November 15, 2005 4:00 AM PST

As teens embrace blogs, schools sound an alarm

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Parents and educators are particularly concerned about MySpace because it's so popular among high school students, and most profiles are open for anyone to view, according to Aftab. She has a whole Web page dedicated to addressing parent's concerns about the site, which she says is "a prime target of harassers, cyberbullies, child predators, scam artists, and other unscrupulous individuals."

Getting literate

Kids have developed special lingo around chat rooms and messaging. For instance, "A/S/L" is short for "what's your age, sex and location?" and "POS" means "parents over shoulder." Teenangels.org's translator can get you up to speed.

Another problem with the site is underage users, Aftab said. MySpace prohibits children younger than 14 from creating profiles and restricts access to the profiles of 14- and 15-year-olds. But some children lie about their age, and MySpace has struggled to adequately police the problem, she said. Her Web page includes instructions for parents for deleting underage MySpace accounts.

The company acknowledges these problems and says its safety guidelines are designed to address them. In addition to meeting with law enforcement officials and consulting with Aftab on public safety issues, MySpace also monitors its pages for users too young to be on the network, and it removes them. "You try to do as much as you can," MySpace co-founder Kyle Brinkman said in an e-mail interview. "But there's only so much you can do to police it."

As for Facebook, the company says it designed its site to be the online equivalent of a gated community, with membership requiring affiliation with a school or an invitation to join. That helps keep out problem visitors, said Facebook spokesman Chris Hughes.

Regardless, colleges are beginning to do more to educate incoming students on the potential perils of Internet usage. In the wake of the Behl tragedy, VCU is planning to incorporate information about the safe use of blogs and personal Web pages into a safety training course for freshman, starting this winter. Officials at the University of Virginia, where students have complained of Web-related stalking and ID theft, recently urged students to exercise caution when posting information to blogs and personal pages.

Parents, too, can do their part.

"Certainly there are many teens who are savvy with this stuff and understand the risks, but there are those that don't," said Amanda Lenhart, co-author of the Pew study. "It's the role of adults to remind kids that this is a public space."

Child advocates and educators agree that asking teens about what they're doing online is a good first step. Do they have a blog? Who's on their instant message buddy list? Do they have a profile on a social networking site like MySpace? What are they doing to protect their identity online?

If a teen has a blog or online profile, parents should also ask for permission to visit it, some experts said. And they may want to give an older teen a day or two of notice before viewing the site, Aftab said.

And Lenhart agrees. "I would recommend parents approach the child first," she said. "Just as a diary is a specific, personal space, (peeking at a teen's blog) would be seen as an invasion of privacy."

The goal is to engage teens in honest, open discussion, so parents can offer guidance.

From a safety perspective, parents should focus on how teens handle contact from strangers online and whether they disclose any identifying information, such as name, address or phone number, where they go to school, or where they work, Aftab said.

Aftab tells parents to focus on the "three Cs": content, contact and commercialism. Content--what kids are actually saying online and how they say it--often comes as a shock to parents but isn't always the most critical thing. "Their first concern is (obscene) language," Aftab said. "Their bigger concern should be about contact: who can communicate with them that they don't know."

Many of the teen-oriented blog sites now have privacy options that let users restrict who can view their site, giving access only to people they know. Parents concerned about safety may want to suggest or insist their teen use those access controls, Aftab added.

The "greater abandon" shown by the Pew survey's Net-savvy "Internet omnivores" can be a positive force, leading teens to use the Web for multimedia projects; create Web pages for friends and school projects; and help adults handle tasks online; among other things. And the new sites and tools can help drive these creative endeavors. But, as with any powerful implement, caution is key.

"We certainly recognize there are benefits to these sites," VCU's Lepley said. "So the idea is to really talk to students about how to use this kind of tool safely."

CNET News.com's Stefanie Olsen contributed to this report.

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20 comments

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Surprisingly True
That's the thing I really don't understand. I visit mySpace to promote a band's profile and find myself surprised to see the kind of information some people put on their profiles. There's one type of common profile that I guess it may use a form for the users to fill in. This form posts information that could be easily used for identity theft or blackmailing. I'm not trying to be paranoid, but I'm not naive either. There are a lot of perverts, cons, and criminals out there looking for victims. And I think some young surfers are just opening their front door to sickos.

