Teens: It's a diary. Adults: It's unsafe.
Blogs are a fun forum of self-expression for adolescents. But might blogging be dangerous?
Earlier this year, 13-year-old Shannon Sullivan of Wood-Ridge, N.J., was socializing in the same way as dozens of her classmates at Our Lady of the Assumption School. She maintained a personalized page on a website that contained her photograph and details about what makes her unique. Friends would surf by and leave fun messages.Skip to next paragraph
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But then her mother found out. And now her site, and those of her friends - once lovingly adorned with everything from sound bites to video clips - are fast disappearing at the insistence of their safety-minded parents.
"They're not aware how easily something [predatory] can happen over the Internet," says Shannon's mother, Margaret, who is a computer-science teacher at Assumption. "They really shouldn't have these sites. Maybe when they're older, in college or something, but it's just not safe before that."
In taking on the Web-posting habits of their children, parents are picking what can be a thorny fight. Personal Web pages for the preadolescent and teenage set seem to have become as common as diaries and locker decorations once were.
Of the world's approximately 38 million "blogs," or self-published Web pages, 52.8 percent belong to those age 19 or younger, according to survey data from the Perseus Co., a maker of Web-surveying software. By year's end, the firm expects the total number of blogs on the Web to reach 53.4 million.
Meanwhile, Perseus says the typical blogger continues to be a teenage girl who uses the medium primarily to communicate with five to 10 friends.
As technology-savvy youths enlist computers in the timeless teen quest to establish identity, some adults feel the stakes are too high to accept it as just another form or phase of self-expression. In this camp, crime worries trump a desire to honor young people's privacy.
Internet stalkers have killed at least four minors in the past three years, and law enforcement authorities count about 5,000 reports of attempted sexual predation over the Internet in the past year, according to Parry Aftab, executive director of Wiredsafety.org, an Internet safety organization.
Given such statistics, parents need to get over the feeling that they're invading their children's privacy by reading their blogs, Ms. Aftabsays. She believes that parents must bring their judgment to bear on the content of what's posted. "When you get hormones pumping, [minors] are operating the heavy machinery of the Internet under impaired judgment."
Others fear, however, that certain precautions could amount to swatting a fly with a sledgehammer, and could take a hefty toll on family life. The likelihood of tragedy is far greater whenever a child rides in a car or goes swimming than when he or she posts his or her name, photograph, and other personal information on the Internet, says Laurence Steinberg, an expert in adolescent psychology at Temple University and author of "The 10 Basic Principles of Good Parenting."
After age 13 or 14, he says, children with a good record of being responsible should be able to post personal content without parents looking over their shoulders.
"The downside of prohibiting it is worse than the downside of allowing it," Dr. Steinberg says. "A good parent-child relationship is based on trust, and trust is a reciprocal feeling. I think people do get especially worked up for some reason over the Internet. But snooping on what your child does on the Internet, to me in some ways, is no different from snooping through your child's dresser drawers or eavesdropping on your child's telephone conversation or reading your child's diary.
"Any of those things done without cause [for suspicion] are to me violations of what I think is the reasonable right that teenagers have, which is to have some aspect of their lives that their parents are not privy to," he says.
Though the value of pursuing a reasonable level of safety goes undisputed in this discussion, adults differ on the value of increasing a child's freedom and privacy over time, especially in cyberspace.