Yes, there’s more to the Web than MySpace.com. Here are a few sites that’ll let teens explore new online territory without keeping their parents up at night with worry.
Need a break from the books? Give yourself five minutes
on this site to play ping-pong, make monkeys dive off a cliff, or shoot kittens out of a cannon. You’ll have to put up with some ads, as well as a few truly bad games, but that’s the price you pay for free gaming.
Are your bookmarks getting out of control?
Del.icio.us lets you keep a collection of favorite links on a Web page that you can access from anywhere—home, school, or a friend’s house. Tagging each entry allows you to filter and sort sites easily. Plus, you can see what other people who like the same stuff have tagged, and discover something new and cool.
Think of it as a more intimate version of MySpace.
Facebook lets you post stats, pictures, and information about your favorite music, TV shows, and movies. Friends can leave messages for you on the Wall. And the best part: it’s only open to high-school and college students. To get in, you need either a .edu e-mail address or an invitation from someone within the network.
Writing a paper on hurricanes? Curious about the difference between beam, arch, and suspension bridges? No matter what the topic—UFOs, hypnosis, or microprocessors—
HowStuffWorks can probably tell you what you need to know, and often more than you ever needed to know.
This site is like a best friend who knows you inside out. Tell
Pandora your favorite song or artist, and it will set you up with a streaming radio station that it thinks you’ll enjoy. Pandora uses melody, harmony, rhythm, and other song attributes to find tunes that match your tastes, with the hope of breaking you out of the musical doldrums.
Here’s something that will both pass the time and help you exercise your brain.
Web Sudoku offers puzzles for every level—easy, medium, hard, and evil. Plus it keeps track of how long each puzzle takes you, your average solving time, and how your speed compares to that of other solvers.
Online networking sites like MySpace have been getting a bad rep lately. Sure, they have their share of shady characters. But they are also online homes to millions of perfectly nice people who just want to express themselves, meet up with friends, or carve out their own piece of the Web.
So how do you make sure your kids use them safely? Here are some tips from James Steyer (CEO of
Common Sense Media ) and Parry Aftab (executive director of
Tell your kids to avoid posting any personal identifiers—addresses, birth dates, schedules, party postings, anything that lets people know where teenagers are going to be at a certain time.
Avoid inappropriate pictures
No matter how funny those spring break or graduation party pics are, you never know when a teacher, guidance counselor, or even a college admissions officer might happen across them. Make sure all posted pictures are strictly PG.
Ask your kids what security settings they’re using and why they chose them. For instance, MySpace users can allow only friends to view their full profile. Also, talk to your kids about whom they’re allowing on their friends list and what criteria they’re using.
Forbid in-person meetings
Don’t let your kids meet in person with anyone they’ve encountered online. It’s as easy as that.
Ask your kids to sit down with you and give you a guided tour of their personal page. Aftab recommends giving them 24 hours’ notice so they can do whatever rejiggering they want to do (such as hiding personal notes from friends).
Set age limits
Sites like MySpace require kids to be 14 years old to create a page. Take heed, and don’t let your 13-year-old prematurely age himself or herself.
Report negative activity
If something bad happens—someone suspicious contacts your kid, for example, or classmates taunt him or her—report it. Web sites wield magical banning powers.
[ Cathy Lu is a science and technology writer based in Seattle. ]