So your kid has started blogging and you’re terrified you’re going to be reading about their drinking, drug use, and sexual escapades, right? Well, it turns out that’s probably not going to be the case. At least, that’s what researchers at Ohio State University found in a study of 100 teen bloggers from around the country.
The researchers analyzed the blogs on the public blogging website Xanga and found that very few kids wrote about skipping school, using controlled substances, or having sex. Instead, most wrote about teenager things like video games, homework, and television. More than half of the teens complained about boredom, but researchers see blogging as a more productive way to combat that problem than the more destructive behaviours teens might have turned to in the past.
“Think about the other things they could be doing,” said Dawn Anderson-Butcher, associate professor of social work at Ohio State. She and her students conducted the research and published their findings in the Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal. “We know that when kids are bored, mostly between the hours of 3:00-6:00 p.m., that’s when they’re most at risk for using alcohol or having sex, for example. It’s the time when their parents are working and they are often unsupervised. But instead these youth sought out social expression via Xanga.”
Xanga is not as popular as it once was — the blogs studied were written in 2007 — but teens are still very much online, mostly on Facebook these days. This is a good thing because Facebook offers more privacy, but it does make it more difficult to supervise what kids are writing about. And supervise you should, Anderson-Butcher says, perhaps even by making it a condition of allowing them online. Anderson-Butcher suggests that if you (or they) don’t relish being Facebook friends, a trusted adult can fill the role for you.
Currently, my kids aren’t on Facebook — the oldest is not yet eight — but I do receive copies of every e-mail they get. When they do reach the point of wanting to join Facebook or of writing a blog, I will be reading it. Of course, I’m not entirely convinced that it will do any more than prevent them from being entirely honest about their activities. What do you think? Do kids really substitute online activities for less positive ones these days or are they just keeping quiet about what they’re really up to?