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Mum And Dad! Our Blogging Safety Guide Will Keep Online Predators At Bay
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So your child has an expressed a desire to start their own blog. If your first reaction was to panic and immediately tell them “No!” stop right there. While it’s true that any online activity bears some risk, there is no reason to be alarmed. Blogging can be done safely and under the guidance of a parent or guardian.
For starters, your child may already have a blog on their school’s intranet. It’s only natural that they want to explore the world of blogging on their own terms and feel inspired to share their creativity with a larger audience.
From parent to another, it’s perfectly normal to be worried and torn between the decision of letting them express themselves and protecting them online. Before making that final choice, know that no matter how hard you try, you can’t really monitor what your children do 24/7. Part of being a parent is balancing protecting your child and allowing them room to grow.
Another point to consider is that your child can reap significant benefits from blogging including improving their writing skills and improving their social communication and technical skills.
If you’re on the fence about letting your child have their own blog and worried about their online safety, you’ve come to the right place.
In this article, we’ll discuss two different formats of blogging, cover the available platforms, and provide you with advice to help you keep your child safe during their blogging journey.
The Different Formats Of Blogging
If you’re not very familiar with blogging, you may not know that there are two different formats. The first one refers to blogging as most of us know it—written entries on a blogging platform like WordPress or Blogger.
In the beginning, blogs were online journals. They were outlets for the younger generation of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Over time, blogging evolved into a powerful medium for sharing news, opinions, entertainment, and educational content.
Almost everyone today has a personal blog of some sort, whether they keep it private and allow access only to certain people or publish for the whole world to see.
Another method of blogging is video blogging or “vlogging” for short. Vlogging usually happens on a video sharing platform, like YouTube, where vloggers upload videos that range in topics just like written blogs do.
Interestingly enough, some of the most popular YouTube channels are the ones featuring children, often supervised and managed by their parents.
Look at Ryan for instance. He has a very successful YouTube channel that led to Ryan’s mom quitting her job to manage the channel. However, Ryan is not alone in this phenomenon, there are a lot of child stars on YouTube.
An Overview of Blogging Platforms
There is a variety of blogging platforms. If your child is serious about stepping into the world of blogging, you should familiarize yourself with different options. Otherwise, you won’t know how to protect your child or how to help them make use of various settings that allow them to protect their identity.
Below, we’ll cover the most popular blogging platforms.
WordPress is one of the most popular blogging platforms used not only by personal bloggers but also businesses big and small and even online magazines. It is highly customizable, but also easy to use.
Starting a blog on WordPress.com is completely free, as long as your child is over the age of 13. It’s a hosted platform where all your child has to do is pick a name for their blog, a theme for that blog, and post content.
When it comes to privacy settings, you and your child can opt to keep their blog private, allowing only a few select people to access it after they have requested an invitation.
It also provides a high level of control over who can comment on the post, and you can create a list of words that will automatically put the comment that contains them into the trash. This makes it easy to filter comments that are abusive or inappropriate.
It’s worth mentioning that there is a self-hosted version of WordPress that you can find on WordPress.org. The difference between the two lies in the fact that for the self-hosted one, you will need to invest in a domain name as well as a hosting plan.
While it does give you more control over your site, it comes with a cost and may be too much to handle for complete beginners when it comes to technical aspects of maintaining the site.
Another popular blogging platform is Blogger. Similar to WordPress.com, it’s a hosted platform provided by Google that’s geared to anyone age 13 and up.
Controlling privacy settings is rather straightforward as well: you can opt to have your child’s blog set to private, visible only to those you’ve explicitly approved.
Comment moderation settings allow you to decide whether anonymous comments are allowed and to send an email notification whenever a comment needs approving.
Tumblr is especially popular among young bloggers. The platform is straightforward to use (perhaps the easiest out of the three mentioned so far), and allows their users to “reblog” other’s content and have it appear on their blog. If your child wants to use Tumblr, they have to be older than 13.
Tumblr has very simple privacy settings. Your child can choose whether to allow anyone else to find their blog by searching for their email address and control who can post a reply on their post or ask them a question.
Like Tumblr, LiveJournal is popular with kids and teens thanks to the ease of use and straightforward options. It’s geared toward users 14 and above. The site allows its users to add others to a Friends list which has the aim of building a stronger community. Friends can be added to custom friends groups.
