Microblogging and Your Teen

Just as parents have begun to adjust to teenagers blogging, a new phenomena has hit the ‘net – microblogging. The concept is simple: users post 140 character statements on what they’re thinking, where they are, what they’re doing, etc. The software provides users with a unique look into others’ day to day lifestyles. But what are the ramifications for parents of teenagers, and exactly how are teenagers using these programs?
Twitter and Plurk are the two popular microblogging platforms. Twitter is for users 13 and up, and is targeted towards adults more than teens. However, some teens use the program. Plurk is also designed for users 13 and up, but is geared more towards teenagers, and is far more popular with the under 18 set. Let’s take a look at each program, and discuss what parents need to know.
Twitter, located at www.twitter.com, is a well-known microblogging platform. Users sign up for an account, which they can then customize with a variety of backgrounds. They can also add a picture of themselves. Users then “follow” other users, allowing them to see what others are doing. As frequently as they’d like, users answer the question “What are you doing?” in 140 characters or less. After gaining 2,000 followers, this limit is increased.
Plurk, located at www.plurk.com, is less well known with adults, but popular with teenagers. The network is advertised as “a social journal for your life” and encourages users to post their thoughts, activities, and more in real time. Plurk also has fun emoticons and pictures, making it more appealing to the teenage crowd.
If your teenager is using one of these microblogging platforms, it might be a wise idea for you to set up your own account and “follow” them. They will be aware of your presence, and  theoretically will be more careful about monitoring what they post.  Following them will allow you to see what they’re posting and when. Educate them about not posting there physical whereabouts, phone numbers, or full names on these networks.
The social, fun, aspect of these sites can make it easy for your teen to let their guard down, but it is important for your teen to realize that they are still on the Internet and interacting with strangers. Remind your teen to keep a close eye on who is following them, and to block any user that they feel uneasy or uncomfortable about.
Plurk and Twitter can be great social tools for teens, if used with caution. However, as with any social networking platform, they can be abused or misused by adults or predators. Remind your teenagers that their account can be revoked if the rules aren’t’ followed, and set clear guidelines for use.
Have a great day!