Blogs pose parental dilemma
Yesterday, the online edition of The Washington Post carried a story that fascinated and frightened me.
The Post story detailed the recent actions of D.C.-area high schools in prohibiting students from using their school email addresses to gain access to blog sites at which they post details of their lives for anyone to see.
Spokespersons for the high schools said they made the decisions out of concern for their students' safety, but also for their futures. There appears to be some evidence that blogs detailing high schools students' party habits – whether real or imagined – was affected college admissions and could potentially affect future hiring decisions.
Facebook.com, MySpace.com and Xanga.com, were the three sites mentioned in the article. And while the “rules” require that users be 18 or older, a number of high school students have created high school identities there.
Some of the blog sites' user agreements allowed the site to sell or use photographs posted there, and to sell marketing information about users.
According to The Post, “some colleges have expelled teenagers for violating codes of conduct after discovering photos of underage students posing in front of kegs or writing about drinking binges.”
Curious, I decided to check one of the sites to see if the practice has caught on this far south. It has. It took only minutes to register to use the site, log on, and search for entries by area code. Immediately, the option of sorting by T.R. Miller, W.S. Neal or JDCC popped up.
Several teens admitted in profiles of themselves that they had used alcohol or tobacco within in the past month; another area resident alluded to illegal drugs.
The sites present new questions about privacy and freedom of speech. Because teens post confessions once written in locked diaries, do parents have as much right to read the “diaries” as other users of the sites to which they post?
I don't have any children, but I felt like an eavesdropper or a spy when I logged on to the site. I'm not sure how I would have reacted if I had found either of my 18- or 15-year-old godchild there. Would I have read the entries? Is there a defineable line between a locked diary and a posted blog that evil people might use against an innocent or not-so innocent tenn?
Freedom of speech came in to play in another part of the country when a high school monitoring the blogs suspended or expelled a student making threats about a teacher on his blog. Certainly, if the student had written that in a personal diary kept in his home, that wouldn't have happened.
The teen-aged blog practice could be as innocent as an online diary, or as dangerous as a stalking or kidnapping. Either way, they pose a dilemma for parents who must decide whether or not to check up on their children.
Michele Gerlach may be reached at 251.867.4876 or firstname.lastname@example.org.