From there, your child can decide on the visibility of their posts and set them to be visible to friends only, by the whole public, or choose a custom setting based on the friends’ groups created in their profile.
KidzWorld is the only blogging platform geared specifically for children aged 12 and younger, but the site offers much more than just blogging.
Children who sign up for a profile can make friends with other kids, play age-appropriate games, get homework help, participate in chat, forums, and create their own blog.
According to the website, the content is moderated and reviewed by staff members to ensure nothing inappropriate gets posted.
While YouTube is not a blogging platform, it’s used by almost everyone who prefers video blogging. Even though it’s owned by Google, the platform has its own Terms of Service, which state that it’s not intended for children under the age of 13.
Your child can control who can see the videos they liked and channels they subscribe to. They can also upload their videos as public, private, or unlisted. However, any further privacy settings are managed through their Google account.
This list of blogging platforms is by no means an extensive one as there are many more blogging platforms available. However, it’s a good place to start your research into what each of the platforms has to offer for young bloggers.
Do your research and talk to your child to find out if they have any preferences. They may want to start a blog on a platform their friends are using or one they are already familiar with. Consider signing up for the platform yourself to familiarize yourself with it or walk through the signup process with them.
What Are The Risks Of Your Child Having a Blog?
Starting a blog as a child bears the same security concerns as starting a blog as an adult. Remember that once you decide to become active online, anything and everything you post online is there for the whole world to see, unless you are very strict with your privacy settings, and even those are not nessicarily fool-proof.
You may want your child to create a private blog, accessible only to friends and family. They, however, may have different ideas and want to gain a bigger audience for their writing or videos.
The very nature of blogging means other internet users will be able to read their content and leave a comment. Some comments may be completely harmless and can, in fact, encourage your child to continue on with their blogging journey.
Some comments may be downright crude or be considered cyber bullying, in which case you can mark them as spam or report them as inappropriate if the blogging platform offers that option.
And then, there are comments that start off innocently, before transitioning into asking your child to exchange their personal information, or inviting them to communicate in a more private setting via email or text message.
You should also understand that images your child posts on their blog pose another level of security concerns. Copyright infringement aside, sharing a seemingly innocent photo of themselves on their way to school or an extracurricular activity may reveal a lot of information to those who know what to look for.
Not only does such an image make it possible for everyone to see what your child looks like, but it also reveals information about where your child may be on a regular basis. Buildings and street signs can be used as landmarks to determine where your child lives. Bus numbers or classroom numbers may give away information about where they attend school.
Finally, it’s important to understand that even if the chosen blogging platform allows for a blog to be marked as private, that is no guarantee that what your child posts will remain as such. It only takes one moment of misunderstanding and anger between your child and one of their friends before that friend decides to retaliate by taking a screenshot of the blog and posting it publicly on a different site. An unlikely scenario, but it is possible.
Considering everything mentioned above, you may be leaning more towards a “no” rather than a “yes” decision. That is understandable. But keep in mind that by forbidding your child to blog will not allow you to protect them from everything online.
At best, they will go along with your decision begrudgingly and will be forced to learn how to handle themselves online elsewhere. At worst, they will go behind your back and create a blog anyway, in which case they won’t feel safe coming to you for help should a security issue arise.
Blogging does have many benefits as well. It all comes down to discussing online safety with your child and showing them they can count on you to help them make their blogging experience better.
How to Setup Blogging Safety Rules For Your Child
The idea of letting your child enter the world of blogging is frightening. But, there are ways to keep your child safe and minimize the risks, as long as you’re willing to communicate with your child, listen to their concerns, and agree on a set of rules to follow.
Discuss The Risks
The first step is to ensure your child understands the potential risks to blogging and why safety rules are necessary. Explain to them how easy it is to inadvertently reveal information about themselves. Talk to them about comments and make sure they understand that while the blogosphere is a mostly positive community, there are people who may post insensitive or rude comments.
You should also prepare them for the fact that once they become active online, they accept the risk that everything they post is considered public. Let them know that if they wouldn’t feel comfortable showing something to a complete stranger then they shouldn’t post it online.
