A study on teen blogging was recently published that looked at the content of what teens are writing about. As it goes in the world of peer-reviewed, scientific journals the data is from 2007 and is possibly a bit dated. (It takes a while to get published.) There is some indication that teen blogging is on the decline with the hyperspeak of status updates on Facebook and 140 character tweets. Still, studies on the qualitative often offer more meaningful insights into human behavior – which is basically pretty predictable – verses the latest stats of the day.
The sound bites in the medical news regarding this study seemed to show surprise that “most teens in the study blogged about positive behaviors, such as studying, participating in school activities, spending time with family, and going to church.” I suppose this is in contrast to an (adult) assumption that teens would bare their heart and souls on the various dark dramas of adolescence. So I went to the original source to find out more about this content analysis of 100 teen bloggers, aged 13-18: “Adolescent Weblog Use: Risky or Protective?” in Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, by Dawn Anderson-Butcher and colleagues at Ohio State University.
What is a content analysis? It’s a lot of work. It basically comprises a small set of people, such as grad students, who comb through the narratives and look for themes -- in this case, risk and resiliency factors (or negative and positive behaviors), and how often these themes were posted over a 1 month period of time. For instance, these “coders” looked for risky factors like substance use, problems in schools, and negative feelings, etc. Positive behaviors included writing about pro social activity, good relations with friends and family, and positive feeling states, etc. The coders also looked at community building factors (comments on postings and parallel conversations) and other additive, creative content such as photos and songs.
So what did the researchers find? Of the 100 teen bloggers they studied at Xanga.com, here are some of the interesting characteristics:
- Teens posted on average about 13 entries in a month (about 3 post/week)
- 74% used emoticons or text characters to depict facial expressions J
- 30% used artistic elements, 25 % quoted songs, and 31% posted a “currently playing” song to their blog page
- About 25% to 65% of content covered largely positive things they do in a day including sports, extracurricular activities, volunteering, hanging out, watching videos, going to the movies, or listening to music
- A 20 -30% of the content in blogs were about feeling out of place and lonely, blue, and more frequently, about feeling bored (56%)
The teens also use the "comments" section to communicate back and forth and promoting community building among friends and peers. Here is one example in the article: ”Hey Janie, haven’t heard from you in a really long time, hope your doing well.”
Overall, it strikes me that a certain segment of teens find online journaling pretty creative, possibly therapeutic, and certainly as a way to express themselves and connect with friends and online peers. For all the scary stats one sees floating out there about teens texting sexually explicit material, cyberbullying that leads to apparent suicides, or the rate of pedophiles that could be lurking on social networks – that has parents and teachers understandably in a constant state of anxiety of the next crazy thing teens will do -- overall it seems that blogging is simply modern tool for self-expression. It’s another medium just like artwork hanging in the school hallways, scrap booking, and passing notes used to be.
Of course, one could burn those items with a pack of matches behind the garage – after a breakup, friendship fight, or getting grounded. Now, any personal musing is a permanent electronic node in cyberspace – requiring caution and education. But here’s my overall take: Let’s give today’s teens a little credit for being creative, authentic and connected.