Monday, December 3, 2007

MySpace for moms and dads : a guide to understanding the risks and the rewards by C.W. Neal

Check out this post for information about these reviews.

Publication information:
Title: MySpace for moms and dads : a guide to understanding the risks and the rewards
Author: C.W. Neal (Connie Neal)
Publisher: Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI)
Publication date: 2007

General description:
The publisher says: "You can't ignore MySpace if you're a parent--but you don't have to be intimidated by it. This simple, step-by-step exploration of what MySpace means in your teen's life helps even computer-challenged parents and grandparents understand this communication revolution and make informed, confident decisions about their teen's use of MySpace. "

It's an accurate description: the information is clear, easy for non-technically inclined parents or other adults to address, and is an exploration, rather than insisting upon specific answers that may not fit all families or teens.

There is, however, a religious approach (discussed below, in my concerns section) that is not mentioned in the general publisher information. (Zondervan is a Christian publisher: however, their description of this book doesn't make this obvious to someone who didn't already know that.)

Things I Liked About This Book:

1) It encourages ongoing and active discussion with teens about why they want to be online, what they get out of it, and what particularly interests them. This includes open-ended questions in each chapter that adults can explore with their teens.

2) Neal provides some clear numbers on the kinds of issues involved to help put issues in perspective. (I particularly liked one statistic she mentioned: that MySpace has about 80,000 deletions of underage profiles a month, but only 12 reports a month of predatory behavior made to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children - for over 100 million accounts.)

3) She provides a good discussion of the problems of fear mongering and guilt motivation in trying to address issues with teens. She generally encourages parents to move away from these, and to seek information, then explore appropriate limits with their teen.

4) She's very clear that different teens will have different needs, wants, and ways to use online sites. She uses her own children (two of whom have MySpace accounts, the third of whom didn't care to) as examples in thoughtful ways. She's also clear that it should be a progression: teens should get increasing freedom and responsibility as they become more mature.

5) She provides some excellent explanations and examples. I particularly liked both her description of the front MySpace page as a 'visitor's center' like a tourist destination, and the charts throughout the book comparing MySpace tools to other kinds of familiar communication options (emails, phone calls, public discussion, etc.)

6) She provides clear and non-techie descriptions of how to check on a teen's page. These are step-by-step. She provides specific advice for how those who are not comfortable online can still provide guidance and supervision to teens.

7) Much of the information she provides on general safety approaches is offered elsewhere, but she handles it in appropriate detail, and gives explanations for why some things are best handled a certain way. For example, the advice to give a day or two's warning before checking your child's MySpace for the first time, to allow them to make any changes includes an explanation of why this helps encourage appropriate behavior.

8) It's overall a very solid book on a specific topic.

Concerns and Limits in Coverage:
1) She notes that much of what she says applies to other online networking sites, not just MySpace. However, she provides almost no discussion of this, and all of her technology explanations focus exclusively on MySpace.

Her choice is understandable given space considerations, but if you're looking for a general overview of multiple sites, or larger policy and safety issues, this book may not meet all your needs.

2) There is explicitly Christian content of several kinds. Families who are not Christian may prefer another book. The content takes several forms:
  • There is an entire chapter on "Families of Faith" at the end of the book - a chapter that is heavily rooted in a Christian worldview. While 'families of faith' is often used in a Christian context, there is no explicit support or discussion given to families of other faiths.
  • There are a few Biblical quotes in other parts of the book. These are generally about how one treats other people (relevant in context). However, the Biblical quotations are unnecessary to the overall content of the section. (Sources for the quotations include First Corinthians, Proverbs, and a brief reference to the Talmud.)
  • There are also a few comments about her own family's faith life (examples from trips for youth groups, church speakers, etc.) in places where they were not strictly necessary for the topics discussed - for example, the reader does not particularly benefit from knowing that her chaperoning of a trip to Los Angeles was a church youth group. (The trip is cited as similar to online interaction, in terms of being able to avoid problems by knowing which areas are not safe or inappropriate for teens, and a useful example otherwise.)
  • There are a few places in the book where a dualistic worldview (good/bad) emerges, rather than exploring a broader range of options. In other places, Neal encourages multiple options or ways to look at situations.
3) She does not provide complete references for her sources. On page 44, she mentions that she read through an overwhelming amount of information, and summarised it in order to keep the information manageable. While this is a good choice for this kind of book in many ways, it does mean that the reader has to take her information more or less on faith.

4) While she advocates against a fear-based response through most of the book, there are some places where this is not done. One is the inclusion of a letter from her sister on pages 138-139, but also in mentions of 'outwitting evildoers'.

5) There is no specific discussion of some specific reasons teens might want to make use of online resources that their parents might not approve of or feel comfortable with.

This includes teens exploring LGBT orientation or identity issues, those who are struggling with abusive relationships, teens dealing with illness or other significant stresses in their household, or concerns about their friends dealing with these issues where anonymity may be more important. Online resources can be a significant support for teens in need, even while they present some safety concerns. While the ideal is for teens not to be dealing with these issues, and to be able to turn to their parents or other trusted family members for support, that's not always the case.

6) There's very little discussion of other common issues, such as cyberbullying and other kinds of harassment. While many of the steps Neal suggests would help avoid these issues, an explicit discussion (particularly as one moves into higher levels of freedom and responsibility on her scale) would be very useful. I would have prefered a chapter on how to talk to teens about handling these issues (which can also come up even if you restrict online friends to those one knows in real life.)

7) I would have liked to see more discussion about how to help teens move from living at home into a college or workplace environment. The top level of her scale includes a lot of danger warnings: there are helpful ways to manage these concerns that are relevant and useful for college age students (or those who move out and get jobs) that parents can help their kids prepare for.

Any Other Comments:
Overall, this is a good book for those who want a detailed examination of how to handle MySpace's technology, and for the questions and exploration it encourages with one's teens.

However, as mentioned above, this book may not feel inclusive to all readers (due to the religious commentary), and does not address all the important topics related to online safety and behavior as thoroughly. While I'd recommend it for its intended goals, you should look for and use other titles and resources to fill in the gaps.

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