Teach Them The Importance of Privacy
Above all, stress the importance of never revealing their personal information online. In particular, your child should never share their full name, school name, personal address or telephone number, their present location, or a future location. Images that have identifying information such as a street sign or a well-known landmark should never be posted online.
Likewise, if they befriend another blogger, ensure they understand that sharing personal information with them is not necessary. If their blogging friend wants to call them or meet them in real life, tell them to come talk to you so you can decide together whether the person behind the blogging moniker can be trusted completely.
If you decide that it’s okay for your child to accept the call or meet with their blogging friend, be present and go with them. It’s not about invading their privacy, it’s making sure they are safe.
Set Boundaries For The Blog
Before your child starts their blog, decide together on the boundaries. Will it be a private or a public blog? Bear in mind that the sole reason your child wants a blog may be the desire for a larger audience. Talk to your child, but don’t try to fight it if that is what they truly want and understand the risks that come with it.
Next, decide on the photos that will be allowed to be posted on the blog. If your child wants to post a picture of themselves while using a certain product, can you avoid sharing the photo of their face? Will a photo of their hands suffice? Consider taking pictures of your child with the back of their head towards the camera as this will give them a way to protect their identity. If you simply cannot avoid the face in the photo, consider blurring it before posting it online with image editing software or an app like PicMonkey.
You should also discuss the name of the blog with your child. Will they use a name that relates to the topic they want to blog about or will they use a screen name? Avoid using a well-known nickname or their last name.
Comments are another thing to cover. Who will monitor the comments, you or the child? How will the comments be moderated? Will readers need to register for the site before being able to comment on posts? Talk to your child about responding to comments and the proper way of addressing a negative remark. If a commenter is simply disagreeing, it’s fine to leave the comment on the site and reply in a way that doesn’t stir up conflict. But if the comment is offensive in nature, know you can remove it altogether.
Consider opening a new email account, that you as the parent have access to, strictly for blogging purposes, and use that email for notifications about new comments and as a way to allow readers to contact the author.
If your child decided to use WordPress, don’t be afraid to go into their blog and set a list of words and phrases that are not permitted in the comments section.
For parents whose child would prefer to get their feet wet with vlogging, it’s important to discuss what type of videos they will post on their channel. Will they film the video themselves or will they need your help with the equipment and editing?
Screen The Content
As your child takes their first step into the blogging world, ask them to show you what they are about to post. Discuss potential problems and explain why certain content may or may not be appropriate to be posted online.
Or, consider signing up for your child’s blog as a reader and read their posts after they are published. You can also browse through the blogs of their blogging friends who comment on their posts and follow links from the comments to get a better picture of your child’s internet activity.
Alternatively, consider signing up for a blog yourself and make blogging a family activity. You can learn together with your child and share blogging ups and downs, talk about plans for the blog and come up with post ideas together. Doing so will provide you with another opportunity to bond with them and to gain a better understanding of what all blogging entails.
If your child wants to be the next YouTube star, ensure that the video content they post doesn’t contain any identifying information about your address or your child’s school.
Discuss Social Media
While social media may not seem related to blogging at all, let alone to safety, the truth is that social media matters. Sooner or later, your child will see that other bloggers use social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest to promote their blog and drive traffic to it.
At that point, they may want to open up their own social media accounts for the same purposes. It’s important to discuss the same privacy issues mentioned above and ensure your child continues to follow the same set of rules that apply to blogging.
Teach Your Child About Being a Responsible Internet Citizen
There is no doubt that the internet is becoming an increasingly large part of our lives. Thanks to the advancement of technology, children are exposed to online content at a very young age.
It should come as no surprise that they are eager to become a part of this world and make their own mark. However, it is your duty as the parent to teach them how to handle themselves responsibly and how to protect their privacy online.
Don’t be afraid to encourage your child to build a relationship with their readers and other bloggers. But do make sure that they know they can come to you if they feel threatened at any point in time.
Get involved with your child’s blog and show them they can count on you to help them become a responsible internet citizen.
Final Thoughts on Blogging Safety
Blogging can be an exciting journey, whether your child is interested in writing or sharing videos. It’s a great way to express themselves, and it presents an opportunity to learn more about technology and prepare them for the future where an internet presence is a requirement.
However, as parents, it is our job to protect our children while allowing them the space to grow and learn. Blogging can be a part of that learning journey when monitored using the tips above.
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