Dear Middle America: Quit Whining About MySpace!

Okay, that's enough! Stories about MySpace have been filling up everything from tech journals to reputable newspapers to tabloid TV. Last night the story made its way to my local news. It's got to stop.

I don't know when exactly this all started (I don't have Lexis search capabilities) so I don't know if David Brooks was the start of all this with his January 8th piece "Bondage and Bonding Online" in the NYTimes, or if he brought his credibility to this silliness and that helped give reputable news sources permission, but it's just ridiculous now.

There are two kinds of pieces on MySpace. The first go something like this: Look at this wild phenomenon. Kids are connecting with one another at an unprecedented rate on this site called MySpace. It's growth is phenomenal. This alone isn't that interesting, but it says something about modern kids' need to connect with others. Wow!

The second kind goes like this: Check out MySpace. Kids are posting sexually revealing pictures of themselves and sharing startling facts about their drinking and drug habits. What is America coming to? Sexual predators will take advantage of this. Run for the hills!

Both of these are garbage. As to the first, the growth of MySpace is the story, not kids' need to connect. Middle America, if you needed MySpace to let you know that American teens feel isolated and emotionally deprived, you deserve a solid smack to the head. Teens have been lonely and melancholy since the dawn of time. This isn't news. Historically, cultures have provided them with meaningful rites of passage (you know, like backbraking child labor, arranged marriage, and families to support) which forced them to ignore their angst and get on with adult life. We take responsibility away from kids, but instead of helping them cope with the feelings they are wrestling with, we create a purpose vacuum and expect them to navigate it. Has MySpace tapped into this? Yes. Has it filled the void? No. Kids are just as alone and in need. Now you can log on and see it for yourself.

Thank you MySpace.

As to the second, MySpace doesn't tell you anything you shouldn't have known, and your fear of it is more of an explanation than the site is.

Are sexual predators going to use it? Sure, just like they've used e-mail and telephones and the mail. Sickos find a way, but we don't get rid of mail or phones or priests training alter-boys because of a few whack-jobs. MySpace hasn't made kids more vulnerable to pedophiles (or peer bullying) than e-mail or instant messaging.

Are kids sexually active? Shocking. Are they far more provocative and promiscuous than the previous generation? Sure. Look at the role models they've been provided. First, there's Hollywood, and before you blame them, recognize that they don't make a single thing you don't pay for. Second, your kids get to see porn (both boys and girls). Third, when you don't talk to them about sex, they assume that what you do behind closed doors is whore it up just like the people they see in progressively more perverse films. Do you talk openly about it with them in your homes, your schools, your churches? No. You tell them to be abstinent. You say sex is forbidden. Have you forgotten that the very forbidden nature of sex, like any activity, makes it more attractive? If you are worried about your kids being overly fascinated with sex, talk to them about it. Trust me, nothing will take the fun out of sex faster than a kid being forced to imagine their parents doing it. Ditto with alcohol. You forbid it, so it's cool.

Your kids drink just like you did when you were their age. And, just like you, they exaggerate how much they drink. When they drink, they do so irresponsibly because it's a rare occasion and they haven't learned to pace themselves. Just like you, at their age. Then they brag about it. You bragged in a locker room, or on the phone. They do it on MySpace. Because you (like your parents) downplay the amount you drink, there seems to be a very large disparity between your alcohol intake and theirs. Don't worry. You still drink more than your kids. You pace yourself, you sip, you do it on a more regular basis. They sneak around and binge when they get the chance. The only difference is that now you get to read about it when they tell their friends.

Again, thanks MySpace.

There are some legitimate news pieces about MySpace. Some people are recognizing that musical groups have found a new venue. The quality generally stinks, just like any new medium, but there will be some gems that will rise up out of the gravel, just as great groups marketed themselves through cassette recordings once upon a time. Also, there's money to be made, and people ought to pay attention to who is winning and losing on that front. Most ominously, the site has been purchased by Rupert Murdoch (owner of Fox "news") so it will be interesting to see if people maintain the right to freely share political beliefs. That's something for journalists to watch.

Is there more we might learn about our teens from MySpace? Perhaps. But, so far, we haven't seen anything newsworthy. Middle America, put down your papers, turn off your TVs, and go check out your kids' MySpace sites. And please, for the love of all that's good and holy, quit your whining and talk with your kids about what you see there.