More than 100 million teens across America use MySpace.com to communicate with each other online. Chances are that your kids are among them. The site, which allows teens to create their own Web pages, can be a fun way for your kids to express themselves and connect with friends. But it can also be a portal to danger, opening the door to predators who want to find and take advantage of kids like yours.

What makes the crucial difference is how involved you are as a parent in your kids’ online activities. Do you know what kind of personal information they’re posting for the world to see? Do you know who they’re chatting with online?

If not, you should. Here’s how you can protect your kids on MySpace.com:

Seek to guide, not control. Understand that you’ll relate more successfully to your kids – and empower them to grow more mature – if you guide them toward wise decisions rather than forcing those decisions on them. Ask God to give you the wisdom to work with your kids in respectful ways to help them learn about what is and isn’t appropriate online. Recognize that you need your kids’ cooperation to give you access to their MySpace accounts, and keep in mind that you want your kids to trust you enough to open up to you. Don’t spy on them, resorting to deception to gain information about what they’re doing online. Instead, be honest with your kids about why you’re monitoring their behavior, and know that your kids will likely respond to your honesty by being transparent with you. Remind them that, on the Internet, once they post something they can’t take it back, because it can be easily forwarded all over cyberspace. Also remind them that people aren’t always who they claim to be online, and often it’s very difficult to discern the truth about people’s real identities and all too easy to be deceived by predators. Explain your reasons for concern to your kids instead of just demanding that they stop doing something on MySpace just because you said so. Help your kids understand the biblical principles behind your decisions. Realize that if you show them how to think and pray thoroughly about something rather than jumping to conclusions, you’ll set an inspiring example for them and they’ll be more likely to follow that process to make their own decisions. Consider having your kids use the computer in the open (such as in the living room) instead of in their bedrooms, or at least knowing that you can look over their shoulders at any time while they’re online. Once they mature and demonstrate greater responsibility, prayerfully consider giving them more freedom.

Get to know the site. Realize that MySpace isn’t your enemy; it’s simply a technology that can be used for either good or bad purposes. Know that the better you understand MySpace, the more effectively you can use it to figure out what your kids are doing online and how best to protect them. Expect your kids to respect what you say more if you know how to navigate MySpace, appreciate its benefits, and understand its problems. Open your own free account with MySpace so you can experience everything your kids do on the site and come to thoroughly understand it. Then spend whatever time you can each day learning more about how to navigate the site. Know that you can follow your kids around simply by clicking on the different pictures, videos, comments, blogs, and links on their pages.

Review your kids’ personal pages. Recognize that the headline sections are like snapshots of your kids’ personalities. Notice what kind of image of themselves your kids are presenting. Pay attention to the type of personal information your kids have included. Make sure they don’t disclose their schools, hometown, address, or phone number, so predators won’t know their physical location. But also make sure that they’re honest about their ages, especially because MySpace has safeguards in place to protect younger users. Encourage your kids to use their first names only, and not to go into detail about sensitive private topics such as dating relationships, sexual histories, addictions, tragic family stories, and fragile dreams. Look at the photos and videos your kids have uploaded, and consider whether or not any are too flirtatious, show family or friends (which might help strangers piece together your kids’ lives and destroy your privacy) or feature distinguishing landmarks that can help predators determine where your kids live. Read the comments posted on your kids’ pages by every visitor, and click on each visitor’s name to go to that person’s pages to see who they are and whether or not your kids have left comments for them. Check out which groups (virtual chat rooms) your kids participate in, what they discuss there, and who they’re interacting with in the groups. Read your kids’ blogs (online journals) and blurbs. Pay attention to the “Top 8” list on your kid’s front page; this lists their top eight friend profiles and will likely give you a goldmine of information about their closest friends. Run your mouse over everything else on your kids’ pages to see if anything has a hidden link. Ask your kids why they’ve chosen to feature the type of information and images they’ve posted on their pages, and listen respectfully and so they know you’re genuinely trying to understand their perspectives.