Teenagers aren't just talking on cell phones. For millions, the phones are a camera, an instant message machine and soon, an entry to the social clubs of cyberspace for kids like 15-year-old Olivia Walker of San Diego.
“A lot of my friends are just so excited about having the MySpace on their phone,” Walker says, “because they can access it anytime.”
Sixty-eight million people use MySpace, a Web site where many teens meet, message and, at times, attract sexual predators. As these sites go wireless, they enable full access from a mobile phone — cutting the cord on a parent's at-home supervision.
“I'm so worried about the content my daughter will see,” says Olivia’s mother, Tina Walker. “It keeps me awake at night, it really does.”
The worry is that moving beyond the computer and to a cell phone could result in more impulsive connections with friends, but also with strangers. A photo or message from a cell phone can instantly be sent to MySpace for millions to see.
“I expect there's going to be a lot more posting and a lot less thinking before they click,” says Parry Aftab, of the online safety group Wiredsafety.org.
Parents across the country are trying to sort it out, like a group recently meeting at a Delaware high school.
“[Should we be] forbidding something?” one asked. “They can go to another computer and do it if they want to.”
MySpace says it has safety measures on the Internet and “will apply the same deep commitment and measures to MySpace mobile.”
But experts say parents must take the lead and suggest:
- Keeping a phone out of a child's hands if they seem too young;
- Monitoring your child's MySpace activity;
- If needed, simply not subscribing to Internet access on a child's phone.
“Parents have to be grownups,” says psychologist Dr. Christopher Carstens, “and say, ‘It's not a good idea. You can't have it. I'm not buying it for you.’”
New concerns as the Internet and its potential dangers become easier to access anywhere, anytime.