For many of us, keeping a diary as a teen meant opening up a journal or notebook and writing or drawing. It was a way to have an inner dialogue with yourself about your day, what you did and how you felt. Sometimes it was just a listing of what you did that day or creating a To Do list for tomorrow. Sometimes it was pages of angst about being rejected by the boy you liked, a fight with a friend, or anger at your parents over being grounded. Today’s teens are still keeping diaries — and some of them are still keeping written diaries, but most are blogging because it’s just easier.
In chapter two of Totally Wired, Sylvia, a teen from San Francisco, explains why she keeps a LiveJournal vs. a written journal:
I think the reason why I could never keep a written journal is because I sort of am doing my homework. I’m doing this whole flow of things and then to have to sit down and take time out of that to write stuff down whereas with LiveJournal.com, I’ll come home, turn on my computer, put on my music, go check my email, and do research and stuff. I’ve set up LiveJournal as my opening page actually so in a sense it’s closer at hand.
Blogging has also made journaling more public. The dialogue we had with ourselves is now the dialogue teens are having with their friends (mostly the same friends they see at school), and for those teens that keep their journals public, with the world.
In the past year, many teens have experienced the realization (often painfully) that their public blogs can be read by anyone — including parents, teachers and the authorities. When I first started researching Totally Wired, I think there was a bigger lack of awareness about what it means to be public. Even so, realizing your blog can be read by anyone is only the first step for teens in thinking about what they are actually posting.
Here are my suggestions for topics to talk to teens about when it comes to keeping an online journal:
1) Personal information: Are you using your real name (first and last)? If so, how about just using your first or coming up with a fun moniker. Obviously teens shouldn’t post their home address. Posting their high school is questionable, but definitely not advised if they are posting their real first name with a photo. As a parent, you have to decide what combination of identifying information you’re comfortable with. If they choose not to make their journal private for only their friends, the safest public journal is obviously a moniker with no photos. Next would be a first name with no photos, etc.
2) Writing about feelings and emotions: If teens are keeping a personal diary online, are they ok with the world knowing about their deepest feelings and emotions? Have your teen do the exercise of thinking about reading their journal entry in front of a room full of strangers. If it feels ok, then it probably is. What about when they involve other people? Are they writing about another person in a way that makes it easy for reader who knows them to identity that person? If that person found out, how would they feel?
3) Venting: Whether a teen is venting about a friend, a parent, a teacher or even the President of the United States, they have to realize that someone reading could take whatever he or she is writing seriously. Teens have been expelled, investigated by the Secret Service and have had friendships ruined over writing something on a blog they didn’t really mean. When talking about venting with teens, I would tell them it’s probably best to reserve these posts for an old fashioned paper notebook kept somewhere private.
Some related links/food for thought:
On the Web, ‘Dear Diary’ becomes ‘Dear World’ (originally published in the Washington Post)
And…what about when troubled teens actually use blogs to unconsciously cry out for help. In these cases, having a digital trail that leads back to that teen somehow can actually save a teen’s life. It also makes me think of the Shawn Hornbeck kidnapping case, which is unfolding right now. Boing Boing has been tracking Hornbeck’s digital trail — it seems his photos were online while he was abducted.
P.S. See my list of sites under Where Teens Blog on the right hand side of this blog.