If you're like most parents of teenagers, your kids spend quite a bit of time after school tapping away at the computer. Well, here's a tip: They're probably not doing homework.
More than likely, they are conversing with one another online and posting pictures or stories about their activities in blogs -- many with the naive assumption that they're sharing secrets with a precious few. But this is the worldwide Web, and everything kids are splashing across sites like MySpace or Friendster can be seen by a global online audience.
A school district in Illinois said that kids who post images of themselves engaged in lewd, inappropriate or illegal behavior -- even off school grounds -- are subject to disciplinary action. School officials say they are not trying to censor students but to protect them.
Bad Behavior Could Haunt Kids Online
A survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 57 percent of kids ages 12 to 17 have created content for the Internet. That translates into roughly 12 million youngsters. Do they all understand the tool they're using?
The school board of Libertyville-Vernon Hills Area High School District 128 in northern Illinois is worried that they don't.
"There are things that students and parents need to be aware of when they put information out in the public domain," said assistant superintendent Prentice Lea.
The school board voted Monday to redo its code of conduct to include online postings. Starting next year, any student who goes online to post threats, pictures of themselves drinking or smoking, or in sexually suggestive poses will face an investigation and possible disciplinary action.
Any illegal or inappropriate behavior students post online could get them in trouble. Some students say it crosses a line.
"They have no right to do it," said Julia Galachenko.
Alex Koroknay-Palicz, of the National Youth Rights Association, echoes that view. "Just like they were scared of Elvis with his hip thrusts, they're scared of rock music, they're scared of punk music," he said. "They're scared of anything new that comes along that young people embrace."
Kathryn Montgomery of American University and the author of the forthcoming book, "Generation Digital," occupies a middle ground.
"It's going to take some really careful thinking and very clear policies so that we don't go too far, so that this does not become a medium of surveillance," she said.
School officials insist the new policy is not a police action but a protective one.
"We want students to be aware that as they move into their adult lives, they are accountable for information that they put … out there on a blog site," said Lea.
Lea said that college admissions officers and prospective employers increasingly use the Internet to find information on candidates, and often basing decisions, at least partially, on what comes up.
Today actions that may have once been seen as youthful indiscretions known to only a few friends can become fair game for anyone who is hooked up to the Internet.
Better to think twice, then, about dancing naked on the bar after the prom -- somebody out there may not see it as all that funny.