Larry talks with "Susan," 14, and her mom "Joanne" (names changed to protect their privacy).
Interview by Larry Magid
Blogs, or "spaces," have become extremely popular among teenagers and we thought it would be interesting to get the perspective of a teenager blog user and her parent. Both mother and daughter are smart and net savvy and both have put some thought into how to safely use these services. Still, there are differences between the two of them; including the girl's willingness to provide personal information that mom considers to be inappropriate for a public blog. The questions are in green italics and the answers in standard text.
Susan, 14-Year-Old Daughter
Tell me about some of the things you put up on your blog that maybe some people might consider inappropriate.
I do put my first and last name. I don't write blogs – but I have friends who do – what they put up is what they did today or how they feel at the time, but it's not, in my opinion, something anyone would look at and get the wrong impression. In my opinion if you read someone's blog, then you kind of know that person and, if not, what are you going to do besides read something that you don't know?
You do put your first and last name, you put your school and you put photographs of yourself. Is that right?
Yes I do.
Are you at all concerned about whether that's appropriate or safe?
I know the risks, and if someone wants to look at my profile, I let them, but if someone wants to be my friend, I always check out their profile and make sure I know them before I add them as a friend. And if someone wants to send me a message, I don't respond to anyone who I don't know.
When you say profile, what are the privileges that a member of the general public would have if you just publish your profile versus making them your friend?
You can have a private profile where no one can look it unless they're friends, and you can have a public one where everyone can see it, and the only privilege that a friend has is that they can post comments on your picture and your profile.
So you're saying that anything you post on your space is available to anyone in the public.
The fact that you put your first and last name and your school: What do you think are the risks associated with putting your first and last name?
Personally, I don't see the risks that much. Like, I know that if a predator wanted to find me, then I guess so, but you don't see my profile unless you know how to find me. If you type my name in the search you would see my profile. But who would type it in who doesn't know me?
What if you typed in the name of your school, your town and the word "Female?"
Then you'd probably get a thousand other things. I'm not the only one under those categories and if they look at my school's name they'd probably get a thousand people there.
But let's say that I were a predator and I was looking for a girl who went to that high school because I knew I lived nearby and would have access to her. Could I find you?
Does that at all concern you?
Kind of, but how would they pick me out of everyone at my school? Like I don't post my schedule or anything and I know friends who do post their schedules – you can post it, but I just don't.
Would it scare you if you knew that someone who had done exactly what you did actually was confronted by someone with bad intentions?
If I knew the person and was close to them, kind of, but I do know stories of people who have been sexually assaulted over the Internet. All I can say is that doesn't always happen. The person had to be careless to a certain extent. If someone says "meet me here," I wouldn't do that, I know that. But I guess, sometimes, the circumstances are there, but you have to be kind of careless. Information like where you're going, what you're doing like exact information – "I'm being in the dark corner of an alley at 3:00 in the morning." That's careless if you say that. But I don't say anything like where I'm going to be.
Let's talk about photographs. Tell me about the type of photographs you might put up there.
I like putting up photos of me just doing random things. I don't have a digital camera, so whatever I can get I pretty much get. If I'm at a party and a friend takes a picture of me, then I want to put it up. I like putting pictures of me up that I think are pretty or make me look good or something. I would not put up any pictures of me like pornography or anything, and you do have to certify [in, when you post a photo] that it's not pornography. You can [get around that and] put up porn, but I don't.
There are degrees of poses ranging from hard core pornography, to suggestive facial expressions, dressing in a certain way that could be suggestive. Where would you draw the line?
If maybe I am acting a little sexy in a picture, I'd put it up not to be like "Hey, sexual predators, come to me," but like maybe as a joke because, yeah, we are like kind of teenagers and we put up things that maybe we shouldn't, but I feel if I didn't put up that picture, then regardless of whether a predator wanted me, it's not going to make a difference.
How old are you?
How old do you say you are?
I say that I'm 16 on one site and 14 on the other.
Why do you say you're 16?
Well, you have to be over 16 to have an account on this service but it says on my profile that I was born in '91, so it's not like I'm trying to be 16, it's just that you have to be over a certain age and until I am that age, I have to be the lowest age possible.
Do you know kids under 13 who are doing this as well?
Yes, I have friends in 6th and 7th grade who have a blog or space?.
Are you willing to share your pages with your parents?
No. Because they kind of over react about everything. That's kind of what I've gotten used to.
Tell me about overreacting – why is that a problem?
I feel they have told me the risks and I know what the situation is, and I know as much information as possible. All they can do is tell me the risk. That's pretty much as far as what they can do, and I just have to take them into consideration when I put things on my space.
Do you think your parents would punish you, perhaps by taking away your Internet privileges or other privileges if they found you had crossed certain boundaries?
And do you think that's appropriate parenting?
Well, I don't think they quite understand the situation half the time. I personally think that they think any picture of my looking good or even smiling is inappropriate and they probably think anything on my page is inappropriate, but that's just their mindset. I don't know if it's good parenting.. I realize the situation and I know that there are cases where someone has gotten hurt over the Internet. But I'm smart enough. At least I feel I'm smart enough to know not to meet anyone who comes to me, not to email or message anyone, not to add people as friends who I don't know or who could be potentially dangerous, and I always look at other people's profiles, and – as long as you know the risks – I feel that's kind of all you can do at the moment.
Joanne, Susan's Mother
What do you know about what your daughter is doing on blogs of various kinds?
Very, very little. Not as much as I'd like to know.
Why don't you know more about it?
Because she really feels that that's an invasion of her privacy and she knows what she's doing and it's like writing in her diary. You know mothers are not supposed to look at their children's diaries.
