, privilege revoked,' and it appears that you're not the young man that you represented yourself as being, based on what we saw on your site."

 They were being the PBI, the Parental Bureau of Investigation, and these social networking sites helped them see who this child really is, or at least how he wants to present himself to the rest of his peer group.

Dennis: Yeah, and parents need to be more like the FBI, I think.  There's enough going on, and, you know, teenagers, frankly, are never going to represent their true nature to an adult.  I found that you always had to peel it back more than one or two layers.

Bob: Well, think of Eddie Haskell, right?  Back with the Beav, you know, and Wally?

Dennis: Boy, that's …

Bob: "Yes, Mr. Cleaver.  Yes, Mrs. Cleaver."

Vicky: Can you imagine his MySpace page?

Dennis: Yeah, exactly.

Vicky: You know, Bob's story is great because, really, and this is what I tell parents in the book – their profiles that they set up on these pages, MySpace, Facebook, whatever, are really – it offers, it affords parents a window into their soul, and it offers us the opportunity to do free background checks on who our kids are interested in hanging out. 

 I had a situation with my college-age son.  It was his birthday, you know, at Facebook or MySpace, alert your whole friend list when it's your birthday, and you get all these postings – "Happy Birthday."  Well, someone he doesn't know that well in college came on and dropped the F bomb, and because I monitor, you know, I'll check his page, we're friends, we're Facebook friends, I saw that, and I said, "Ryan, look, you've got your favorite quotes, you've got Bible verses, C.S. Lewis quotes, you're talking about your mission trip you went on, you're a good Christian boy, but on your wall" – that's what they call it – "here this kid has come on."

 "Mom, I can't control what other people" – and I said, "but you are who you hang out with, and for someone, an old person like me, who may stumble on here" – and just like you're talking about, Bob, you know, this was an indictment of his character.  This is who this boy truly is.

 And so my son went and deleted the comment, and that's a lot of what I share with parents in the talking points – have these conversations.  It's hard for our kids to understand that this perceived online world that they think – they perceive it as private – is not really private.

Dennis: And, Vicky, one of your, kind of, your talking points and rules that you share with your teenagers is if you do have someone posting vulgar language on a website, go to them and say, "I don't want you to do that."  And if they persist, delete them.

Vicky: Delete them as a friend.  I've had my youngest do that already.  He's done it voluntarily.  He'll come into me and say, "I had to delete so-and-so, or so-and-so because of this," and so, again, to me that's valuable, because what you're doing is you're training your child to self-monitor.  Now, this is all assuming that, of course, they're at an appropriate age.  We don't just let them go for it.

 But, you know, an interesting story – I have recently in my organization had an opening for a marketing position for Virtuous Reality.  For heaven's sakes, it has the word "virtuous," and so you're thinking this would be the kind of a job that a Christian girl – it would appeal to a Christian girl just graduating from college.

 Three-fourths of our candidates we were able to find a Facebook or a MySpace page for them, unbeknownst to them, and I would say one-third of those we eliminated based on the contents that we found.

Bob: They were less than virtuous.

Vicky: Exactly.  But yet, you know what?  They looked great on paper.  So it was very similar, Bob, to your story.  They look great on paper, their resume was stellar, but, man, when we found that MySpace or Facebook page, it told a completely different story.

Bob: I'm thinking about taking your book home to my 16-year-old and just saying, "I want you to read this and tell me what you think."

[laughter]

 Have you had any young people who have read the book that you know about?

Vicky: I think, you know, my own kids kind of know what's in it because, unfortunately, you know, when you're a writer, and you have kids, and you write to that market, they're guinea pigs or their friends are guinea pigs, and you change the names to protect the guilty, in this case.  So a lot of what I write about is what I witness firsthand with other students at their school that, you know, my kids – it may not be their peer group, but I was able to get into the system because I had their passwords, and I could see the pictures being uploaded.

Bob: I guess the question is, do you think that my 16-year-old will say, "Oh, this lady is just freaking out.  She's just overreacting to everything."

Vicky: I do.  I think that most teens would say that.  However, if she were being honest, she would also say, in the same breath, "This lady does get it.  She knows what we're uploading."  Every good Christian girl out there has – just like my daughter when I had to say the other day, "Paige, you've got a couple of pictures in you in swimwear.  You signed on.  You agreed we wouldn't" – "Oh, Mom, I'm so sorry, I forgot."

 It's really, you know, again, given the benefit of the doubt, but they're all doing it.

Dennis: I think you just need to realize when you're talking to teenagers, they're going to represent one thing to you and, Bob, you son may say to you, "Man, she's an old fogey, she's all wet, blah blah blah," but I would have a teenager read this book because you know what?  The dangers are in there, and the stories are real.

 Now, all this really leads us back to Safe Eyes, and, Aaron, I want you to just quickly comment as I run down through a list of what Safe Eyes does, because I wish we had this when our kids were growing through the teenage years.  I know, because I found it – some of them saw pornography.  They were somehow spammed or things were sent to their e-mail addresses, and I wish I could have prevented that.

 I want to go through what Safe Eyes does, though, and just have you comment.  First of all, Web blocking.

Aaron: Right, so this is the features that will allow you to protect what a child sees through their Web browsers.

