Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Warning To Parents

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.

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Olyal said...

That is one great post! I really enjoyed reading it! :o)

Let people talk. I don't care what they say. If we let them take away our not-so-secret rendezvous then what will we have? It's not like we'll always have Paris. ;o)

Bec said...

Hi yellojkt, thanks for visiting us at glamorouse! This is a great post: my kids are a few years away from Xanga (I hope!) but I sometimes have to delve into teen blogs for my job and, man do they make me feel OLD!

Your Mother said...

I simply thank the G word that my kids aren't into blogging yet. 14 might be, but since she had an episode of IM'ing some boys in Hawaii, exchanging phone numbers, arranging a meeting, etc., which was one of a series of bad moves on her part leading to her living with dad & I, she is pretty well Net-Nanny'd out of most "good" sites. She's asked for the IM back but since I read her email, I just don't know that she is ready. Speaking of such dribble, does anyone know of a good program that would monitor her IM chats? Then I could at least monitor her? She is one of those kids who thinks nothing bad will ever happen to her and freely gives out personal information. No matter how much I nag her.

Anonymous said...

Yowza... when I was the age of most of those kids the internet was still mainly a research tool... I think that probably kept me a little safer and sheltered than I may have otherwise been! Frightening how adult 11 year olds consider themselves to be.

trusty getto said...

Bad as it is, it's better than what I was doing at 14 . . . Ack!

Bonvallet said...

I just made a "NO" list for my young son. I shall have to add this one. haha. Those were hard to look at much less read.

Karen said...

Isn't that funny. I have recently discovered my daughter's Xanga and MySpace sites. They're very interesting to read because there is so much that I don't hear about!

Oh yeah, Michele sent me.....

dena said...

My niece and nephew both have Xanga sites. I suppose I should check them out, but then they'd want to read mine.

November Rain said...

that was cute and thanks for coming by to my site

Anonymous said...

Yellow Jacket (is that the formal way of addressig you?), I really liked the music on Casey's blog. I hope she is not in the middle of Rita right now. Her last photo scared me.

Anonymous said...

I recently found my 14 year old's MySpace site. There's not much upsetting material there, but it is godawful looking. It's busy and too wide and the spelling is someting else again. Is this kid passing English?

Anonymous said...

I don't think that you should be reading your son's or daughter's xanga, livejournal or what have you. Nor even commenting on how horrible your son or daughter spells or speaks. Perhaps instead of reading and getting rid of your spawn's sites because you are scared of what info they are giving some parenting and teach them at a young age of what they should do while blogging. Don't take away what they already started because in the end, there will be another site that your spawn has created.

remember, their blog is theirs, not yours...its ok for them to put a personal touch to it, no matter how "messy" it is.

just lighten up

Katarina Whimsy said...

Well then, I am extra proud of myself for starting straight off with livejournal then, and skipping the Xanga step entirely.

(I never much was a typical teenager)


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To my mind everybody have to browse on it.
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