Let's hope they wake up and change their information.
Posted by Dead Soulman (245 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Education is crucial here
WiredSafety.org is the world's largest Internet safety and help group. We are comprised entirely of unpaid volunteers working from their computers around the world, and I am an Internet privacy and security lawyer and also donate my time in running the group.

Blogs and any public postings can be dangerous if too much information is shared publicly, and if anyone communicates with strangers online (especially young people communicating with adults) there are serious risks as well.

These didn't begin and will not end with social-netowrking sites, blogs or profile pages. These same risks exist anytime anyone uses a free web-service that permits you to share information about yourself, and doesn't use authenication to find out who you really are in "rl" (real life). We have been educating young people, schools, law enforcement and parents about this risk since 1995. The technology may change, but the risks don't.

While I fully support an K-12 educational institution blocking access to any non-educational website from school computers, I fear that their attempts (as in the Catholic school in NJ) to regulate a student's behavior from their home computer, after hours, when they are under their parents' supervision and not the school's is a problem. I also fear that shcool that over-reach (although understandably seeking solutions) will find themselves answering in court for their activities.

the answer has to come from education. Teaching kids, teens and college students how to enjoy the benefits of blogging and social-networking without putting themselves at risk, teaching them to morph photos so they can not be misused and teaching them how to handle communications from strangers. They need to understand where and how to report abuses. And the sites need to be educated too. They need to understand how to respond to law enforcement enquiries and maintain records and data that might be essential to finding and prosecuting cybercriminals. They need ot understand how people abuse anonymous online services, and especially how young people do. They need to recognize that privacy settings are crucial to their users' safety and have to create them and let their users know what security features exist and how to use them.

If you click on the "safety" tab on myspace.com's front page and shortly on Facebook.com's front page, you will see our safety guide and parents guide. Our volunteers are wiredsafety.org are there ot help with case of abuse, and I am pleased to report that the administration and leadership at MySpace.com and Facebook.com are both incredibly responsive to our suggestions and supprtove of the safety effort.

We have a video being produced on social-networking safety, workshops for parents and for students, a college safety guide, a teenangels guide to myspace (anbd shortly facebook), and speak at conferences around the world on these issues. Our new school risk management guide will be available on our site over the new few weeks as well.

And a new Marvel comic, starring Spider-Man, his daughter Spider-Girl, The Incredible Hulk and Fantastic Four and our teen volunteers, will be released within 6 weeks. This comic teaches safe, private and responsible technology use.

We have the programs and the materials. We need to make sure that everyone knows that and where to find them. And anyone who wants to donate their time to help is welcomed as well.

Let's not panic, but let's stay safer.

Parry Aftab,
Executive Director
WiredSafety.org
Posted by ParryAftab (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Reading a blog = invasion of privacy?
Lenhart and Aftab are way off base when comparing a child's diary to a blog or online profile, and giving your child a few days notice before reading. Reading a blog is an "invasion of privacy"? Stalkers, school officials, employers aren't giving anyone notice before accessing the information. Diaries are kept in the drawer, not posted on the world-wide web. Like giving Wal-Mart notice of an upcoming labor inspection, giving your child notice before reading what they have posted for the world to see is counter-productive to the intent of the act itself: to find out what they are telling everyone except you.

If it's online, it's already public. Find out what's really there and then talk to your child about it. Don't wait until after they have a chance to clean it up for "mommy's approval."
Posted by routinely called (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Use common sense
I'm a myspace user, and this article fails realize that you can limit who exactly can read your posted blogs via allowing only those you've tagged as Friends or a user-created Preferred List.

