Keeping kids safe online: It takes a Zephyr?

It’s big business in the United States; there’s a huge industry based on the concept of parental controls. Special codes for your television remote. Programs for your computer. Everyone claims to have the product that’s going to keep your children from seeing anything you haven’t authorized or wandering out of your (virtual) backyard online, and possibly into a predator’s grasp.

Earlier this week, famed social networking site MySpace announced its new parental notification software, Zephyr, will be available this summer:

The tool, which will alert parents of the username, age and location a child lists on personal MySpace pages known as profiles, is designed to spark conversations about Internet safety.

But it is also meant to give kids enough room to maneuver lest they flee to rival social-networking sites such as Facebook or Xanga. Unlike third-party monitoring software available for sale, the free MySpace tool won’t let parents see their kids’ password-protected profiles or any communications they have with friends.

I feel a cranky “kids today!” moment coming on, I think. Actually, I take that back. I think it’s a cranky “parents today!” moment.

Listen, my kids are still in elementary school. Maybe I just don’t understand (there are plenty of things I don’t understand, by the way), but I’m a little confused about why this is exciting. If I understand the article correctly, all this exciting new tool does is notify parents of the age listed on any profile created on their home computer:

Under MySpace’s current policies, children under 14 are banned and those 14 or 15 years old can display their full profiles — containing hobbies, schools and any other personal details — only to people already on the teen’s list of friends. Others see only the bare-bones profile, listing username, gender, age and location.

But MySpace relies on users to specify their age. With the software, parents could tell if a 14-year-old tries to get full profile access by pretending to be 18.

Call me crazy, but here’s an idea: Try talking to your kid, monitoring their online activity with your eyeballs instead of a software tool, and setting rules about what is acceptable behavior online and off.

No offense to MySpace and the creators of Zephyr is meant, by the way. Maybe I’m being naïve in thinking that tools like this would be superfluous in a world where we parents are doing our jobs. Lord knows that my eyes tend to roll back into my skull when my daughter is showing me the umpteenth outfit her Webkinz elephant is going to try on now, but I make sure I spend some time sitting with her when she plays online so that I know what she’s doing.

Maybe when my kids are teens I’ll be eating my words. Or maybe when my kids are teens they’ll be spending a lot of time grounded. Hard to know.

[Don't let your kids run amok online. Instead, why not try to win them some books about giant spiders on an alien planet? That's a much more wholesome activity, and I personally certify it to be 100% free of human predators.]

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3 thoughts on “Keeping kids safe online: It takes a Zephyr?

  1. To me this seems silly. Once kids hit a certain age (11, 12, 13…) they’ll be using other services. Any tech savvy adult that while MySpace may be the biggest social network in town, its certainly not the only one. Once kids get wind of the almighty Zephyr, they’ll probably be switching over to Facebook. Any web site that tattles on its users is going to slowly grow out of favor. In addition, I can’t imagine the endless security breeches this might cause.

    MySpace is obviously doing this to cover themseleves. After being in the news for the past year, they have to do something to balance in some good PR. I’m just not sure if this is the solution!

  2. I totally agree with you. The computer that kids use should be in a high-traffic area in the house. Parents who allow their kids to surf unsupervised are naive and are just asking for it.