Helping Your Kids Blog Safely

GENERIC blog blogger internet computer silhouette
CBS News tech analyst Larry Magid offers tips to parents on how they can ensure their children blog safely.

Most adults define their community in geographical terms: the people who live nearby. But thanks to the Internet, many teens and some preteens also live in virtual communities that have no geographical boundaries. For better or worse, the Internet has opened them up to the world.

Nowhere is this more profound than the recent trend of "spaces" or "blogging." Short for "Web log," a "blog" is a Web page maintained by an individual, organization or business for the purpose of communicating with others. There are millions of blogs out there and, according to researchers at Georgetown University, more than half of them are run by people between 13 and 19.

Another term, "spaces," is used to describe services like MySpace, LiveJournal, Xanga and MSN Spaces that provide people with free tools to create their own online communities or blogs.

Kids are using these blogs for all sorts of things, ranging from describing their homework assignments to exploring their hobbies to exposing their innermost thoughts. Some kids post photos on their blogs or put up links to their favorite music or movies.

There are a lot of positive aspects to blogging. For one thing, it helps teens develop language and communications skills, and becoming an Internet publisher can greatly enhance a teenager's sense of self-esteem. Blogs offer young people not only a sounding board for what's on their mind, but also feedback and validation from others, who can comment on what they write using a feedback mechanism on the blog itself.

Blogs can also be used as learning tools. There are some teachers and schools, for example, that encourage students to use blogging tools to discuss their assignments.

Although there are some commercial blogging services that charge money, most kids take advantage of the free services. In compliance with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, these sites are open only to children 13 or older (although check the Terms of Use for any particular site to be sure), but younger children lie about their age if they're determined to create a blog.