Blogging is one of the hottest things since MP3s arrived on the scene. But, as with any new gadget or technology, there are kinks in the system. Blogging is personal, fun, and easy. It is also a great outlet for creativity or letting off steam. But it's also an open door for some unanticipated dangers, even in the smaller world of college prep and college admissions.
With more than half off all blogs being written by teens and young adults, just how much is at risk?
How does blogging relate to my child's college plan?
First, what exactly is blogging? Some refer to it as an online diary; others view it as electronic socializing. However you define it, it's opened the doors for millions of people to share their lives and their thoughts with anyone who's interested in listening. Some colleges even provide online links to student blogs, partly to influence prospective students to go to college there. After all, if you are in the midst of college planning and you can read blogs written by a batch of happy students taking the courses in which you are interested, enjoying their college lives, extolling the virtues of the school's faculty, and raving about the food in the dining hall, wouldn't you want to get into college right beside them?
Because blogging encourages a sense of detachment and belonging all at the same time, it's especially easy for teens and young adults to feel they can say or do just about anything on their own personal Web page. Alone in their thoughts while they blog, but linked together online with those who can relate, blogging is a great way for many teens to find acceptance and affirmation. But they—in fact, everyone—should always blog with caution. Occasionally, there are some potentially ugly repercussions in the form of "lurkers," "trolls," or even those they may least expect. By knowing the risks, most teens should be able to blog away and still enjoy the friends they make and the fun they have along the way.
For teens in the midst of college prep, the dangers should be obvious
It's no secret that the Internet has become a haven for predators—identity thieves, sexual offenders, and spammers, to name a few. Many blogging sites host pages that are informative, political, or downright entertaining. However, because of their open access and frequent lack of anonymity, the doors are open for more than just wannabe friends.
What many people forget is that criminals don't think like the rest of us. Someone may be posting what they think is innocuous information (such as their age or full name), but to a person intent on finding a victim, every tidbit of detail is a goldmine. Most people don't intend to harm anyone, but there are those whose only intent is to hurt someone! For that reason, it's important to understand what your child is up to online. While something like blogging isn't dangerous in and of itself, there are dangers nonetheless. By becoming informed, you can educate your child as to what's safe—and what isn't.
One of the ugliest traits of blogging is the ability for the "Mean Girls"—or boys—to have yet another channel for airing their dislikes of others. Sometimes this includes posting mean, hurtful, and often humiliating things about their peers or others they encounter. With school-specific sites, these comments are available for viewing to anyone at the school who wants to take a look. It takes bullying well beyond the schoolyard or cafeteria and has, in fact, led to some very ugly real-life incidents.
There is a not-so-obvious danger for college admissions
If your child thinks that the repercussions of blogging are minimal, encourage them to think again. Imagine a student who is about to go to college. With great foresight, the student had done some serious college planning several years ago. After sticking to an amazing college plan that included serious college prep courses, three college applications were mailed, including one to his or her top-choice school. The school year is now coming to an end. Feeling good about where things stand, the student blogs about participating in a series of underage drinking events, posts some racy photos, or makes some very ugly comments about another student or the school's principal. Despite the student's impressive GPA, how might a college admissions director at the top-choice school respond when coming across such an unintended addendum to the student's application package? Would the offer of admission remain on the table?
Though this scenario isn't the norm, there are some institutions that use the Internet to do a little extra "checking up" on their potential students; some students have actually lost their coveted spots due to their online activities.
What you can do during and after the college prep cycle
If you haven't already, find out if your child keeps a blog. (Even if they aren't writing one, it's estimated that nearly 80 percent of teens read them!) Whether they're blogging or not, lay down some ground rules.
At home or at school, try these tips for minimizing repercussions and promoting responsible blogging:
- Encourage your child to use good judgment. If they wouldn't say it in public or to someone's face, they probably ought not to say it online.
- Screen your child's posts, or at least check them periodically.
- Look for a blogging service that offers password protection or other privacy guards.
If your child is away at college and not quite under your thumb, these "ground rules" turn into "tips" that can still work as part of an ongoing college plan. But as a parent, you should also check with your child's school to see how they manage blogging and other electronic access from dorm rooms and computer labs. College prep efforts might now be history for your child, but remaining happy and safe while away will always be part of college planning.