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March 2, 2006

I know many of you are parents of teenagers, and I’m sorry I haven’t had much to offer you here since my own kids are still years away from that stage. Yet I’ve been seeking out some “experts” whose advice I highly value. Recently, an author contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in reviewing her book, which deals with the adolescent years. I thought this was perfect timing!

But when I looked through her press materials, something struck me. In a list of tips, she cautions parents:

Don’t snoop to find out about your tween’s love life … violating privacy by reading diaries or on-line blogs will build a wall, not a bridge of trust. Without trust you cannot effectively guide your tween through the risks and revelry of adolescence and romance.

Now maybe I’m way off here, but I feel like a paper diary is NOTHING like a blog. A diary that is kept private is one thing — but if a teen is writing online to the public, I think parents have every right to see what their teen is telling the world.

What do you think?

This whole issue began to bother me. Is it good for teens to be chatting in the blogosphere? For one thing, whatever is published in a blog is out there permanently. In real life, people grow and change; they get older, wiser, and move on to a new chapter in their lives. But if they’ve kept a blog, their 16-year-old thoughts will forever be cached in a search engine somewhere. (The same goes for adults blogging, but that’s a whole different topic.)

What if a teen later wants to interview at a prestigious university or apply for a scholarship? Will a high school blog help or hinder? Later in life, there may be job interviews, promotions, award applications … any number of opportunities. Yet if a potential employer checks the search engines, will those teenage words reflect a positive image?

So, I felt like it would be better for me to find a Christian expert to answer my questions, someone who looks for Biblical solutions to issues that parents face. I’ve approached an author who has published hundreds of magazine articles and several popular books for and about teens. She also travels and speaks to thousands of teenagers a year. I’ll be reading one of her books soon and interviewing her, so I’m looking forward to sharing her ideas with you here.

Meanwhile, I was browsing yesterday and discovered a few answers to my questions at the most amazing place! I ended up visiting Agent Tim Online, a blog written by a teen who is helping to launch a new organization called Regenerate Our Culture. Here’s what he says:

Regenerate Our Culture is an organization with the goal of regenerating our nation’s worldview away from the post-modernism holding it and back to the Christian worldview it was first built on. We believe that America is the most Godly nation on the face of the earth, but it can’t be denied that many in our nation have turned away from God in politics, religion, and their everyday lives. Our vision is to help bring about a positive change in these three important areas, and equip others to do the same.

When I read through some of his posts, I began to realize that teens who are writing with focus and a mission can have a positive impact online. Their writing can serve not only to help others; it can also enhance their own future opportunities. Yet Agent Tim offers caution to his teen readers about the potential hazards of sharing too much online. I encourage you to read this whole post, which is carefully researched and written. He says:

What is scary for many of us is this: our friends all have a MySpace, which [are] easy to find, easy to read, and sometimes easy to hack into if you know them well enough. I decided to go in and do a little investigation. My mom has done a lot more than I have, but here’s what I’ve found.

Almost everyone…no…everyone, puts a picture of themselves on their profile. Usually fine, yet it can pose a problem, especially when you consider the fact that most of the kids post not only their pictures, but also post their city, state, and country. Others post their telephone number, their school name, their full names and their friends full names, wonderful details about themselves, and other things that just shouldn’t be there.

Wow. As a parent of future teens, I find this downright scary. I’m glad those of you who are ahead of me are pioneering a path for those of us who will follow you.

Another one of the Regenerate Our Culture founding members wrote an insightful post about the use of Xanga among teens. She says:

One of the most used blog sites for teens is Xanga. Over half of my personal friends have Xanga’s and even more are getting MySpaces. While these are fun to read, there is no real purpose. When I used my Xanga, I didn’t do anything but ramble. It’s not productive.

Later she continues:

I’ve also noticed that many people who use Xanga also are disrespectful to parents and/or those in authority. It seems to be a breeding ground for irreverent thinking.

So for now, all I can say is — if you’re a parent of a teen, you should be aware of the prevalence of MySpace and Xanga — and I think you should most definitely know what your teens are writing online. I would also encourage you to find places like Regenerate Our Culture, which is launching soon and will support a whole community of talented teen leaders. (You can also sign up to become a “launch sponsor” and get this colorful button on your site as well.)

I’d love to offer my Comments section as a forum today for any of you who have concerns or ideas about the whole topic of teens in the blogosphere. What do you think? Are parents snooping if they read online journals? What are the pros and cons? Where can parents go for answers to their questions?

If you’d like to email me privately with questions for the author I’ll be interviewing, please feel free to do so. I have a policy that whatever you email me is kept private, unless I ask for and receive your permission to publish online.

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Regenerate Our Culture




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