A study of 68 randomly selected blogs written by teenagers aged 13 to 17 finds that teen bloggers often willingly reveal their actual names, age and offline locations, putting them at risk for cyberstalking and cyberbullying.
In "Teen Blogs Exposed: The Private Lives of Teens Made Public," David Huffaker, a Northwestern University researcher finds that half of all teenage bloggers link to other bloggers, and often include a "friends list." Sixty-seven percent of teen bloggers provide a comment section in order to get feedback from readers of their blogs.
Blogs according to Huffaker, play a positive role by offering teens a place to construct narratives and share stories. "These activities are important to identity exploration which is one of the principal tasks of adolescence," he says. "What's more, the mechanics of these online diaries, with their opportunities to link to and get feedback from peers, also aid teenagers in creating and maintaining social ties."
The randomly selected teen blogs - equally divided between male and female teens and with a mean age of 15.47 years – were examined for content and amount of personal or private information revealed.
Seventy percent of the teens disclosed at least their first name, 67 percent revealed their age, and 61 percent provided their contact information either in the form of e-mail (44 percent), instant messenger name (44 percent) or a link to a personal home page (30 percent). Fifty-nine percent of those who provided contact information disclosed the city or state in which they reside.
"Studying teen blogs highlights the fact that blogging is not an individual pursuit in the way teen diaries once were. Instead, blogs are used by teens to form a small or large community," says Huffaker.
On the positive side, blogs give teens an opportunity to share their stories and feelings. "They provide a venue in which they can reflect upon their experiences," says Huffaker. "The ability to create a community online also bodes well for future social development."
Almost half of all the blogs included discussions about boyfriends, girlfriends, or attractions to someone in the form of a "crush." Seventeen percent of those who wrote about their own sexuality discussed homosexuality and their experiences of "coming out."
Not surprisingly, 71 percent included commentary about school-related topics, such as grades, homework, high school, college or college pressure. Almost half of the online diaries discussed aspects of music, including use of MP3 players, songs, lyrics, favorite bands and concerts.
Huffaker found that the positive effects of blogging on verbal and digital literacy and social interaction to be accompanied by some negative effects sich as sexual predation by adult strangers and the bullying by peers.
Unlike the tattered, leatherbound teen diary of old, blogs can be read not only by members of the family "sneaking a look" but also by strangers with questionable intentions.
Huffaker says that a study found that 2,500 children aged 10 to 17 years of age reported being harassed or threatened online. In another study, one in five teenage Internet users said they'd been approached or received a sexual solicitation within their last year of Internet use. One in 33 reported being aggressively solicited by predators who asked to meet them, called them on the phone, or sent them letters, money or gifts. According to the surveyed teens, they seldom report such incidents to their parents, school administrators or other authorities.
Huffaker says some of the negatives of blogging can be thwarted by blog software packages that offer the opportunity to make one's blog "friends-only" by including password protection.