Teens' Bold Blogs Alarm Area Schools
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
No one under 18 would be surprised to hear that teenagers like to post their intimate thoughts and photographs online -- they've done it for years. But school administrators have begun to take notice, and some are warning students that their online activities may affect not only their safety, but also their academic and professional lives.
In recent weeks, several Washington area schools have taken action against the use of blog sites, in particular Facebook.com but also the sites MySpace.com and Xanga.com, which allow teenagers -- and sometimes younger children -- to post details of their lives for all to see.
Sidwell Friends School in the District recently prohibited students from using their school e-mail addresses to register for access to Facebook, a widely used networking site for college and high school students. Before the holidays, Sidwell, Georgetown Day School in the District and the Madeira School in McLean wrote to parents to warn them about use of the site, and the Barrie School, in Silver Spring, recently asked a student to leave over the misuse of a blog.
Exclusive private schools such as these have so far been more aggressive than public schools in specifically targeting the use of blogs, but local public schools have begun to warn parents and students about the dangers of Internet use. Fairfax County will hold seminars on the subject for parents this week, and Arlington County, at the suggestion of a parent who is a computer safety consultant, plans a similar meeting next week.
Meredyth Cole, assistant head of school at Madeira, said officials there were "shocked and amazed" to see how many students use Facebook, which began for college students in 2004 and was expanded late last year to include high school students.
Besides the most obvious danger -- adult stalkers enticing teenagers into face-to-face meetings -- Cole warned that personal information posted online can also be read by college admissions officers and future employers.
"We are trying to figure out how do our school rules relate to this type of behavior," Cole said.
Some colleges have expelled teenagers for violating codes of conduct after discovering photos of underage students posing in front of kegs or writing about drinking binges, and employers often look up job candidates on the sites, said Parry Aftab, an Internet lawyer and the executive director of Wiredsafety.org.
Blogs abound with seductive poses and confessions of love, hate and everything in between.
A girl at a private Washington school who got drunk reports that "the buzz is fun as hell, but if you 'accidently' go to far, you'll end up having a very nice chat with that burger you ate earlier floating in the bottom of the toilet." An Alexandria girl with an abusive mother confides that she wants to have a baby, even though it would "most likely make everything 5,000 times harder." A girl from a Fairfax County school posts photos of herself in a bikini, inviting boys to comment.
Ellis Turner, associate head of school at Sidwell, said that the issue came to the attention of administrators only recently, when they became aware of "inappropriate material that was being posted on Facebook."
Sidwell's Upper School recently sent letters home to parents and held a student assembly and a parent meeting on the dangers of students posting too much -- or unwise -- information about themselves.