"Are Online Blogs a Good Idea for My Kids?"
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"Are Online Blogs a Good Idea for My Kids?"

Online diaries -- aka blogs -- can be fun and innocent, or they can lead to trouble. Here's what parents need to know.

The explosion of online diaries, or blogs (short for Web logs), has been fueled by adolescents: Of the estimated four million blogs, more than half were created by 10- to 19-year-olds. In these musings for public consumption, bloggers unload their innermost thoughts about everything from love to politics.

But what if some content is obscene or just plain nasty, especially about other kids or teachers? Can your child get in trouble, or can you? "A school can take disciplinary action if administrators believe it's warranted," says Kevin Leander, PhD, who studies technology use at Vanderbilt University, in Nashville.

The First Amendment protects most name-calling and statements of opinion, but making false statements that injure a person's reputation could provoke a lawsuit, with parents held liable for their minor's behavior, warns Sandra Baron, executive director of the Media Law Resource Center, in New York City.

While the majority of teens use blogs harmlessly, "many adolescents are not fully aware of the legal and moral consequences," notes Dr. Leander. So if you know or even suspect that your teen keeps a blog, talk to him about what's appropriate and ask permission to read it. You may need that clearance in any case, because a blogger can block access to a particular reader. Yes, Mom and Dad, that means you.

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal magazine, April 2005.