November 15, 2005 4:00 AM PST
As teens embrace blogs, schools sound an alarm
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Nine underage students at N.C. State are facing charges of violating the school's alcohol policy after a residential adviser visited one of their profiles on Facebook and found links to pictures of them drinking. Facebook, which lets students create and share personal profiles, is enormously popular on campuses nationwide.
Parental guidance suggested
Despite efforts by schools to discipline students and train them in safe and sound Net usage, parents need to get involved. Some tips:
Be there. When you can, use the Net with your children. While you're spending time with them, you can help them be safe online. You may also want to role-play on IM to help them practice safe behavior.
Info a no-no. Teach kids never to give their personal data, such as where they go to school or live, to people they meet online.
Meeting adjourned. Instruct kids never to plan a face-to-face meeting with an online acquaintance, and to notify you if they're approached for a meeting. If a meeting is arranged, it should be in a public spot.
Make rules... Establish clear ground rules for family Net use. Consider signing a contract with your kids that reflects those rules.
...consider tools. Learn about parental-control tools and protective software and decide which, if any, to use.
Trusting red flags. Tell your children not to respond if they receive offensive or dangerous e-mail, chat requests or other communications, and to leave if they go to a Web site that makes them uncomfortable. Also, tell them to show you anything they receive that makes them uncomfortable.
Get help. If you're worried that your child or any child is in danger, don't hesitate to contact the police.
Source: Safekids.com and the Internet Education Foundation's GetNetWise.com
Though some parents might be reassured to know that schools are keeping an eye on their children's behavior, the case makes it clear that teens can be reckless when it comes to posting personal information online.
"In their own minds, they're sitting in their dorm room or at home, and they have a sense of privacy--and they really don't have it at all," said Pam Lepley, a spokeswoman for Virginia Commonwealth University, one of numerous schools that, with the advent of blogs and other such tools, are re-examining the way students use the Web.
Carelessness with personal data may be nothing new, but it's become more relevant than ever as a greater number of teens not only surf the Net but also populate it with Web logs and personal profiles. Already, close to one in five online teens between the ages of 12 and 17--about 4 million people--has created a blog, a study by Pew Internet and American Life Project recently indicated. A slightly higher number report having a personal Web page--a trend no doubt fueled by the availability of free, easy-to-use services like Facebook and News Corp.'s MySpace.
The Pew survey, conducted about a year ago and released this month, mainly highlights the positive effect these services can have on teens. Blogging can help them connect with friends, exercise their creativity and share their views. "Bloggers, and to a lesser extent teens who read blogs, are Internet omnivores who explore, play with, utilize and generally inhabit the Internet with a greater abandon than their less blog-savvy counterparts," the study said.
But there can be a down side. Teens are doing more than just pouring their hearts out in these online forums; many are posting provocative pictures, discussing real or imagined sex lives, berating and threatening one another, and recounting drinking and drug use. And that can get them in trouble with stalkers, authority figures and even future employers, experts say.
"Kids are doing outrageous things to get attention," said Parry Aftab, a privacy lawyer and executive director of WiredSafety.org, a Web site dedicated to online child safety. "They are looking for their day in the sun, 15 minutes of fame, something to show how they are special."
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