Parents have a lot of worries as children get older and become more independent. We do our best to alert our children to the dangers of alcohol, drugs, and risky sexual behavior. We teach them about dealing with bullies and how to resist the temptations that fill the world. But sometimes it’s the things we aren’t vigilant about, or even aware of that trip them and us up.
As the parent of a fifteen year-old, I want to alert you to an activity that while not as dangerous as the more common fears, is far more prevalent. We all think we have given our children the tools to make good choices and act responsible, yet they still go ahead and do things that simple announce to the world their immaturity. The phenomena I am discussing crosses all sorts of lines by class, race, religion, and geographic location. There is no part of the country or any school, middle, junior high, senior high, public, private, or parochial, which is not affected.
You are probably even unaware that your children are even doing it. You think they are researching homework or harmlessly chatting on IM, but they are actually doing something far more frightening. Many start at about 14 or 15, but some are actively involved as young as 11 or 12. If your children are younger, don’t deceive your self into thinking that your children wouldn’t ever do it. The peer pressure is just too great. And they will succumb. I guarantee it.
Parents, your children are keeping the most hideous and ugliest blogs ever written. Like their rooms, these blogs are messy, disorganized, loud and frightening to visit. They defy all rules of grammar, spelling, good design and clean HTML coding. These pages blink, scream, flash, and generally assault all the senses that can be damaged across a broadband connection.
Their tool of choice, or weapon as the case may be, is Xanga. You may be a veteran blogger and be completely unfamiliar with this site. I travel in fairly family-friendly cyber-circles and have yet to run across anyone old enough to drink legally with a Xanga page, yet it is nearly ubiquitous with the teen and tween set. Another bizarre example of network effect in action.
Think I’m exaggerating? Let’s take a tour of some typical pages. Out of a completely unappreciated respect for my son’s privacy, I am not linking to his or any of his friends’ sites, to the best of my knowledge. Like grown-up blogging, kids can make associations all over the world based on all sorts of random connections.
Warning: If you are in a work environment or a public place where you could draw unwanted attention, do not click on any of these links.
Let’s start with LYSS_X3. Get over the word “Sex” in the header, that’s just shock value. One post talks about how excited she is about her upcoming mission trip right underneath a GIF extolling the uses of lemons as bra stuffers. Try to read any of the posts over this garish background. And that background isn’t even as bad as this one or this one or this one. You get the idea. In fact, don't even bother reading the posts, most of them read like long form IM chats spun through a rot-13 filter.
Do you control your children’s viewing habits? Are you aware that their 11-year old friends are streaming MTV-worthy videos to all comers? Don’t let them listen to heavy metal? Kids they never met are more than eager to share THEIR taste.
Blogging is a rite of passage and a natural part of growing up. If you act too judgmental, you will just alienate your child. I know of one girl who started a new secret blog because her mom found her old one. Just grit your teeth and do your best. Like teaching drug awareness or sexual responsibility, at some point you have to trust their judgment and hope the values you have instilled take root.
Respect their taste, but use your time together to explain that sometimes the medium is the message. People make decisions about you based on how you look and act and talk. It may not sink in at first, but they may eventually remember and heed your advice.
Above all, remember that this is all just a phase. Eventually, they will graduate to LiveJournal, and then to Blogger or MovableType. Give them time. Give them trust. Give them space to share their thoughts and feeling with their friends in their own style. And then secretly subscribe to their site and laugh your ass off.
Real Warning: The above is all tongue in cheek, but I found the Xanga site of a 13-year old girl that listed her full real name, the name of her very small hometown, a list of her friends by first name and last initial, and at least two contact phone numbers. Most kids know better than to give information to strangers, but don’t seem to realize that keeping a blog is like spray painting your diary on a truck stop overpass. Teach cyber safety and keep your children out of danger.
Technorati tag:hummingbird rump, teen-ager, blog, Xanga