Friday, March 28, 2008

Growing Up Online

Last week, we watched a Frontline special on the Iraq War, and I got the notion to go looking through Frontline's many fine episodes, and found one on kids and the Internet -- not just the dire warnings, but talking to kids about what it means to them and so on.

I have a very sociable teenage daughter, and technology has definitely made things different from when I was young. Not only does the phone ring all afternoon, beginning from when school lets out, kids will also call at ungodly hours of the night. The reason for that is that they are on cellphones, parents are asleep, and they don't stop to think that the number that they are calling is not a cellphone kept on vibrate, but the main phone in the kitchen that will disturb the whole family. I've seen Tory talk with the house phone on one ear, and her dad's cell (which she shares) on the other.

And all of this isn't enough; Tory's also got MySpace -- the 21st century teenage hangout. Now, she's never done anything as extreme as the kids described on the program. For that matter, neither have the vast majority of kids online. And, I'm probably a bit more web-savvy than most parents -- that, and my daughter doesn't have her own computer, and tends to be rather careless about signing out. I usually am unhappy at what I find when I do have the opportunity to peek. (She objects strenuously to this parental intrusion, of course.) The way kids talk to each other is *disgusting*, at least to my middle-aged eyes. It's not the lurking pedophile, either -- it's just local kids, who she also knows in real life. As for control, she got herself banned from my computer, but still has access to her brother's laptop -- a tool he needs for college.

But the Frontline program made some good points:

*The Internet has brought about the biggest generation gap since the invention of rock-and-roll. I personally think it's technology, in general, and includes things like cell phones, texting, IMs, etc. Kids that age always have wanted to create an identity seperate from that of their parents -- but technology makes it so much easier now. They not only create their own identity, but their own world. There's some truth to this, but it's possible to make too much of it. Changing times always create kind of a gap. I grew up with television; my parents didn't. I had the opportunity to go to college; my parents didn't. My generation of young women grew up with the Pill and legal abortion; my parents didn't. I don't know if the Internet represents a more startling change than those things.

*The only major study done on the subject indicates that most kids know to just delete any sexual solicitation, so the fear about predetors may be overblown. The only time a guy suggested Tory meet him in real life got put down quick. Tory called him a pedophile and told him to get lost. In reality, he sounded more like some young guy trying to pick up on a girl he thought was closer to his own age -- but her reaction was reassuring. The many known-in-real-life guys who talk to her on MySpace, I'm less reassured about. I consider them much more worrisome than the dirty old man trolling for kids.

*Kids make plans to party and do other things they aren't supposed to online. Duh! Teenage cyberspace is teenagers without adult supervision, which spells teenage stupidity every time. Not to be unfair, but even good kids are dumb -- young necessarily means lacking in experience and wisdom. If we're honest about our own youth, we can certainly see some stupidity there, particularly when we figured our parents weren't looking.

*The Frontline special talked about cyber-bullying, which has, in some well-publicized cases, led to teenage suicide. From what I can tell, that hasn't been a problem with my daughter's friends. There doesn't even appear to be much in the way of the catty squabbling that I remember from my high school days. I see an awful lot of vulgarity, but I don't see meanness. Maybe that's just the crowd my kid hangs with. My experience with online meanness is with adults. I can see how an emotionally vulnerable teenager could get into trouble out here, though.

Anyway, it was an interesting look at the teenage cyberworld. Click on the title of this blog entry; you can watch the entire thing on the web.

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