Dennis: Okay.

Aaron: So whether that's on a website or some other type of media that they're accessing through a Web browser, you can protect that with the Web blocker.

Bob: And because I have this, I know you can check categories, and you guys have already determined what sites are going to be blocked based on category, and you're updating that regularly.

Aaron: Right, that's updated daily.

Bob: In addition to that, you can decide, as a parent, I want to block these particular sites, and even if it's not a part of your filter, it could become a part of the personal filter on the computer.

Dennis: Okay, instant messaging.  I found this to be interesting.

Aaron: Right, so the parent can decide if they want to block instant messaging, or if they want to monitor instant messaging.  So if they choose to monitor it, they can see the conversations that their child is having online and, more importantly, sometimes, who they are having them with.

 It's not that you don't trust your – maybe your kids' friends that they're talking to, but what ends up happening is a friend introduces to a friend introduces to a friend and, before long, they're talking to someone they don't even know.

Bob: And I know, Vicky, you don't block, you monitor, and the kids know you monitor, and sometimes they just include little messages to you, right?

Vicky: I have to share on that note – yes, I was out of town in the hotel lobby looking at me reports from the Safe Eyes transcripts of IM conversations, just fascinated to be able to that, and my son and daughter were having an IM conversation, and my daughter said, "Well, I'll tell you this, Ryan, and it's just between you and me," and then on the next line she had, "and Mom, because we know she's reading this."

[laughter]

Dennis: But we laugh about this – teenagers will forget that Mom or Dad is looking at it.  I know one Dad who has got a couple of teens, and he got a copy of one of these messages, and it pointed out that his son was questioning some things about sexuality.  And so the dad logged that away, did not immediately go to his son to have that discussion but was able to log that away.  At the appropriate time, not around the message he received but to be able to have a conversation with him that's appropriate.

 Okay, this next feature, Aaron, would have been worth the total package for me because we used to have the biggest arguments with our kids.  And I know, we're supposed to be the ones who know how to accomplish all this stuff with our kids, but when our kids were teenagers they were always arguing about time limits on the computer.

Aaron: Right.  This is actually one of our popular features in the software, and that is the ability for a parent to control how long a child stays online, and, you know, we talked about earlier about relationships, and if you're not careful, the computer can become the center of it.  So by having time control and saying "We're only going to spend so long on the computer," kind of forces them to pick up the phone and call someone or talk face-to-face with someone.

Dennis: There are other things it does, but I've found those features to be especially interesting, Bob.  I could have used it a number of years ago.  It's too late for me, though.

Bob: Well, and we've got a link on our website at FamilyLife.com to the Safe Eyes website.  In fact, if you go to FamilyLife.com, and you click the red button that says "go," it will take you to an area of our site where there is more information about the Safe Eyes software and information about Vicki's book, which is called "Logged On and Tuned Out," and if you're interested in the Safe Eyes software, click through the link on our website and, as a FamilyLife Today listener, you can download the software at a reduced rate.  You can try it free for 30 days. 

 There's more information about how you can access this, again, on our website at FamilyLife.com.  When you get there, click the red button that says "Go" on the home page, and that will take you to the area of the site where you can order a copy of Vicky's book, or you can get more information about downloading the Safe Eyes software.

 Again, the website is FamilyLife.com.  You can also call us, if you'd like, at 1-800-FLTODAY.  That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and someone on our team can make arrangements to get the resources you need sent out to you.

 You know, when we discussed this subject of Internet safety a couple of years ago on FamilyLife Today, we heard from a couple who listened to that broadcast with their children and learned soon after that one of their daughters was chatting online with someone who, as it turned out, appeared to be an online predator.  And they contact us to say thank you for not only letting us know about this issue but providing it in such a way that we can interact with our children about this material and begin to establish some healthy boundaries in our home, and that's what we want to try to do here every day on FamilyLife Today – provide you with practical biblical help for your marriage and for your family.

 And I want to take just a minute, Dennis, and say thanks to the listeners who not only tune in each day but those of you who help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with donations.  We are listener-supported, and your contributions are what keep us on the air on this station and on other stations all across the country, and we do appreciate you.

 This month, if you are able to help with a donation of any amount, we have a thank you gift we'd like to send you.  It's a two-CD set that features Dennis and Barbara Rainey.  On the first CD Dennis talks to husbands about what we can do to step up and be the kind of men God wants us to be in our home and in our family.  And on the second CD Barbara talks to wives about what a wife can do to help her husband step up.

 These two CDs are our thank you gift to you this month when you support us with a donation of any amount for the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  If you're donating online, when you come to the keycode box on the donation form, type in the word "steps," and we'll know to get the CDs out to you.

 Or if you're calling to make your donation at 1-800-FLTODAY, just mention that you'd like the CDs with Dennis and Barbara, and we're happy to send them to you, again, we appreciate your partnership with us in this ministry.

 Well, tomorrow we want to address the subject of bullies at school.  You know, there's online bullying that's taking place these days, but there is also schoolyard bullying, just the good, old-fashioned, picking-on-someone kind of bullying.  We're going to talk about what we can do as parents to help prepare our children for that possibility and how we can coach them through it if somebody is picking on them.  I hope you can be back with us for that tomorrow.

 I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

 FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.

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