Students say they’re savvy to Web safety
For parents learning about Xanga blogs and online diaries for the first time, the thought of a possible criminal having online access to their children is terrifying.
But for some De Soto High School students, being a part of online communities is as normal as talking on the phone.
Seniors Sam Johnson, Kasey Willnauer and Neal Brooks and junior Sydney Tenney use some form of Internet communication other than e-mail every day. Johnson and Tenney typically use Xanga where they can relate daily events, post pictures or vent after a stressful day at school. Brooks uses Pure Volume, where he can communicate with other musicians. Willnauer uses FaceBook, which gives users the option of only talking to people he knows. Unlike their 12- and 13-year old middle school counterparts, these students say they're mature enough to understand the dangers of the Internet and still communicate with their friends.
"(Parents and teachers) are completely shocked about the Internet," Tenney said. "It's just part of how our culture is progressing."
The students say they stay safe on the Internet by using common sense. They don't post pictures of themselves, don't give out phone numbers, names or private information and would never agree to meet someone from the Internet who they didn't know in person. Like many teenagers struggling for independence, they're concerned that personal privacy and first amendment rights of students are being overlooked in the name of safety.
Recently, a student at Trailridge Middle School in Lenexa was reprimanded by that school for a threat to another student made on a Xanga site outside of school.
"There has been a history of Xanga (users) doing that," Willnauer said. "People can do that at school. It's the same as bullying. The Internet didn't create that."
Tenney agreed that blog sites aren't causing new problems for students, just making them more public by putting them on the Internet.
"People are going to do stupid things regardless of the Internet," Tenney said.
Johnson said students themselves don't talk about what someone might have read on another teenager's site. She said entries are often written in anger or sadness, and the writer doesn't always mean what they say.
"We know how to take each other, but a lot of the time, adults and parents don't know how to take it," she said.
Students said they began using online diaries and blog sites in about the seventh or eighth grade. Although the programs and sites have changed, they still use them for the same purpose of maintaining and developing friendships with their peers.
Students said changes in technology over time have contributed somewhat to making the Internet safer for younger users. While public access, tell-all-diary sites like Xanga are on their way out at De Soto High School, protected password sites like FaceBook are becoming more popular. FaceBook requires an invitation to join and identifies each user by name and school.
Although students said parents or teachers reading contents of an online dairy could be embarrassing, they were aware their comments could be made public. They said they did listen to their parents when told not to post private information online.
"You have to warn them about not putting out your phone number or personal information," Johnson said. "But they're still going to use (Internet communication sites) regardless of what you say."
The students also say there are social benefits to online communities. They can learn about colleges they want to attend by talking to current students or keep in touch with long-distance friends from other schools. Instead of spending hours on the phone, students said they can spend a few minutes online checking out their friends' activities and opinions. It helps them bridge cultural and social gaps at school and organize themselves into civic action.
"The quietest people in school sometimes have the funniest sites," Tenney said. "It shows they have a great personality."
Johnson said there are times when she encounters people she doesn't know on the Internet.
"My parents don't want me to go on the Internet and talk to people I don't know, but that's not realistic," she said. "You just have to be careful and be smart."