85: Busted — The MySpace Story

85: Busted — The MySpace Story

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Middle School

Busted—The MySpace Story

Hmmm! Teenagers. They think they know everything.
You give them an inch, and they swim all over you.

~Sebastian, The Little Mermaid

Almost a year has passed since my daughter turned thirteen and got the ultimate gift from her grandparents—her own computer. To say she was psyched would be an understatement. She couldn’t wait to set up shop, surf the latest fashions, and e-mail and IM her friends from the comfort of her multi-colored, poster-crazy, gum-wrappered bedroom.

The computer came with rules, rules, rules. Never talk to anyone you don’t know, no chat rooms, and no MySpace. My daughter, Leah, would sigh (pretty loudly), roll her eyes (she is a master at eye-rolling) and say, “Mom, we’ve been over this. I know.” So all was well; Leah was officially a teen with all of the infinite possibilities of the Internet.

Sometimes as I entered Leah’s room, she would quickly minimize a screen and turn to me. “What?” she’d ask guiltily.

“Just checking in,” I’d say, or “hello!”

She would patiently wait for me to leave, and as I shut her door (at her request) I’d hear those fingers frantically hitting keys in happy rhythm.

One afternoon, I walked into Leah’s room as she was typing a long instant message.

“Who’s that?” I asked.

“Some boy from Chicago,” she replied.

“Some boy from Chicago???” I asked. “How do you know a boy from Chicago?”

She stopped typing and looked at me. “I really don’t know.”

And so the lectures began again. “Don’t talk to strangers! How do you know that’s really a teenage boy? I thought you knew the rules!”

One day when Leah was at school, I surfed the web. I had been hearing so much about MySpace in the media, and I wanted to plug in our zip code and see who popped up. I heard that teachers did this to see which kids have accounts and to make sure they are being safe. In no time at all, I saw lots of familiar faces. So many kids had their own MySpace pages. I snooped further.

It was easy to read comments and click on pictures. I saw the kid in dark glasses with a shirt pulled up to her nose and a hat pulled down to her eyebrows, a girl in a dance pose, a boy standing on his hands.... As I clicked, I learned which kids were friendly and which ones weren’t. There was that girl with dark glasses, that dancer, and that acrobat again and again.

As I read comments from the dancer, and then the kid with dark glasses, a horrible feeling swept through my body. I leaned a little closer to my computer screen as reality hit. That was no kid in dark glasses—that was my daughter!—the girl who knew she wasn’t allowed to have MySpace!

My emotions ran the gamut. They went from shock to anger to disappointment, to wondering what I would have done at thirteen. It’s not that I couldn’t understand that she really wanted a MySpace, but knowing that she did it behind my back when it was against the rules was wrong.

And although I was tempted to stomp down to the bus stop, violently waving a copy of her MySpace page, I decided there was probably a better way to handle my discovery.

I went ahead with Plan B. I created my own MySpace page and carefully selected my photo. Did I want an angry face or a happy one? A headshot or the whole me? I finally decided on a headshot—just a simple picture of smiling me cropped to a circle with one word written down the side: BUSTED. I then left Leah a “friend request” on her MySpace page, along with a message: “Busted. I thought I could trust you.” I knew when she signed on and found my picture waiting, she would know her MySpace days were over.

It didn’t take long for Leah to arrive home from school, grab a snack and disappear into her room. I waited for her to come flying down the steps, but it seemed awfully quiet up there. Finally, she came downstairs. She walked right past me.

“Uh, hello???” I said. “Is there something you’d like to say?”

“I’m sorry,” she replied. “I really am.”

So we talked. I told Leah what bugged me the most is that she knew she wasn’t allowed to have MySpace, and she did it anyway. I understood she must have really wanted it, but she never even tried to talk to me about it. I explained that MySpace has been called the “candy store for creeps.” I hated the thought of absolutely anyone out there being able to look at her picture, talk to her, and above all, hurt her in some way. A friend of hers recently had her whole page sabotaged by a former BFF—since this BFF knew her password, it was easy to get on her page and fill it with racist comments and mean images. It just seemed like there was so much potential for harm.

A lot of trust was lost that day and by the way, so was Leah’s Internet connection—right after she deleted her MySpace. She went a long time with no Internet at all. Recently, Leah came to me and sat down.

“Mom,” she said, “I’m asking this time. When can I have MySpace? I really want it.”

“Ugh.” I responded.

“I’ll be safe. I know there are bad people out there.”

I waited a few minutes before answering. “You can have it now, but it comes with rules. Set your profile to private, only talk to your friends, and know I’ll be looking.”

“You’ll be looking at my page?” She was not liking this.

“The Internet isn’t private,” I said. “Anyone can look at MySpace, because your space isn’t really yours when it’s online. And Leah?” She looked at me. “Please be careful.”

Leah’s connection to the Web was restored, along with her MySpace and my trust. Her fingers can be heard tapping away within the colored confines of her room. And maybe we both know now, a little better than before, that the most valuable communication comes from connections within families—even more valuable than the infinite possibilities of the Internet.

~Carol S. Rothchild

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