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5/24/2005
08:09 AM
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Teen Blogs: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

In the seventh grade, my friends and I produced a weekly "mini-magazine" featuring articles on cosmetics and hairstyles, our lists of likes and dislikes, horoscopes, all of the typical teen stuff. It was nothing fancy -- handwritten text, ditto paper, our crude illustrations of Dorothy Hamill and Farrah Fawcett hairstyles.

In the seventh grade, my friends and I produced a weekly "mini-magazine" featuring articles on cosmetics and hairstyles, our lists of likes and dislikes, horoscopes, all of the typical teen stuff. It was nothing fancy -- handwritten text, ditto paper, our crude illustrations of Dorothy Hamill and Farrah Fawcett hairstyles.Now teens are using computers to post blogs -- sort of their own personal magazines -- with professional graphics, instant messaging, digital photos, and links to other sites. Quite a change from our dittoed and stapled publication back in 1977. But what we did and what kids are doing today serve the same purpose. For kids, blogs are a medium through which they can express their new-found identities as real people, not just extensions of their parents: "My favorite color is icy pink, my favorite car is PT Cruiser, my favorite singer is Beyonce and I don't like face piercings, but pierced bellies are OK."

So, in that sense, blogs serve a purpose, by helping young people develop communication skills and shout out who they are to the rest of the world. And there are a lot of them shouting: Teenagers are responsible for about half of all blogs, according to a report by Perseus Development Corp.

But there's an ugly side to teen blogs. According to an article in the Ann Arbor News on May 17, the Michigan city's school district recently blocked access to the Web site xanga.com, which hosts teen blogs, from any school-district-owned computer. A district spokeswoman told the newspaper that students were posting inappropriate comments about other students on their blogs.

But kids being kids doesn't come close to the real danger of posting personal information online. Blogs present a huge opportunity for child predators, possibly even more so than chat rooms. Online journals that disclose teens' personal dislikes and likes -- and maybe even problems with family or friends, hometowns, and full names -- are like gifts to a predator, literally becoming an information tool one could use to get close to a teen.

Still, I'm not sure restricting access is the answer. Blogs are a relatively constructive form of expressing individuality for teens -- we all know there are a lot worse forms. But their emergence does make parents' jobs even more demanding than they already are, meaning not only do they have to monitor what kids watch on TV, the Web sites they visit, who they hang out with, and what time they come home, but they need to somehow monitor their kids' blogs and what they're letting the world know about them, without threatening their fledgling efforts at becoming an adult.

There are no easy answers to that challenge, and with kids too young to blog, I'm no expert on the subject. But as a society, it's something we all need to be concerned about. There are some valuable information sources for parents and their kids on this topic: i-Safe America Inc., a nonprofit foundation designed to bring Internet safety education and awareness to kids, and WiredSafety.org, an online safety and help group run by Parry Aftab, an Internet privacy and security lawyer. I think it would be wise of parents to find out if their kids are blogging and doing so responsibly, because we've come a long way from ditto paper

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