By Margaret Kane
Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Published: March 5, 2007 12:09 PM PST
Last year, Sylvia Barsotti's 11-year-old son failed a math quiz and never told her.
This may not be that interesting to anyone outside her family, yet anyone with an Internet connection can find out about it.
Barsotti, editor in chief of Scholastic.com, writes a blog for the site about parenting issues.
She uses personal details from her life to talk about bigger parenting issues. But she acknowledges that there's a fine line between illustrating a situation and violating her kids' privacy. Barsotti said her 11-year-old son, as well as her 19- and 23-year-old children, have so far shown no interest in reading her blog, but that if they did, she'd have no problem discussing its content with them.
"I don't use photos of my kids, nor do I mention them by full name (I may refer to their first name on occasion, but not regularly)," she wrote in an e-mail. "I try and have the substance of the issue speak for itself rather than draw attention to the specifics of my child's life."
Barsotti's struggle to balance her blog and her three kids' privacy is not unusual. While there's no way to know exactly how many parenting blogs are out there, the numbers are certainly high. Technorati has more than 4,000 links to blogs tagged with "parenting," and the BlogHer network lists several hundred "Mommy & Family" blogs.
As so-called mommy blogs (and daddy blogs) gain in popularity, parents and child experts are wondering just how far too far is. Should children read what their parents are writing? Should they have a say in what's on the blog? And at what point does baring your soul become a violation of your child's privacy?
Many parents who blog say they think hard about these issues, debating whether to include anecdotes and personal information.
"That's always in the back of my mind. While you want to write a post that gets your struggles across, you have to balance it," said Paige Bowers, a freelance journalist and blogger who often writes about dealing with her toddler daughter in The Avery Lane Experience posts.
"I didn't know how to deal with tantrums, and my daughter can be headstrong, but I didn't want to write a post that slams a little person coming into her own," Bowers said. "I try to turn it around on me: I don't understand why (I) XYZ."
For others, blogging is simply a part of who they are, and they include their children in their blogs just as they include spouses, friends and other people in their lives.
Stephanie Klein, who started blogging as a way to deal with a bad breakup, gained a following through Greek Tragedy, a blog in which she chronicled her life in New York. Now married and raising twins in Austin, Texas, she posts personal details about being a mother the same way she has written about romantic relationships and other aspects of her life.
Klein has already published her exploits in a book, Straight Up and Dirty (and is developing a pilot for NBC based on the book), so her children--and their friends--will one day be able to read about their mother's dating life just by going to the library. But is she concerned that they may not want to see their own lives portrayed for public view?
Privacy and peer embarrassment
"They'll probably go through a phase where they're absolutely mortified. It's similar to when you invite a new boyfriend over, and your mom shoves your baby book in his hand, and there are naked pictures," Klein said. "There will absolutely be a phase, but I think they'll grow out of it. If not, they can at least say, 'My mom was being honest--that was who she was.'"
But that attitude can create problems between parents and children, said Gregory Hall, associate professor of psychology at Bentley College in Waltham, Mass.
"Unless you've got pictures up there of little Johnny or Suzy sitting on a potty, I don't think it's that much of an issue. But I've seen mommy blogs and family blogs where people are blogging about their young teen's first dating experience, their solo violin performance at 8 years old," Hall said. "Once you begin to get into those ages where kids understand some of the issues of privacy and peer embarrassment, you've got a different type of issue than with a 1-year-old, and you have to have a conversation with kids."
It could also lead to more serious security issues, experts say. Just as parents and educators often caution teens about posting too much personal information on their MySpace.com pages or LiveJournal blogs, parents should be cautious about posting too much information on their own site.
While some may think those fears are overblown, Hall points to the NBC television show Dateline, which has aired multiple episodes about sexual predators caught trolling for children online.
"The point is, those people are out there, and they're trolling the Net. The flip side is, the blogs and mediated environments are wonderful ways of staying in touch with friends and distant relatives, and allowing them to share in the milestones of a child's life," he said. "I wouldn't suggest not establishing a blog; I would suggest establishing a blog with safeguards."
For instance, he recommends using pseudonyms and fake community names, and he discourages posting photographs.
The personal nature of blogging appeals to Barsotti. But sometimes the connection with readers can go too far, she said.
"Years ago, my daughter received a marriage proposal from someone living in a foreign country who happened to see a picture of me and my kids that accompanied an editor's letter I wrote," she said in an e-mail interview. "We joked about it at the time (this was before e-mail and Internet days), but today, I would have a totally different take, and I would not be laughing."
Margaret Kane is the East Coast news editor for CNET News.com. She's standing in for Stefanie Olsen, the regular author in this series, which examines the young generation's unique immersion in the Web, cell phones, IM and online communities.
Sit with children when they're online to ensure they visit only parent-approved Web sites. The American Library Association lists great sites for kids on its Web site.
Use child-friendly search engines or one with parental controls. KidsClick, for example, is a Web search site by librarians.
Establish a family e-mail account.
Talk to children about their online activities and online friends. To kids, the Internet is an extension of the real world.
Establish rules for the Internet. Studies from Canada's Media Awareness group have shown that children respond positively to established rules.
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