Staying Safe and Having Fun
By Tammy Takahashi
Blogs are the hottest thing on the internet and everyone wants to try them — even our homeschooled kids. But all the stories about MySpace and online blogging websites make parents worried about their child’s safety when they have an internet presence.
Blogs are an awesome tool. Just like any tool, you can take precautions to make it safe, and if you understand it and know how to use it, it does exactly what you want it to. If you hand a child a drill without explaining safety measures, it’s very similar to allowing a child to have a blog or website without looking into how they work safely.
Here are some ways to avoid trouble when you or your child have a blog or other web-based presence. Once you know how to use a blog and what your options are, blogs are as safe as any tool, and very useful.
If you can avoid it, try not to join a large-scale blog service, unless it has very specific options to keep your blog private (a good example is Blogger.com where you can turn off the “listing” service). The problem with teens having blogs does not stem from the mere existence of their website, but how they are easily accessible by the general population with the blog site’s search function. On many of these massive blog websites, a blogger’s bio is easy to find. If you keep the blog private, or don’t make the bio accessible, it contains the same amount of privacy as a regular website, and there is little chance that an uninvited guest would find a child’s blog.
Any blog program or site you choose to use should also have several options on who can leave comments. For my blog, I have it set to ask me for approval for all posts, unless someone’s email address is on my “friends” list, in which case they can post without my approval, and I just receive a notice instead.
If your blog is one the thousands on a blog site, avoid the function where you can link to other people’s blogs. Also avoid getting involved in the “popularity” aspect of blogging. Many blog services have incentives to get as many people as possible to read or link to your blog. That is guaranteed to attract unknown readers, spam and phishers. On the other hand, if the reason you want to make a blog is to be popular, then you might consider using a pseudonym or omit any reference to the child herself so that it’s basically anonymous (except for the people who know it’s you).
If you decide to host your own blog you won’t have these issues. But you do have to know some HTML, have your own server on which to host it and install all the software on your own. This is the option I have chosen for my blog so that I have total control over content, and I’m not searchable on any blog sites. I get some weird people posting once in a while, but the vast majority of my viewers are from the elists where I post, my friends and family. Even though I’m not using a large blog website to host my site, I still don’t use my name, address or email address in my entries or in my menus. If you don’t know who I am, and you want to know, you’ll have to do a bit of research. Most people who are looking for trouble don’t want to exert this much effort.
If a spam program finds your blog or website link, they phish for email addresses and places to make comments. So, if you need to put an email address, do it like this: myemail @ myemail(dot)com or something else cryptic that won’t be easily snagged by a program.
You’re also likely to get spam on the comments part of the blog (even if your blog is private, because bots can find pretty much any website if there’s a link to it somewhere in cyberspace). That’s one of the general disadvantages of having a blog. However, you can easily delete spam with the comments management section of the blog software. And, if you don’t want comments at all, you can just turn them off. Although, much of the point of a blog is to have comments open. There are also some blog software that have the option to require any commenters to be logged in to your website.
Even if you take precautions and understand the software, nothing compares to being involved with your child. If it’s clear on your child’s blog that Mom and Dad read the blog regularly, and have ultimate veto power on any posts or comments, you can almost guarantee the safety of your child’s web-presence.
So, don’t fear blogs. They are a wonderful tool. But like any other potentially dangerous tool, knowledge of how it works and parental supervision are the key. Once you have the safety aspect covered, there’s no end of possibilities of what you can do with a blog as a source of homeschool learning and fun.
Bio: Tammy maintains her own blog, is currently working on a website for her professional projects, as well as writing a book about the true identity of the modern homeschooler. You can email her at tammy @ jabober(dot)com.
Additional Essays about Blogs and children
Blogs for Kids Flush out the writer in children. Blogging can draw out a young writer and open doors to their future. Consider encouraging your child to start blogging! By Dr. File Finder, Tucows.
MySpace Safety: 51 Tips for Teens and Parents Whether you are a fan or an opponent of MySpace.com, many of us have heard of it and know that it is growing by leaps and bounds on the Internet. It has received both positive and negative reviews and July’s HEM Resource interview features Kevin and Dale Farnham, authors of a new and timely book, MySpace Safety: 51 Tips for Teens and Parents. HEM July 2006.