Parenting

Most Kids Blog to be Creative, Not to Cyberbully

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It seems that bloggers are getting younger and younger these days.

Nine-year-old Michael wants to be a chef when he grows up, or maybe a professional baseball player. His heroes are Bobby Flay and Tony Hawk. Michael isn't waiting for adulthood to chase his dreams, though. He's spent the past year learning how to cook with his mom, and adapting her recipes to make them more fun for boys his age. He hopes to publish his recipes as a cookbook.

I don't know Michael. I learned all that from reading his blog, "Radical Recipes 4 Boys."

At Smart Being, fourth-grader Bradley Smart blogs about sustainability, with a focus on the health of the world's oceans. A friend of mine has a 5-year-old who started a dance vlog on YouTube after watching some dance videos with her older sisters.

These kids aren't online to cause trouble, bully their peers or make dates with predators. They're using their blogs the same way most adults do: to write (or dance) about things they care about, and to connect with a community that shares those interests.

A new study published in the Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal suggests that most young bloggers are blogging in healthy ways. The study's author, Dawn Anderson-Butcher of Ohio State University, surveyed users of a site called Xanga, a public blogging service popular with teens. What she found surprised her. 

"They showed a lot of creative expression through poetry, lyrics and song," she says. "It was very exciting -- and for me, positive -- to see the typical developmental activities that they were writing about in their blogs." There were very few problem behaviors apparent in the teens' writing, she says.

Most kids' blogs aren't as creatively focused as Bradley's and Michael's. Generally, kids are using blogs the way we used telephones when I was a kid: to maintain constant conversations with their friends.

Anderson-Butcher recommends being part of your teen's online life. Become Facebook friends with your kid; read his blog if he has one. She also believes there's an opportunity for social workers, therapists, teachers, coaches and other mentors to build stronger relationships with teens using online tools.

What about younger kids? Should your 9-year-old have a blog?

The Internet isn't the devil's playground it seemed to be a few years ago, when social networking sites like MySpace were first exploding in popularity among teens and preteens.

Slate reported last week about how MySpace and Facebook now handle cyberbullying, for example. Facebook has apparently been slower to take cyberbullying seriously than MySpace, but both sites have safety protections in place to help teens play nicely with each other and to keep them safe from predatory adults.

Safekids.com has a wealth of material on Internet safety for the whole family. For preteens and younger kids, they have a list of basic safety tips to follow online, including:

• Teach kids not to give out personal information (such as photos, addresses or phone numbers). 
• Communicate. Make sure your kids know they can and should tell you if anything online makes them uncomfortable or unhappy.
• Set clear rules about when kids can be online and what sites they'll use.

Beyond safety questions, there's the issue of kids spending too much time in front of a computer screen. A recent report from the Kaiser Family Foundation says kids typically spend seven and a half hours a day watching TV, playing computer games and listening to music through a digital media player. That's about half of their waking hours.

Kid bloggers like the ones behind "Radical Recipes 4 Boys" and Smart Being aren't using technology to substitute for living, though. They're blogging about their real-world passions. These kids are also spending time researching environmental issues, playing baseball and learning how to cook Sesame Steamed Broccoli.

They seem, from their blogs, like pretty awesome kids. The kid I'd like my little ones to grow up to be. That doesn't mean I'll hook my daughter up with a domain name the day she learns to read. But if she wants to share her passions with the world when she's a little older, I'll help her do it in a safe, smart way.

Does your kid have a blog? Would you let your kid blog about something they love? Do you read any blogs written by kids? Tell us about it in the comments.

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