Is it innocent fun or a dangerous venture?
NEW YORK – On her blog, 12-year-old Tavi Gevinson posts photos of herself wielding a toilet plunger, posing in a room covered with newsprint and wearing a paint-splattered tutu inspired by Dolce & Gabbana’s spring 2008 collection.
She’s part of a young generation of fashion bloggers who display pictures of their outfits for all to see.
“Well I am new here,” she wrote March 31 in her first post at Style Rookie. “Lately I’ve been really interested in fashion, and I like to make binders and slideshows of ‘high-fashion’ modeling and designs.”
To some wary adults, she’s in a world where she doesn’t belong. Unlike a typical social network page, a blog can be seen by anyone. And at least one young fashion blogger says she’s been recognized by strangers on the street – a worrisome turn for adults worried about privacy and predators.
For the young bloggers, it’s a chance to keep track of their obsession, with input from friends or other fashion fans.
“I just kind of wanted to document my outfits, and it was just a random thing that wasn’t in relation to anything,” says Brooke Kao, the Washington-based blogger of The Fashion Void That Is DC. Kao recently turned 18, but she was 16 when she started writing posts about what she wore.
The Internet exposure concerns advocates like Parry Aftab, a lawyer who runs the online protection site WiredSafety.org.
“Parents have no idea what their kids are doing online,” Aftab says. “Most parents have no idea what a blog is.”
Concerns about internet safety for children have been fueled by such tragedies as the 2006 suicide of 13-year-old Megan Meier in Missouri. She hanged herself after receiving nasty online comments from a MySpace friend that turned out to be the creation of two acquaintances and a neighbor.
Although the federal government requires extra protection for Internet users who are younger than 13, not every Web site follows COPPA, or the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. Aftab notes that the social networking site Xanga.com was fined $1 million in 2006, accused of allowing preteens to create accounts without informing their parents.
Some young bloggers are taking their own steps to protect their privacy. Kao crops her face from photos, while 16-year-old Stephanie Ullman erased an early blog because too many kids at her school found it.
“I’m not a very private person,” she says. “I share a lot of information to people, I guess more than I probably should. But I just felt that I didn’t want the people who are very close to me reading it because I guess I’m embarrassed about my writing sometimes.”
It’s that sharing of information with strangers that concerns mothers like Addie Swartz, CEO of the media company B-tween Productions and a mother of two teenage daughters. Swartz’s company is launching a special social networking site for girls ages 9 to 12 because Swartz felt kids need “a safe place that lets them try out Facebook” without giving them opportunities to post personal data that blogs allow.
“I believe it’s a great outlet if you’re older and more mature, but you are opening yourself up to the world, and you have to be prepared for that,” Swartz says. “I personally feel that it’s not safe to have a child who’s 12 or 13 have a blog and I wouldn’t want my kids to do that.”
Although Aftab isn’t against blogging, she is worried about some photos the girls post and the potential for cyber-bullying by people they know.
“You are what you post online,” she says. “Are you posing in a more provocative way? Is it how you want to be remembered when your next boyfriend sees it or your future mother-in-law sees it or your tuition scholarship person’s going to review you for Dartmouth?”
Kao started cropping her face from photos at her parents’ request when her sister informed them of the blog. She also blurs the names and faces of family or friends who show up in her photos.
“I felt like I had to protect the identity of people who don’t know or aren’t aware of the blog,” Kao says.
Tavi’s dad, Steve Gevinson, wasn’t fully aware that she was blogging until she asked for permission to appear in an upcoming New York Times magazine story on the subject.
“I may have known, but to me it was a kind of a non-thing to know,” Gevinson, a high school English teacher, says from his home in Oak Park, a Chicago suburb. “I didn’t look at it. I wasn’t terribly interested in seeing it.”
Style Rookie went from a non-issue to a problem when in late July, New York magazine’s fashion blog questioned Tavi’s age, dissecting her precocious fashion sense and sophisticated taste in music. The resulting comments ranged from suspicious to nasty, with one reader claiming, “Anyone who actually believes she is 12 is an absolute idoit (sic).”
The Gevinsons were asleep at their vacation house in Michigan when Tavi checked her e-mail and found the post.
“She slept in the bed with us that night to get back to sleep,” Gevinson says. The next night, “She woke up, and again woke us up, and said – and this is really heartbreaking – ‘I just woke up crying and I don’t even know why I’m crying.’ ”
Such negative responses are the reason why children shouldn’t be blogging, Swartz says. “Whoever may comment and whatever feedback you may get – girls are very impressionable, especially girls in this age that we’re … talking about.”
But Gevinson thinks kids like Tavi are stronger than parents believe. “I have a lot of confidence in her and in most kids, if not all kids, that they can figure it out if they have good guidance and caring people working with them,” he says.
Tavi, after taking a short break in the wake of the attention, has returned to blogging with her father’s blessing.
“I’d much rather have her decide to stop if she’s going to stop than to tell her to stop,” Gevinson says. “It would have been fine with me if she didn’t pick it back up again. But I think it was healthy that she did. I think it would have been a bad thing for this to be the reason to stop blogging. She’ll grow out of it – maybe, maybe not.”
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