David Huffaker, a Northwestern University researcher working in the technology and social behavior program with Northwestern Professor Justine Cassell, will present his study findings within the context of other studies of teenage Internet behavior at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in St. Louis Sunday, Feb. 19.
In "Teen Blogs Exposed: The Private Lives of Teens Made Public," Huffaker 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.
From a developmental perspective, Huffaker says, blogs 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 ato 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."The danger of sexual predation by adult strangers and of bullying by peers are sometimes unfortunate products of the teen blogging phenomenon, he says.
Unlike the tattered, leatherbound teen diary of old, online teen diaries can be read not only by members of the family "sneaking a look" but also by strangers with questionable intentions.
Huffaker cites a study in which 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.
Despite their apparent frequency, these incidents of predation seldom were reported by teens to parents, school administrators or other authorities, according to the surveyed teens.
Huffaker says some of the negatives of blogging can be thwarted by blog software packages that offer the opportunity to make one's online diary "friends-only" by including password protection.
The AAAS conference session at which Huffaker will present is organized by Cassell, professor of communication studies and director of the technology and social behavior program at Northwestern University. She is presenting two papers at the AAAS meeting -- one on online technology and its positive social effects on young technology users, the other on improving language and literacy in real children by letting them play with "virtual" children.
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