Erik Fisher, Ph.D.: These days, it seems like everyone's got their own blog. Whether you're a professional, a celebrity wannabe or a teenager seeking an identity, blogging is supposed to be the next great way to get noticed. But what if you're a parent? You certainly didn't grow up with blogs, and naturally you may have some questions about your child's involvement in this new medium.
As a family psychologist, I get questions about this a lot. For a preteen or teenager going through life's normal growth stages, blogging can be very helpful indeed -- it can foster a social network (even if it is virtual) and provide an outlet for everyday frustrations. But as with any Internet enterprise, blogging does raise some parental concerns. So let's address some basic blogging pros and cons.
1) The "Me" Attitude: It's an understatement to say that reality TV has given us an insider view into the lives of many. We grant "everyday" people unnatural amounts of attention when we tune in each week. Does your child want to be in the spotlight? The idea that millions of people may be logging on to read what he or she has written can create a heightened sense of self-importance. What I have noticed in a fair amount of the kids today is that they have an increased sense of entitlement and tend to act arrogantly, feeling that they are above others. If this is an issue with your child, recognize that a sense of entitlement can be replaced with healthy self-respect. Examine your own behavior and talk to your child about his or her attitude. You may find that your child's grandstanding blog is simply compensating for other areas in life where he or she feels very insecure.
2) Cyberbullying: Blogs can become havens for Internet bullies. It's easier to be really nasty on the other side of a computer screen than in real life, and kids may blog to demean or humiliate others. Whether your child is an Internet bully or the victim of one, address the issue immediately. Make sure your child understands the wisdom of respecting other people, even if he or she doesn't feel respected by what somebody has done to them.
3) Misinformation: While some blogs can be educational or informative, many times their accuracy isn't checked. Children often don't know how to discern between what is opinion and what is fact, and it may be easy for them to be swayed by the content of inaccurate blogs. The more you maintain open communication with your kids, the more likely they are to talk to you if they have a question about something they've read. And remember, you can always ask them what they have been learning from blogs. If necessary, gently ask for the sources of their information, and help them understand the difference between facts that are backed up by reliable sources and those that are not.
4) Online Predators: Blogs provide questionable people with the ability to connect with kids. Often, it's not easy to find out who's writing these blogs, and therefore one cannot be sure of the individuals' motivations. While I would not want you to live in fear of what your kids are seeing and who they are talking to, it is prudent to take a look at their online community. Give them some privacy, but know that they also need guidance and supervision in discerning who may be safe and unsafe to talk to.
1) The Art of "Blogger-sation": Blogs can be extremely useful in increasing your child's writing ability. In school, your kids may not feel comfortable expressing themselves, but blogs can be a very liberating format for written self-expression. Do know, however, that blogs can also be used as a tool to avoid face-to-face communication. The more that we rely on communicating through computers, the more we risk decreasing our ability to interact with others directly in relationships. So encourage your kids to write, but also encourage them to talk to you and others face to face.
2) Establishing Independence: Teens and kids react against controls, and blogging may be a way to assert their independence. Many teens are seeking places on the Internet with fewer rules and regulations. Despite the best Internet safeguards you put into place, some kids will rebel. Realize that you can either contribute to this environment of control, or help change the way they view themselves and society. Become a better guide to your kids, and less of a boss. Encouraging them to be responsible bloggers is a great step. Rather than tell your children what they can or can't do on a blog, help them see all that the written word is capable of (they can use it to relax, express their creativity, release frustration, etc.).
3) Teachable Moments: As a parent, you can use the blogging experience as a teaching and talking point. Take a look at some of the blogs out there with your kids. Look at informational blogs, educational blogs and even the less "productive" blogs -- i.e., personal rants. Talk about these with your kids and help them understand the ins and outs of productive communication.
4) Join Forces: If you blog yourself, allow your child to take a look at what you write. This will help you become a model for Internet accountability. Be willing to live by the same rules you ask your kids to live by. I will never forget the parent whose MySpace page said he was single and had no kids, when in fact he was married with children -- and his kids had profiles on MySpace also! It would have been very easy for the children to find their parent's page .... If you demonstrate poor judgment, you have very little room when guiding your child's behaviors. So become a better blogger, and watch your child follow your lead.
While Internet blogging is still in its infancy, it's safe to say it's here to stay. So if and when your child explores blogging, be proactive and get educated. The more you know about this medium, the better you can guide your child to make safe choices.