Bebo: don’t let your child come to harm If you have a teenage child you have probably heard of Bebo, and seen it in action, looking over your child’s shoulder. But should you be concerned about it? Why so much media hype about it? Well, how would you feel if your 13-year-old daughter hung around with a group of 20-somethings in the local park every evening? Would you be concerned, knowing that they talked about intimate things, recalling what they were up to last weekend, discussing how to get around parental control, sharing mobilephone videos? That is what your daughter may be doing if she is on Bebo—the most popular social networking website in Ireland and the UK. It allows members to share personal information, view each other’s pictures, take polls, send messages, watch home-made videos, etc. It’s a good-fun way to stay in touch with friends. The media highlight the obvious dangers of sites like Bebo and MySpace: users gain access to inappropriate material; are vulnerable to bullying and abuse; they can easily fall prey to predators, etc. Horror stories abound. A 14-year-old girl was raped in Drogheda a few months back after contacting, through Bebo, three men pretending to be teenagers. But spending too much time on Bebo can harm the formation of a young person in more subtle ways. These sites foster curiosity, vanity and jealousy. And they encourage dishonesty: you can provide any age and any story you like about yourself. Many teenagers now use Bebo and MSN chatting to develop friendships with the opposite sex. But they miss out on a key aspect of any relationship: empathic communication. At a computer screen you don’t see, hear or experience the feelings of the other person. Even using web-cameras is no substitute for a genuine relationship. So, it’s important to foster close relationships at home: meals together, going on outings with family and friends, engaging in team sports, even watching and discussing TV together. Young people should remember that anything nasty they post on the internet may return to bite them in the future. Employers can easily screen new recruits based on stuff from them or about them on the Internet. So, parents and teachers need to engage with children about what they are writing, reading and contributing in Bebo. As always, the best way to protect children is to teach them how to use their freedom well: to choose what is good, helpful and suitable and to avoid what is harmful. ● Luisón Lassala, is Director of Anchor Youth Centre in Artane, Dublin and a freelance IT consultant.