My kids have set up MySpace profiles, even though they were not supposed to. They insist that only their friends have access to their profiles, but how can a parent be sure? How do I know?

I just entered my daughter’s e-mail address and went straight to her page, although I could not go any further because I had to be a member to log in. Even at that, I was surprised at the info that was available.

The kids think they are so smart about how they manage their profiles. What can we do?

– Nancy Heslin, via e-mail

Overnight, MySpace replaced the convenience store parking lot or mall fountain as a gathering place for kids starting in junior high school or earlier and going pretty much all the way through high school and well beyond, Ms. H.

As you indicate, each young user gets a home page containing a personal photo and a self-composed profile, as well as a message board to exchange info with friends and a blog spot to post thoughts with friends and others.

MySpace thus is doing stuff on the Web that people used to do on the streets. So, your real fix is to use the same parental powers and tactics that work for other hangouts and batten down for youthful howls of protest.

Put down your foot and demand that they give you the same access that they give to their friends and other MySpace members. Then add that MySpace page to the Favorites in your own browser and make a daily practice of checking things out.

Better yet, take a couple of minutes and set up your own MySpace account so you can watch your children’s MySpace space as a logged-in user. Signup is quick and simple.

Because I report about it, I may be the oldest person with a MySpace account, but if you just go to and browse the postings, you will find a range of age groups where kids registered as being ages 14 and 15 are communicating with 30- and 35-year-old men and women and where few holds seem to be barred. MySpace operators post warnings that children must be 14 and must not lie about their age, but there is nothing to stop a much younger child from joining.

Depending upon the age of your young’uns, you should consider intervening in how they set up their MySpace accounts to minimize the potential for what I consider hurtful and outrageous overtures from stalkers, general creepy people and high-pressure sales gimmicks.

When a person signs up for a MySpace account, many privacy and security options can be set to minimize the downside on this Internet phenomenon that brings huge upside socializing for its audience.

For example you can discourage unknown people from getting through to your kid by requiring that a valid e-mail address be provided before that person can be added to the Friends list that is the heart and soul of this Web service designed to foster socializing.

Likewise you can set the account to hide your kids from being listed to all comers when they go online; you can stop others from passing along e-mail links to download your kid’s photo and restrict blog posts to only people you know. You can even block the feature where music from a favorite band gets played when your kid visits somebody else’s area on MySpace, which will guard against sexually and racially offensive lyrics.

As a parent, you even can order your children’s accounts closed by going to and clicking on the Safety item at the bottom of the page.

You also can find links in a special parents’ area that point to software that can be installed on a computer to let you monitor every keystroke the kids make and to otherwise watch and censor their access.

Got a question on personal technology? Send a note to Jim Coates at [email protected] Questions can be answered only through this column.

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