Most teenagers who maintain an online profile on the social networking site MySpace make reference to "risk" behaviors like sex, drug and alcohol abuse, and violence on their pages, according to a study released Monday.
The study Display of Health Risk Behaviors on MySpace by Adolescents, from the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, looked at the publicly-available social networking profiles of 500 18-year-olds and concluded that 54 percent of those profiles illustrated "risk behavior information": referencing sexual behaviors (24 percent of profiles), substance abuse (41 percent), and violence (14.4 percent). A Washington Post article discusses a related study on teens' risky online behavior, one in which the lead author created her own MySpace profile and emailed warnings to a number of teens about the dangers of posting "risk behavior" information on their social networking pages. 42 percent of those teens either changed their pages or made their profiles private. According to the Post, parents should consider taking similar steps with their teenagers, or try "Googling" their kids' names and talking with them about the search results.
The dangers that social networking websites like MySpace and Facebook pose to young people has taken center stage in recent months. In November, a suburban Missouri mother was convicted of three misdemeanors for her part in creating a phony persona on MySpace, actions that set in motion a series of events that ended in the suicide of a teenage girl. Earlier in 2008, MySpace reached an agreement with the attorneys general of 49 states on a number of measures to protect young MySpace users and keep sexual predators from using the site.