The internet comes of age: Meet the tweeny bloggers

Children as young as three are firing up their laptops and connecting, says Susie Mesure

Sunday 29 August 2010 00:00

They are the Generation Net, whose toddler years have spawned countless mummy blogs, whether they liked it or not. Now, they're getting their own back. Children as young as three are turning to blogging to tell their side of the story.

The growing army of child bloggers is tackling subjects from politics to new toys, while improving their literacy skills. The interest has triggered a debate on the wisdom of giving children free rein online, as social networking sites aimed at pre-teens soar in popularity.

The prospect of making money online – research last week found that 10 YouTube stars, including one 16-year-old, earn more than £65,000 a year from their share of its advertising revenue – is adding to the allure, even if child bloggers are more likely to be posting links to YouTube than collecting fat cheques from the video-clip sharing site.

Sonny To – eight when he started TotallySonny (totallysonny .blogspot .com) – is among those who already find blogging rewarding. "People send me things and I review them," he says. Headphones, a new cereal and a toy owl are among the products that Sonny has blogged about. Now nine, he claims he got into blogging for more than just free stuff. "My mum was getting loads of traffic on her blog and it seemed like fun. Blogging has also made my writing much better and I have learnt how to explain things properly. It has made me much more confident."

Maelo Manning, who turned 11 last week, says she likes to air her views. So much so that she has two blogs – after all, they are free to set up. "It's fun to say stuff about what you're thinking, especially about politics." Her Lib demchild blog (libdemchild .blogspot .com) dispels the notion that politics is just for grown-ups, and she made some cogent points about the lack of affordable childcare in one recent post, which she used to bemoan Westminster Council's decision to shut a free play scheme. She keeps to relatively lighter subjects at – so-called because she finds it "lovely that adults think children are blooming. I hear them talking about this all the time, as in: 'Why is that blooming child doing that?' " Despite being relatively new to blogging, Maelo already has hundreds of readers from as far afield as the US, Australia and Russia.

Although Sonny and Maelo's mothers are both relaxed about their children's online presence, not all parents feel the same. James Seddon, Wired magazine's GeekDad blogger, said his instant reaction was to turn down his eight-year-old's request for her own blog as the thought of her "sharing who she is with the world" made him "uneasy". Other parents "lock" their children's blogs, handing the passwords only to friends and families.

Joanne Mallon says that among her 10-year-old daughter's friends, "blogging is the latest craze", adding: "My daughter gets up early in the morning and says, 'I must get on my blog and write something.' I'm fine about it, but I'm being careful not to tell you the address. She posts bits and bobs including the latest chapters of a big, long story that she's writing, which her friends comment on."

Like any fledgling craze, blogging is likely to become more popular, rather than less; recent research by Ofcom, the communications watchdog, found that although just 2 per cent of 8- to 11-year-olds have set up a blog, nearly one in five would like to do so. And interest is higher among older children, with 15 per cent of 12- to 15-year-olds already blogging and one in four interested in starting one.

Experts agree it is unrealistic to keep children away from the web. Barrie Gunter, a professor of mass communications at the University of Leicester, says: "Kids are more confident about using tools like blogs. They see them as an integral part of their lives, compared with adults who see them as an extension." Even child protection experts see the upside. "It's encouraging," says Mark Williams-Thomas, a leading criminologist. "If a nine-year-old wrote an article for a newspaper, we'd be impressed. So why is it any different if they write a blog?"

But he has some words of caution. "When children use the internet in a daily capacity, they need to be aware that any information is in the public domain. They should be limited in terms of what they share. Parents should be aware of what children are doing and that blogs will attract responses. It's easy to be a victim of bullying and threatening comments."

Mr Seddon adds: "The challenge for a parent is to be aware of the dangers of digital over-sharing, to be able to educate their children about it and to maintain a watchful eye, without being too overbearing."

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