As for the rest, I don't understand posting what kind of music I like really is deemed as a threat to my safety.. Use common sense people.
Posted by larbox (1 comment )
Link Flag
The difference is...
Yes a blog is written in a public space so it's obviously going to be read by some people, but those people will probably be the people you gave a link to. A kid isn't going to give the link to their parents and probably write stuff in their blog they don't want their parents to see. Even without using access control to limit who can see it, posting in a blog isn't like shouting about your personal life through a megaphone in the town square.
Posted by Mutex (40 comments )
Link Flag
COMMON SENSE?!?
COMMON SENSE? Are you kidding? THINK OF THE CHILDREN! Oh. My. God. We must micromanage and completely 100% protect all of our kiddiepoos from ANY sort of threat, real or imaginary. I mean, the fact that our kids are far more likely to be molested or otherwise physically or emotionally abused by someone they know rather than a stranger... that shouldn't have any affect on our kneejerk reaction to childrens' safety. Next thing you know, they'll be listening to ELVIS, and that's Satan's music!!!!!!!!1
Posted by ThatAdamGuy (21 comments )
Reply Link Flag
My Thoughts Exactly
People today are way to protective of their kids, sure teach them not to talk to strangers, and other stranger danger things, also maybe explaining what is ok to post.

I is in the public arena, and so therefore parents and schools are allowed to read it. My problem is that this school seems to be overstepping its area of control....schools alchahol policy, unless they were drinking in uniform, or on school property or during a school even or time, what business is it of the schools. i dont know about america, but here in Australia, it is totally legal to drink at any age if you are in a private residence, so unless they are in a park or something, then there is nothing anyone can do.

Please people, let your kids go out, get dirty, get hurt, make mistakes, so stupid things. That is how everyone else grew up untill recently. that is the problem with public liability, when these people grew up they were allowed out untill dark and hurt themselves, and their parents never sued anyone, so why do they do it.

Greed, i know this is off topic, but i feel it is similar, kids need to make mistakes, and learn from them, they need to be kids. kids do things like experiment with drugs and drink while the are underaged, the only reason it seems like it is a big thing now is that people know about it. It has always been a problem, and it will always be a problem. Support, understanding and letting them get into trouble is what kids need. Not to live in a bubble
Posted by Bennet_McGovern (23 comments )
Link Flag
MySpace and others
They are practically shopping malls for child molesters! Just put in their favorite ages and the local area and get a nice list along with all kinds of "seed" personal information. Very scarey stuff people.
Posted by WDS2 (183 comments )
Link Flag
A Young Adult Blogger's View
As a user of facebook I know that my pictures are only viewable by friends, friends of friends, or fellow school-mates. If you tried to get to my profile by a direct link, you would be asked to log in first. And to even use college facebook you must have a valid school address (e.g. you@university.edu).

MySpace would certainly be something more to worry about because there just about anyone with a free profile can view your pictures.

However as an avid blogger through my high school and college years, I feel no sense of violation by strangers reading and seeing my life. I think if parents are suprised by the material they find in their kid's blogs then they obviously don't have a healthy relationship with their kid. I encourage my parents to read my blog, and while yes it contains some escapades I probably wouldn't want them to know about, they also understand that I'm in college, am an adult, and they trust me. I recently found that my father checked my MySpace profile to find that where I had listed "Heroes" I put "My Dad", something I hadn't had the chance to share with him, and he enjoyed that.

Now obviously my parental relationship isn't the norm, but I certainly think that kids need a place to vent some of their frustrations, and a blog offer their voices to be heard by friends. I think it's completely absurd for a university to penalize its students based on pictures they found on a website they didn't own. THAT is the invasion of privacy. Obviously college kids and teens for that matter are going to drink and thinking otherwise is just plain ignorant.

Bottom line, LIGHTEN UP! If you're going to educate kids on blog usage just tell em not to be too specific, like listing addresses or unique personal information, basically a lot of what Parry Aftab of WiredSafety.org said below. Other than that, I say let em share their lives! We've transformed into such a fear driven society close to absolute paranoia that I think its healthy to share your life with the world! Sure there are risks involved but you're in greater danger of dieing from a car crash than being violated based on blog information. Are you going to stop driving? No? Then don't stop bloggin!

