Is your teen on Tumblr?
Teenage Tumblr sites are a form of online expression. Our kids are posting images of bands, models and celebrities, pop culture references, quirky or funny images to create a virtual scrapbook that says a lot about who they are.
Although Tumblr is a blogging platform, our observation is that teens are not writing a lot of words. Most content posted on teenage Tumblr sites are images and animated gifs, and most of it is re-blogged from others’ Tumblr sites. However kids are using it, they are very, very busy doing it. Its 36 million users are creating over 42 million posts every day.
Tumblr is also giving Facebook a run for its money in the cool-with-kids stakes. A small survey published in January 2013 shows that Tumblr is more popular than Facebook among teens and young adults. Although not scientific, it shows parents need to be aware of what Tumblr is all about.
Like most online experiences, there are pros and cons for your teen. Kids love the opportunity to express themselves, especially amongst peers in a domain that is largely parent-free. Recent research shows that blogging is good for teens with social anxiety. There are privacy settings which, if your teen uses, can eliminate some of the problems they may encounter, but this may also limit their enjoyment of the site.
Although Tumblr is intended for people over the age of 13, the reviewers at Common Sense Media believe the age should be 15+. They say: “Parents need to know that this online hangout is hip and creative but too raunchy for tykes.” Reviews at Common Sense Media are mostly from teen users, who agree it is not for the younger teens as they may get attacked by older teens and be exposed to adult material. But all teen reviewers love it for the self-expression and sense of community.
What is Tumblr?
It is a free blog hosting platform with customisable themes. Users follow each others’ blogs. Users may also post questions of other users, and can choose to ask anonymously or reveal their identity.
From the Tumblr website:
“Tumblr lets you effortlessly share anything. Post text, photos, quotes, links, music, and videos, from your browser, phone, desktop, email, or wherever you happen to be. You can customize everything, from colors, to your theme’s HTML.”
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What your kids love about Tumblr
Identity – They use it like an online scrapbook or diary, where the pictures, songs and text that they post build a picture of who they are (or a persona they aspire to). It is, for them, a place of self-expression and one where they feel they can ‘be themselves’.
Anonymity – Most blog owners use fictitious names which they can change easily. This gives a high degree of anonymity, and some teenage Tumblr sites feature very personal material. The anonymous option is also popular when using the ‘Ask’ feature, which allows them to ask questions of other users without revealing their identity.
Social – Despite the anonymity offered, teens follow their friends’ blogs and are generally known to each other. They are also part of a wider online community and enjoy the variety in the blogs and posts of people they don’t know. There’s a voyeuristic appeal in looking in the window of other people’s lives – especially as a lot of the posting is of a very personal nature.
What parents might not like about Tumblr
Identity – the identity your teenage child builds on Tumblr may be very different to the kid you know. So far Tumblr seems to be a parent-free zone, unlike Facebook which is more widely used by all ages and extended family members.
Anonymity – It’s not great not knowing the nature of the content your child is posting to peers and the greater Tumblr community. The anonymous Ask feature provides opportunities for flaming, bullying, and sexual provocation and innuendo.
Social – Unlike Facebook where a ‘Friend’ request needs to be accepted, there is no control over who follows you (or who you follow). This means teenage Tumblr sites may be followed by anyone, of any age and with any motivation. The personal and unmonitored nature of the material they are posting is viewable by anyone with an account. Your teenager will have access to a lot of inappropriate material.
Despite the warning on the Tumblr Content Policy:
“Sexually Explicit Video. Accounts that use Tumblr’s Video Upload feature to regularly upload and host sexually explicit or pornographic material will be suspended.”
But still, it does exist.
Many teenagers will use this site responsibly, but there are temptations for younger, more immature or more experimental teens.
Instilling in your teenager the main tenets of safe internet use may help shield them from some of the unsavoury aspects of this site. But at the end of the day, know that you have very little visibility over what they are doing, seeing, or receiving on this site.