Check out their MySpace page! According to USA Today, kids reveal a surprising amount of details about themselves online. These days, roughly half of all teenagers use social networking sites, such as MySpace or Facebook. According to a new study published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, more than half of these kids mention drugs, alcohol, sex and/or violence on their profile pages. So why would they do this?

Dr. Megan Moreno is a pediatrician who helped with the study, which was conducted at the University of Washington in Seattle. She says kids boast online about “getting wasted” or “hooking up” in an attempt to seem “cool.” However, it can make it seem as if everyone’s doing it — which can pressure other teens into taking risks. Or at least, giving the impression on their profiles that they are. A lot of these kids don’t think that anyone besides their friends would be interested in this information, but that’s not true. Young people could be rejected by college recruiters or hiring managers who see rude language or incriminating photos on their profiles.        

The good news is that getting teens to clean up their image is easier than you might think. Moreno sent emails to the nearly 200 of the 500 teens she surveyed, encouraging them to re-examine their profiles. In the email, she expressed concern about their MySpace postings. She told them, “You seem to be quite open about sexual issues or other behaviors. Are you sure that’s a good idea? After all, if I could see it, nearly anybody could.” She also gave the teens information about sexually transmitted diseases. Three months later, 14% of those who received Moreno’s email had eliminated sexual references from their profiles. Also, those who received emails were more likely to make their pages private. Michael Rich, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital Boston, says this method could discourage teens from engaging in other risky behaviors, such as drug and alcohol abuse, but in his opinion, an email is more likely to succeed if it comes from an anonymous expert. Parents, principals or pastors who send the information might be perceived as spying.