(p.s. I know my argument has flaws, so if you feel inclined to poin them out, please try to do so respectfully)
Posted by Valkyr (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Facebook is the best thing that has ever happened to me
I think that colleges and schools need to get out of kids business on facebook. It is ridiculous that schools are taking the time to look through students facebooks for the purpose of trying to get students in trouble. NC State is not the best school in North Carolina so maybe the administration should be working on making their lessons being taught instead of spending their time getting students in trouble. Facebook reunites old friends together and is a good way of communication. If people give out to much information that is their own damn fault and shouldn't be setting themselves up as a target.
Posted by H Deez (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
RE: Facebook is the best thing that has ever happened to me
You need to get out more -- away from the computer.
Posted by (11 comments )
Link Flag
I don't think so, facebook, myspace and other social networking sites take a lot of work time of my company. I've deployed some <a href="www.workexaminer.com ">internet monitoring software</a> to keep my employees in the work and let them visit these websites in the out of work time only.
Posted by alex_for_chat (1 comment )
Link Flag
Parents, Kids and Schools
Are schools going overboard? Yes, but only with high schools. If majority of your high school is 16 or above, let them do whatever they want outside the school; if they want to get arrested then so be it. But for Middle School, I think schools are doing a great thing by protecting younger kids that don't yet have a sense of responsibility or maybe between what's right and wrong.

As one of the "genious" posters said to let kids make mistakes and let them grow up on their own is the most stupid thing I've heard in a while. I don't know what goes on in Australia or Europe (nor am I interested), but you better be involved in your kids' life if you want them to stay sober and lead a successful life (by successful I don't necessairly mean they have to grow up and make tons of money; the thought of their kids living after them is usually good for many parents).

I happen to live in a rather expensive area in the U.S. and one of our local high schools did a mini research that was only made available to the county and state officials as a survey and they found out that kids who were screwed up said that their parents were "cool" and didn't cared what they did outside of school.

Now, on the other hand, kids who were making good grades and had good behavior found out that their parents asked them what their kids did and were actively involved in their kids lives, so there's definitely a correlation between parents involvement in their kids life vs. no parental involvement.

So, asking parents to let kids do whatever they want is pure trash. I certainly hope you don't have any kids, if you think like that.

Now I'm not saying that your "good" kids will like it when you ask them where they are going and whatnot, but the key thing is to always win over your kids. Don't let your kids take charge of you or the household; if you let them do that, then you have lost the battle. Moreover, this is more like conditioning. If you care for your kids right from the start and are actively involved in their lives, then when they get older they probably won't even care you asking them so many questions because they are already used to it. But if you ignore them for the first 15 years of their lives and then start getting involved when they turn 16, then they'll see it as being invasion of privacy.

Parenthood is an overtime thing, not something you can do in a matter of weeks or months.
Posted by gundeephora (22 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Parents watch up!
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.analogstereo.com/cassette_deck_aiwa_cdc_r227.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.analogstereo.com/cassette_deck_aiwa_cdc_r227.htm</a>
Posted by 208774626618253979477959487856 (176 comments )
Reply Link Flag
In defense of the teen blogging community
If anyone kept up with the case Taylor Behl, while they haven't correlated her internet activities with the actual happening, it's interesting to note that she apparently owned a Livejournal. Her Livejournal username was allegedly 'tiablaij'-- which to the unobservant is 'jailbait' spelt backwards. While I mean no disrespect in part of the victim's family, doesn't that seem like a red-flag?

MySpace also has many, many options that people seem to willingly fill out, such as income, location, etc.

Facebook has the option to let only friends view your profile.

I concede that some kids probably do have to be monitored online. But on the other hand, the kids who do exercise common sense and keep personal information private,etc.etc. are going to have their freedom curtailed by paranoid parents because of the few kids that seem to have a lacking in common sense.
Posted by Hyperion Flux (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
hello to all
hi to all .. im a new one so i just wanted to say Hello to all. i hope i will be a good friend to all and i hope we can chat with all friends.
Posted by tobiegirl (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
It is very alarming that children at a younger age engage in drinking alcohol and been posted on their account on facebook. The world Wide Web could do many things from good to bad. People do use it for personal or just merely for fun. But there are abusive on using the Web. Most of them are send to a boarding school for parents to get them on a right path of life. Doing good and able to learn their faults and lacking of self-discipline.
http://www.militaryschools411.com/military-schools/is-a-military-boarding-school-the-right-option-for-your-teen.html
Posted by camille411 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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