Megan Meier, 13, fell in love. His name was Josh Evans, a handsome, kindly 16-year old. His address? MySpace.
Suddenly, the love of her life dropped her, stating the world would be better off without her. She took it very seriously, committing suicide.
Suicide is always tragic. But sometimes it gets real scary. For "Josh" was not a real person. He was allegedly co-invented by Lori Drew, who lived on the same street, working with her daughter and an 18-year old employee.
Let's check into the profile of these folks. Both families live on the same street, residing in reasonably large homes (bigger than anything in Juneau). These folks are entrepreneurial, wealthy and well-educated. Folks talk to each other in this neighborhood. Now, they are shunning the Drews, asking them to move out.
What is scary about this whole episode is that a parent is in the middle of it. Lori Drew claims that she did not create the fictional character, but she knew about it.
It sounds strangely similar to what I heard about several kids being kicked off a sports teams when they were caught drinking - and parents were sitting watching TV upstairs!
Or does it sound similar to parents who get an ominous letter in the mail from the music industry arranging for a neat $10,000 settlement because their kid downloaded 2,000 songs? "Who, my kid? I know nothin' about this!"
I think we need to sober up and realize, as parents, that allowing kids on the Internet is about as risky as giving a kid the keys to the car. Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School recently presented statistics addressing the level of harassment on the Internet and how it affects kids at school. This past week, 49 states and MySpace joined together to systematically seek out and block sex predators. But regardless of how much teachers, governments and corporations address these issues, it really rests in the hands of the parents.
The solution is quite simple - be around. Regardless of all the parental control technology, the best solution is simply being in the room when the kids are on the computer.
One idea is to set up browsers under a protected account where the parent has to type in the password. Microsoft's Vista has a really cool parental control service that allows you to customize which programs a child can use, and you can track where they go and what files they are viewing or downloading. Rather than sneaking around and spying on a kid, just show them how it works!
Finally, talk about it. Ask your child if they are ever bullied over the Internet. Ask what they like, what is funny, what is interesting, and what they are learning. Just don't leave a kid behind a closed door.
Back to the Drews. Fortunately, for them, there were no laws on the books to prosecute them for what they did to Megan Meier. But now the city of Dardenne Prairie, Mo., has passed a law making it a misdemeanor to bully a minor on the Internet. The Missouri governor has a task force that will recommend a similar law for the entire state. But federal prosecutors in Los Angeles have presented a case before a grand jury, stating that MySpace was defrauded. And - it was. So parents be warned.