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Most Teen Bloggers Play It Safe Online

Study finds vast majority of chat sticks to everyday concerns, not risky behaviors

FRIDAY, April 16 (HealthDay News) -- Parents have little to fear when their teens turn to blogging, new research suggests.

In fact, most adolescents blog to maintain friendships and engage in positive discussions of everyday teenage life.

The finding, based on a month-long review of teen content on a popular blogging Web site, may help relieve parental concerns that teens are hopping online to participate in violent, drug-laced or sexual discourse.

"There's a lot of hype about the use of online technology and the abuse of it, but here we found that it seems that it's just another example of typical adolescent behavior," said study author Dawn Anderson-Butcher, an independent social worker and associate professor in the college of social work at Ohio State University in Columbus.

Anderson-Butcher and her colleagues reported their findings recently in the Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal.

To explore the world of teen blogging, in 2007 the authors analyzed an entire month's worth of quotable content posted by 100 American teens from across the country (aged 13 to 18) on the social networking Web site (pronounced "Zanga").

The goal: to count up how many times teens remarked on so-called "good" or "bad" behaviors.

About three-quarters of the teens were female, and teen usage was uneven, with some teens adding posts daily while others threw in their two cents just once or twice a month.

Teens did engage in some degree of complaining and expression of negative feelings. Sixty-five percent blogged about being bored, while others discussed feeling blue (30 percent), feeling angry (28 percent), and/or feeling like they didn't fit in (22 percent). The age-old reluctance to do homework was a subject raised by 16 percent of the teens, while concern about bad grades was mentioned by 11 percent.

But there was relatively little mention of "bad" behavior: just 8 percent said they had cut class, 6 percent said they had consumed alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes, and only 1 percent referred to engaging in sexual activity.

Instead, the bulk of teens used blogging to discuss positive events and behaviors central to teen living.

Video game playing was the prime topic for 65 percent of the teen bloggers, followed by TV-viewing (45 percent), homework (40 percent), after-school non-religious activities (38 percent), Web surfing (29 percent), and religious activities (22 percent).

The researchers did not explore whether or not the very public nature of this particular Web site -- which has relatively less restrictive access policies than sites such as Facebook -- influenced the positive nature of the observed teen content.

Parental supervision of the site -- self-described as "accessible to anyone, including people who are not registered Xanga users" -- was not assessed. Nor was the degree to which teen users might have engaged in self-censorship.

Nonetheless, Anderson-Butcher said the study demonstrates that the world of teen blogging is not the social threat some have suggested.

"Contrary to what many people might assume, the kids we looked at weren't describing problem behaviors very often or rambling on about negative interactions," she noted. "They were just talking about their day in ways that we might have talked about ours on the phone when we were kids."

One expert wasn't surprised by the findings.

"There only has to be a very, very few inappropriate uses of new media to grab our attention and get us to jump to the wrong conclusion that inappropriate behavior online is common," said Sam Gosling, a personality and social psychologist and professor in the department of psychology at the University of Texas, Austin. "But it's clear that what makes the latest media so popular with teens is that they are actually just using it to maintain social bonds and keep in touch, just as with any other form of communication."

Jeffrey Hall, an assistant professor in the department of communication studies at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, concurred.

"Parents and others are often very afraid of their children doing things online that will be negative or detrimental," he noted. "But this really points to the growing use of computer media to do things that are relatively mundane -- to seek social support, build friendships, share social experiences and communicate with people that you already like."

More information

There's more on keeping kids safe online at the American Academy of Pediatrics.

SOURCES: Dawn Anderson-Butcher, Ph.D., associate professor, college of social work, Ohio State, Columbus, and licensed independent social worker; Jeffrey Hall, Ph.D., assistant professor, department of communication studies, University of Kansas, Lawrence; Sam Gosling, Ph.D., professor, department of psychology, University of Texas, Austin; Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, online

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