Would you look at her personal diary if you had access to it?
I would ask her permission. I would not do it without asking her permission.
One difference between the diary that she might keep in her room and what she's doing on these spaces is that other people – perhaps not you – but other people can look at these. Does that concern you at all?
It concerns me a lot because I think that, being 14 years old, their judgments are not necessarily where they think their judgments are. In other words, she thinks she's very savvy, that she knows street smarts and I think that most 14-year-olds think they do but they don't necessarily know that yet. The fact that she thinks that other people can't see it unless she gives them permission and when people look at it they're not going to use it against her – I think it's very naïve.
If you could give her advice that she would actually take, specifically how would you advise she go about using or not using services like these.
I would specifically say, "Don't use services like these and don't put anything personal on there; especially if it's going to come back and sting you." But until that really stings her she will keep on doing it. It's like most people. You can tell them they need to do something else and they don't do that until they get hurt by somebody else and I think that's when she'll realize it. Something will happen to her and hopefully it's something minor and then she'll realize that she shouldn't be putting stuff out there like that – she doesn't like somebody or that somebody was mean to her, or these things that these girls do to each other. They tend to be very catty. One day she doesn't like Martha and she puts something bad out there and one day Martha sees it and gets very angry at her and hates her but she really didh't mean it, it's just her expression, and it's already done. She couldn't take it back.
Do you know if she puts any information on her site that could possibly identify specifically who she is?
Yes. I think she puts too much. She has her name, her last name, her birth date, the city she's in. Some of the girls put their phone number, but she doesn't do that. Considering that the city she's in there are only two high schools and she puts everything out there. She puts down what she likes, colors she likes, what she likes to eat, what she doesn't like to eat, whether she's single – whatever it is and she has her pictures out there.
Have you had a chance to look at any of her pictures?
Yes I have.
Aside from the fact that they are pictures, is there anything about pictures that concern you?
One thing I do have her do is, I need to see the site anytime I want to. But I don't see what the other people write to her about. I don't see the blogs [posts, which only people on Susan's Friends list can see]. I don't see her expressions on there. I just see her main site. So I don't know what she's communicating to others, but I do make her show me what's on there.
And she's OK with that?
Yes. She'd rather me not and it's very easy to take something off when your mother wants to see it and put it back on as soon as your mother goes, and that I have no idea. If I say no in the house she has access to it at the library, she has access at school, she has access at friends' houses, so there are a tremendous amount of places she can get access to it if I said to her that in the house she couldn't do it. And probably 85% of her friends are online doing this too.
About the photos, there are two issues. One is that a photograph may make it possible for someone to identify her, and I've seen photographs on some of these sites that are a little bit risqué for a young person.
They are definitely risqué, they definitely want to show off their sexual appeal, they want to show off their beauty and they sometimes put things on there just to show how outlandish they can be. They can put them with another woman, they can put them in unusual positions. She is totally convinced that everybody is doing this, so therefore what she's doing is just like anyone else. She's not showing off any body parts, which is true.
So she's fully clothed?
She's fully clothed like you'd see her on the street. It's just the way she's posing looks suggestive. Her facial expressions, her body expressions are very suggestive of 'hey look at me, I'm sexy, I'm cute, I'm wonderful.
But that isn't unusual for a 14-year-old girl to be that way, at school, for example?
Right. But they keep it to themselves. They don't expose the whole world. Plus, the reason they get these photos on there, it's not the photos I've taken or other people. They have these cell phones and it's from the cell phone cameras, and they can take them at any time and any place and put them on the Internet – and that's one of my concerns too, that these people with cell phones can sometimes take a picture of you in a revealing position and put it on their Web sites, and you can't do anything about it.
I'm sure you are a very responsible mother and probably always had the kids in seat belts or car seats and have lectured to them about drinking, etc. Do you feel as good a parent online as you are in the physical world?
Absolutely not. Because I have no control over it and I have no control over who she corresponds with and who she doesn't correspond with. I do trust her judgment, but at some point.. You know, I haven't heard any stories, and this is why she's not afraid. She hasn't heard any stories of anybody she's close with who has had something happen to them.
The one thing I will disclose from my interview with her is that she is aware that there are some young people that have been molested and exploited.
Definitely, but nobody that she knows who is her friend who has done it through the Internet at this moment. But maybe it happened that they don't even happen to it.
There are a lot of terrible things that have never happened to any of my friends but that doesn't keep me from worrying about them happening to me. Is that something about youth that is different from you and me?
Yes. I think so. I think they believe that they have no vulnerability. That they can do anything, that nothing's going to harm them. They're doing to live forever and ever.
I can see you're a responsible parent and I also know that you are the mom and sometimes parents say 'this is the way it's going to be because I'm the mom or I'm the dad.' What is it that's keeping you from fully implementing the power that you do have as her legal guardian?
Even if I could control her in the house. It's like you say to your child when you leave for school you can't wear anything revealing, you need to wear a sweat shirt but as soon as they leave the house they take the sweat shirt off and put on a shirt they bought from somebody else.
It's like the kid you see with the bicycle helmets around their handlebars.
Exactly. There's no way she goes out the door without her helmet on but as soon as she gets to that street corner she can take it off and I can't do anything about this.
How worried are you and what, if anything, do you think you might want to do about it?
What I would love to do is be able to put locks on there. I would love to have a parental lock when she's on there so that I'm on there doing it too, and also have more cases reported where kids have been exploited by putting their stuff on these places. My daughter has never been to a chat room – we're very clear she couldn't go to a chat room, but we haven't heard anything specific about these things, and I think, if there are things that happen on these sites and those things were publicized, then I think maybe she'd be afraid about doing it a little more.