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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this website.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that although ESPIN is all about flirting, sex, and indulging in teen hormones, that's not the major problem. This is a site that can pose a major danger to a teen user's delicate self-esteem. Because the site encourages members to judge peers by their profile photos, it sets up a contest that is solely based on looks and equates physical attractiveness with success in finding love and self-worth. The site also attempts to "match" up teens for love connections, but cautions that all of the interactions should remain exclusively on the site, a goal that seems to be too ambitious for its teen audience to obey.
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Is it any good?
This site is voluminous, with games, quizzes, surveys, chatting, and the random crush-finder application that gives the site its name. ESPIN captures the sense of innocence, naughtiness, and curiosity that define the teenage years. But things take a tailspin when the site plays to the lowest teen urges to segregate and ostracize based on the most superficial qualities. This site doesn't play by the rules of the old spin-the-bottle game. With a singular focus on "hotness" and sex appeal, Espin makes flirting into a competitive sport. The site also seems incredibly naive to believe that these virtual hook-ups will remain in cyberspace.
Online interaction: Users can rate other members in an impersonal manner. Messages between "matches" are filtered to avoid the exchange of contact information, but by initiating these flirtatious connections, the site is tempting users to want to meet. The site advises users to keep relations casual and strictly online, but then allows users to narrow their search for people close to their ZIP code and says things like "Get new photo profiles of highly-compatible Spinners every time you log in. Kind of like The Bachelor, except your relationship might actually work out!"
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the media pressures teens to be pretty and attractive. Can you think of any ads, Web sites, or music videos that have made you feel unsure of yourself? Boys and girls both tackle these problems when they are teens. What can you do to feel more confident?
What makes a social networking site safe to use and what can you do to be safe while socializing on-line? Have you discussed safe habits with your family? Do your friends play it safe on-line or do they sometimes do irresponsible things?
How do you feel about a Web site that encourages teens to judge others by what they look like in a photograph? Do you think this type of criticism brings out the best or worst in people? If a person gets all low ratings for her photo, do you think that will make her feel good about herself? Would this have the same effect as cyberbullying?