by Anne Collier
Teen blogging is definitely on parents', educators', reporters' radar screens now (it has been on law-enforcement ones a while longer). Stories about it – good, bad, and somewhere in between – are popping up in local news sites nationwide.
The story of Karen, mother of a MySpacer in California, represents that snowball effect. Last August she talked with me about her concerns for her teen blogger. After NetFamilyNews featured her story, a Wall Street Journal reporter called me for sources on the subject, and Karen gave permission for him to call her. Since that article ran, national-level TV interest kicked in. Karen told me this week she's had calls from producers at The Oprah Winfrey Show and Good Morning America. Below you'll find just a sampler of the best recent coverage and resources from around country, including a Business Week cover story.
But first: a blogger's own perspective, that of Amanda, 18, an American au pair in The Netherlands and user of three blogging sites. She emailed me in response to Karen's story, "A mom writes: Teen solicited in MySpace"….
"Of course there are creeps on MySpace," Amanda wrote, but there are creeps everywhere. Not just on the Internet. Besides, blogging teaches important job skills! Many kids learn how to edit style sheets and html because of blogs.
"They are also a great place to make friends that you can tell everything. You have times when you just can't tell your real-life friends about the things going on in your life."
I emailed her back, wondering if she'd talk about her own blogging experience, and she sent back some great insights:
NetFamilyNews: Where do you blog? Why did you pick that service?
Amanda: "I have 3 different blogs: a livejournal, a xanga, and a myspace. I have three because my friends all have different blog spaces and this helps me stay in touch with them."
NFN: How much do you share – pretty private stuff? Do you use privacy features in the sites?
A: "I put a lot in them. When I am angry with someone, that goes in. Something funny happened today, that goes in. Sometimes I cut stuff out of one journal because of the friends I have on it. My best friend is on my livejournal and not my xanga. So when I am mad at her, it goes into my xanga. I don't usually, I used to, but I don't have my ex-boyfriend's mom reading my journal either."
NFN: Have you been contacted by strangers? What do you do about it – just ignore them?
A: "If they are nice, I might talk to them. If someone posts a really useful comment on my journal, I usually skim through their journal. Sometimes you get creepy people trying to contact you, but I just block them."
NFN: Do your parents know you blog – have you all talked about it at all? What's their position?
A: "I haven't lived with my parents since I was 15, so they have no control of my Internet usage."
NFN: So are the people in your blogging community mostly people you met online, i.e. 'strangers'? Is your purpose in blogging mainly to explore stuff you wouldn't share with people you've met in person, or is that just part of it?
A: "Some of my real-life friends are on my blogs also, a lot of people from old schools, people from concerts. Some people are from forums. It's really nice to read about how someone else's life is going. I met my best friend online. We talked on a fourm for a long time, and then we talked on AIM, then we met in person. You can find people interested in the same things you are – music, books, animals, etc., so much easier than in person. You're not limited to just people in your own city."
NFN: Do your real-life friends (at school, for example) not know about your blog?
A: "Some of them do, the ones that also have blogs. When I was in school anyway."
NFN: Does blogging kind of replace the social life you had when you were in school?
A: "No I go out a lot. I had the same online life when I was in school. I have been a pretty heavy Internet user for a couple years now. It's an easy way to find things to do. I found my favorite coffee house in Oklahoma over the Internet. We all take our laptops and watch webtoons and help each other with coding for our blogs."
Readers: I love hearing from you. Email me anytime about this article, blogging at your house or school, or any other kid-tech issue you'd like to air. My address: email@example.com.
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- "'A place for friends' and foes: Students, schools struggle with Myspace" in Verde, a magazine by and for students of Palo Alto High School ("Paly")
- "'There are some real creeps out there': Some North Coast parents are ramping up their Internet savvy as more local children log on and converse with strangers" in the Daily Astorian (Ore.)
- "Boy meets girl, and the Internet goes wild: Jackson native faces Web 'Will she or won't she?'" in the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun
- "Lesson for Murdoch: Keep the Bloggers Happy" – the New York Times looking into how/whether MySpace.com changed after News Corp. acquired it last year for $580 million
- "In the blink of an eye, blogs became big" – the Philadelphia Inquirer looks into blogging's growth
- "Sites are the new parenting frontier: But hardly one to despair over, so long as you take precaution" at the Lexington Herald-Leader
- "Online confessions: A growing number of teens are using their online blogs to express themselves" at the Tuscaloosa (Ala.) News
- "Website's power to overexpose teens stirs a warning: Parents alerted to MySpace.com" in the Boston Globe
- Security is becoming an issue for bloggers themselves: "Student blogs on the rise, despite security risks" in Washington University's Student Life newspaper
- "Give & Take" at StaySafe.org: A mom and her 14-year-old blogger talk to SafeKids.com's Larry Magid about their takes on teen blogging
- Back doors to MySpace: Blogger Randy Charles Morin provides work-arounds for students seeking "alternative access" to MySpace at schools where it's blocked by school network filters (I was surprised that Randy emailed me his instructions for students – did he feel parents and educators should know of the workarounds too?)
- "What to Do When Your Mom Discovers Your Blog" in Blogger.com's Help section
- "The MySpace Generation" – Business Week cover story, including the sidebar, "Protecting Your Kids From Cyber-Predators: Tips for parents as their teenagers venture into social networks." Business Week reports that "last spring, MySpace created an algorithm to identify underage users and eradicated 330,000 profiles." MySpace says "about a quarter" of its 165 employees monitor safety through customer service." The article doesn't say how it does that, but a cybersafety consultant and attorney MySpace hired for the purpose, Parry Aftab, said the site "reviews photographs and removes snapshots showing members topless or in offensive t-shirts." Facebook also "employs algorithms to remove problematic users and follows up on reports of user abuse." Another protection is that "college users also must have an email address ending in "edu" [and basically communicate only with people on their campus] and high school users can join only if a member invites them in."