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CULTURE DIGEST: Teens catching on to risks of MySpace, Facebook, study says

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Teenagers are taking precautions to protect themselves against online predators after numerous reports warned of the risks associated with social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook, according to a recent study.

Two-thirds of teens with profiles on blogs or networking sites have implemented some sort of restricted access to their information, the Pew Internet and American Life Project reported April 18. Such restrictions include passwords or limiting access to approved lists, the study found.

“I think teens are getting the message,” Amanda Lenhart, a senior research specialist with Pew and coauthor of the report, told Scripps News. “A lot of teens have been bombarded by the message that social networks are not safe. This is something teens are living with and swimming with every day, and that’s reflected in the steps they’re taking.”

Fewer than one-third of teens use their last names on profiles, and about that number include e-mail addresses, Pew found. Only 2 percent post their cell phone numbers.

“Teens, particularly girls and younger teens, have gotten the message about protecting themselves on social networks, but the fun of these networks is the ability to share yourself with others on them,” Lenhard told the Associated Press.

Most teenagers use the sites to stay in touch with existing friends, the study said, though some use their profiles to make new acquaintances. They post photos and an array of information about their lives. One-third of teens reported that they had been contacted by strangers online, but most did not feel uncomfortable with the encounter.

Based on a survey of about 1,000 teens and their parents, Pew found that 45 percent of teens who use the Internet do not have profiles at all.

Some teens also are realizing that college recruiters and employers are surfing profiles, so they are starting to consider the consequences of what they post online.

SKEWERING THE SECRET -– At least three books are in development to challenge the “The Secret,” a New Age-type book now with 5.25 million copies in print, thanks in part to Oprah Winfrey touting it on her national TV show.

“You are God in a physical body,” The Secret author Rhonda Byrne asserts in amplifying a self-help-type philosophy called the “law of attraction.” “You are Spirit in the flesh. You are Eternal Life expressing itself as You. You are a cosmic being…. You are the creator and you are creating the creation of You on this planet,” Byrne writes in the book, at times quoting the Bible.

According to The Tennessean daily newspaper in Nashville April 20, challenges to The Secret will include:

— “There’s More to the Secret,” to be published in May by Thomas Nelson Inc., which recruited Tulsa pastor Ed Gungor to author the book.

— “The Truth Behind the Secret,” to be released in July by Harvest House Publishers. Coauthors James Walker and Bob Waldrep are president and vice president, respectively, of Watchman Fellowship, a self-described cult “watchdog” ministry based in Arlington, Texas.

— “The Secret Revealed: Exposing the Truth About the ‘Law of Attraction,'” to be published in August by Nashville-based FaithWords. The book is being coauthored by San Diego pastor James L. Garlow, coauthor of “Cracking the Da Vinci Code,” and Jeff Dunn, who served as Garlow’s editor.

Illustrating the need to counter The Secret, Nelson official Matt Baugher told The Tennessean of recently watching more than 20 copies of The Secret sell in an hour at a Nashville-area Barnes & Noble bookstore.

Don Whitney, associate professor of biblical spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., penned a commentary on The Secret for Baptist Press March 1. “It is no exaggeration to say that this book implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) denies virtually every major doctrine in the Bible,” Whitney wrote. For the full commentary, go to www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=25077.

PREVALENCE OF VIOLENCE, NOT GUNS, THE PROBLEM — A shift in the way the culture views guns has led to tragedies like the Virginia Tech massacre, Robert Peters, president of Morality in Media, said.

Peters grew up during the 1950s and ’60s in a community where guns were used for hunting animals, and the availability of those guns did not mean people turned them on each other, he said in a news release April 19.

On television, gun-toting cowboys were heroes to young boys back then, “but we didn’t grow up fantasizing about shooting other human beings in real life just for the sake of shooting them or for exacting revenge,” he said.

“How then do we explain why so many young people today use guns unlawfully? One obvious part of the explanation is the decline of religion and, along with that, the decline of morality,” Peters said. “There is nothing more basic to morality than ‘You shall not kill.'”

The abandonment in the 1960s of the Hays Code that governed the film industry is another part of the puzzle, Peters said. For three decades, the Hays Code regulated the depiction of murder, which was to be presented in a way that would not inspire imitation.

“Brutal killings were not to be presented in detail. Revenge was not to be justified,” Peters said.

But the decisions by television broadcasters, cable representatives, movie producers and musicians to expose Americans to hardcore, unedited violence has desensitized youth to criminal violence, he said. Video games today even provide hands-on instructions for how to kill, Peters added.

“Without question, the increased availability of weapons designed to take human life has contributed to the increase in mayhem, but typically supply follows demand, and what has helped create the demand for such weapons is a popular culture that glamorizes their use,” Peters said.

TBN DONORS PUT ON ALERT — A ministry donor watchdog group is sounding the alarm for people who give money to the Trinity Broadcasting Network, lowering its financial transparency grade to an F because of continued questionable financial practices.

MinistryWatch.com was featured in March on ABC’s “20/20,” and TBN was one of the ministry organizations the watchdog’s founder, Rusty Leonard, said was not using money properly. TBN fought back after the show’s release, accusing MinistryWatch of fabricating evidence to make their case.

Leonard issued a donor alert April 17, providing a detailed rebuttal of TBN’s response to the 20/20 episode and calling for TBN’s leadership to step down.

“MinistryWatch.com’s desire is that TBN will undertake meaningful reforms of its business and ministry practices and enter into a process that will restore the TBN network and its leadership to full effectiveness as a sound, biblically-based Christian ministry,” the donor alert said.

TBN “sits on a $340 million cash hoard and owns houses in an exclusive Orange County, Calif., community hidden behind very regal gates,” ABC reported. “They control a mansion worth about $4 million, and an even bigger one — over 10,000 square feet — that’s worth about $6 million. The Crouches also travel the world in a jet worth a reported $7 million.”

In a press release criticizing the ABC report, Paul Crouch Jr., a TBN vice president, justified the multimillion-dollar homes by saying the ministry utilizes “both liquid and long term assets such as real estate to assure the long term viability of the ministry.”

Leonard reiterated his concern about money meant for God’s Kingdom being used to store up worldly treasures.

“We are happy to report, however, that the vast majority of Christian ministries operate with integrity, humility and faithfulness thereby bringing honor and glory to our Lord,” Leonard said.

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