Parents: Read what your child is posting

Published 4:14 pm Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Thirty-two memorial messages now grace the site of Matt Whittington.

The postings on the social networking Web site start on March 14, the day 16-year-old Matt was shot and killed.

Some messages say R.I.P. Others recount school-age memories from the cafeteria or the football field. One awards Matt with a clipart pair of wings that he can use in heaven.

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Message No. 33, counting from today back in time, was posted on March 1 — by Connor Wood.

Count down 24 more messages and things get too creepy for the average soul.

Connor posted again, this time without words. Instead he used keyboard symbols to draw a picture — of a gun.

Facebook started as a college thing about five years ago. Friends can link to friends, send messages, view photos and write notes. It’s easy to find a friend you haven’t spoken to in 10 years in less than 10 minutes.

Within the last two years the wildly popular Web site branched out first to high school students, then to just about anyone.

It still has a reasonable amount of privacy features, but if you try hard enough, you can get past those.

Teenagers, college students, young adults and the occasional hip (or creepy), older adults talk casually to each other on the site. They say good things, bad things, loving things, hateful things.

Nine times out of 10, everything is a joke.

Maybe Connor’s gun was a joke. Maybe it was a hidden message between two friends. Maybe it was a threat. Maybe it was nothing.

We probably won’t ever know all the answers, though some are bound to come out in the trial.

Connor called 911 on March 14. He allegedly told one story, then changed it. Either way, his parents and Matt are dead.

And 15-year-old Connor is in an adult jail.

The police won’t confirm that they confiscated the boy’s computer as part of the investigation, but they did. The neighbors watched.

It’s not fair to speculate as to what may be on the computers of Connor and Matt. No one is guilty yet. But unfortunately, no one is innocent yet either.

This isn’t your mother’s world anymore. The Ferriday tragedy isn’t an isolated event. Children do kill their parents.

In this case, the most public thing these two boys left behind is a cleverly crafted collection of keyboard symbols in the shape of a gun.

It’s eerie.

And it’s a message to us all. Parents need to see what their children post online. They need to understand their jokes. They need to be nosy.

Nearly every teenager in the Miss-Lou has a Facebook or MySpace site. Have you ever seen your child’s?

Much like diaries or hidden notes in the underwear drawer, parents don’t need to snoop through the sites. They just need to be involved. These Web sites are public.

Ask your child to show you theirs. Have them walk you through the pictures, comments and notes. Have them show you the sites of their friends.

They won’t like it, but they’ll get over it. Yes, they have things on these sites they don’t want you to see. But I can see them. You should too.

In this world, we can’t lock our children in the bedroom and hide all the guns. But we can read over their shoulders, ask too many questions and simply pay attention.

The messages on Matt Whittington’s Facebook right now are kind, sweet and loving. But when the message is R.I.P., it’s too late.

Julie Finley is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or