Those dangerous teenagers, again….

The other day, there was an article in the Fredericksburg, VA newspaper The Free Lance Star about teenagers and blogs MySpace (we’ll get to that in a second) called “Teen blogs: Too much information?” On the one hand, it is another example of an article in the genre of “the Internet is a scary place for our kids.” Here’s a passage along these lines:

MySpace has been in the news in connection with two recent teen deaths in Virginia. Locally, Courtland High School athlete Baron Braswell II was fatally stabbed Friday at a Spotsylvania County CD release party publicized on MySpace. Afterward, his friends used MySpace to post memorial tributes.

And after 17-year-old Virginia Commonwealth University freshman Taylor Behl was abducted and killed last September, investigators found that she had posted photos and other personal information on MySpace. Her profile mentioned that she was moving to Richmond and hoped to meet “someone who is kind.” Police have charged a 38-year-old Richmond man in her death.

As teenage blogging booms, many parents are left in the dust and in the dark. Some parents of young bloggers don’t even use the Internet, said Staca Urie, outreach manager for NetSmartz, the online safety unit of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

And so forth.

But this article is different in at least three ways. First, the reporter, Laura Moyer, is a really good friend of my wife, and an overall great person. Second, she makes some good points here and tries as hard as she can to be objective about all this, and along the way, I think she makes it clear that she’s not trying to write a typical “teens gone bad” sort of article. Though the headline kinda does that in a way. And third, because she is a friend of my wife and because my wife pointed out to her that I’m a certified “expert” on the whole blogging thing, she called me and ended up quoting me a bit in the article. Here’s what Laura quoted from me in the piece:

But scary possibilities don’t justify yanking minors’ blogging privileges altogether, said Steven D. Krause, an English professor and blog expert at Eastern Michigan University.

Like anyone else, teenagers need to learn what they should and shouldn’t put online, he said. And as they learn, they’ll probably make mistakes.

“I don’t think there’s any question that young people use poor judgment in what they post,” Krause said. “But you know what? They make poor judgments in face-to-face situations, too. Part of the job of teenagers is to do stupid things.”

While teenagers and 20-somethings may use MySpace and similar sites as personals ads, Krause said, blogs are also a powerful, accessible communication tool. He encourages his college students to blog as a way to publish their writings to an audience beyond the classroom.

Like more serious topic-related or news blogs, teen blogs are here to stay, Krause said.

“I think kids must be onto something if it’s getting people this scared,” he said.

Had I been more clever and reflective and such when I talked to Laura, I would have said some other things that she might have tried to include in the article. So I’ll say them now:

  • Blaming MySpace or any other Internet service for the death of this kid is just plain silly.
  • In one sense, I will admit that things like MySpace and Facebook do potentially enable bad behaviors, especially among teenagers, who are not known as an age group to be that reflective. But in another sense, I think it’s just making visible the kinds of stuff that teenagers have been doing in more private (more dangerous?) settings since… well, since there were teenagers, I’m guessing.
  • And really, MySpace isn’t the same thing as a “blog,” in my opinion. Services like MySpace and Xanga seem to me to be geared much more to “meeting” (virtually or in real life) other people. The emphasis on MySpace and its ilk is in the visual and in having “friends,” while my impression of “real” blogs (like on blogger, like, hopefully, this one) is they are more interested in texts and fellow readers (who, yes, maybe are friends, maybe become friends). MySpace is designed to share, I dunno, the surface. Blogs are designed to share reflections and thoughts. Sorta. MySpace has a feel more like a singles bar or a frat party– at least the way I remember such things.

And that is what I mean by saying that these things aren’t blogs. They certainly are some kind of networking/communicating medium, but I don’t see them as one that supports the kind of writing/communicating/networking/reflecting I’d want students to do when I assign blog writing activities.

Or maybe I’m just getting old.

2 thoughts on “Those dangerous teenagers, again….”

  1. Tonight NBC ran a story about the dangers of MyFace et al. Although it made some good points about teens giving out too much personal information that could lead to dangerous situations, the tone was too, too media slick: social software as the next national crisis, with a capital C and that rhymes with B and that stands for Blog. I’d like to see the media devote more time to some of the more positive aspects of social software, but that may be asking too much.

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