Miley, a cautionary tale

Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Miley Cyrus' struggle with her controversial photo in Vanity Fair presents a great opportunity for parents to discuss how seemingly innocuous photos posted to a blog or social networking site can be misinterpreted, experts say.

The 15-year-old pop star appears in the upcoming issue wrapped in what appears to be a satin bedsheet, looking over her shoulder with her back and shoulder exposed. Miley has said she is "so embarrassed" by the photos and has apologized to her fans.

But it may not be that much different from what regular girls are already putting up on the Internet, says M. Gigi Durham, author of "The Lolita Effect."

"It is pretty routine these days for girls to post provocative pictures of themselves online," she says. "The sexual objectification of young girls is so normal in today's media environment."

Parry Aftab, executive director of, agreed, saying girls as young as 11 are posing in their bras, with pursed lips on the top of sports cars and posting the photos to their MySpace pages -- without their parents' knowledge.

While many teens are savvier than their parents when it comes to social networking online, they are unaware of the consequences of posting inappropriate photos, videos and revealing personal information on the Internet, says Don Tapscott, who is working on a sequel to his "Growing Up Digital" book.

A 15-year-old may have no idea that something on her Facebook page could come back to haunt her, says Tapscott, whether it's a college recruiter, future employer, a cyberbully or someone using the information to demean her.

And trying to stop something once it's been posted, is "like trying to catch a river in your hand," says Aftab.

Parents should use this as an opportunity to open a discussion about what is appropriate for a social networking page, says Tapscott. Volunteer to review their photographs and other material before it's posted. Help them with the privacy settings, he says.

"The starting point is not to be handing down decrees or demanding to see this and that," he says, adding that for some teens a social networking page is like a diary. "The starting point is to have a conversation."

Durham suggests parents talk about the possible consequences and encourage their children to think before posting certain things.

" 'What is the benefit of this?' " she says. " 'Is this going to be good for me? Are there any potential harms to this?' They should be helped to think through those complexities."

Gary Rudman, president of GTR Consulting, a teen market research firm, says parents have to keep in mind that their children -- while technologically savvy -- are not emotionally mature.

"Just like anything else, tobacco or alcohol, they really have to load their kids up with ammunition to understand that when they communicate on MySpace for example, they are communicating to the world," he says.

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