Growing Up Online: Who Me, Worry?

3 03 2008

My subject line this morning is a nod to what parents worried about when I was in junior high school — a goofy youth culture symbolized by a gap-toothed kid, who somehow grew up to be David Letterman:

what-me-worry-715603.jpg

Fast-forward to this century. Mad and I both survived to see another generation’s culture, though only one of us grew up and I’m not too sure about that, even. 🙂

I am the parent of teens, unschooling teens, who grew up with unlimited access to computer screens and spend time online everyday. (Me and Mad Magazine do, too.) So what, me worry?

Well, yeah, I’ve had my share of anxieties and then some. . .

Which is goofier, a mom who worries about the wrong things in youth culture, or who doesn’t worry about the right things? Or do they tend to go together, feed into each other so that the real problem is an all-round lack of judgment, the logic of failure?

“How Dangerous Is the Internet for Children?”

Here’s NYT tech columnist David Pogue’s analysis (of course he could be setting you up or I might be; can you trust my words or his, or the documentary he recommends, if you’re reading this online??)

. . .if you live in terror of what the Internet will do to your children, I encourage you to watch this excellent hour-long PBS “Frontline” documentary.
. . .It’s free, and it’s online in its entirety. The show surveys the current kids-online situation—thoroughly, open-mindedly and frankly.

Fearmongers often cite the statistic, from a 2005 study by the Crimes Against Children Research Center, that 1 in 7 children have received sexual propositions while online. But David Finkelhor, author of that report, notes that . . .”Considerable numbers of them are undoubtedly coming from other kids, or just people who are acting weird online,” he says.

As my own children approach middle school, my own fears align with the documentary’s findings in another way: that cyber-bullying is a far more realistic threat. Kids online experiment with different personas, and can be a lot nastier in the anonymous atmosphere of the Internet than they would ever be in person (just like grown-ups). And their mockery can be far more painful when it’s public, permanent and written than if they were just muttered in passing in the hallway.

In any case, watch the show. You’ll learn that some fears are overplayed, others are underplayed, and above all, that the Internet plays a huge part in adolescence now. Pining for simpler times is a waste of time; like it or not, this particular genie is out of the bottle.

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7 responses

3 03 2008
sunniemom

That was a good documentary- pretty much what I expected, since the media isn’t interested in printing stories that aren’t blood-splattered and titillating. Although Mr. Pogue should have read Anyone You Want Me To Be by John Douglas and Steve Singular to balance out his article. John Robinson didn’t focus on victimizing children, but he did earn the honor of being the first internet serial killer.

It is, IMHO, much more important to give kids the mental tools to deal with the things that they might encounter that could be harmful. I always recommend books by Gavin de Becker (The Gift of Fear and Protecting the Gift). Those two books helped me balance those normal parental fears with reality and gave me the information I need to pass on to my kids so that they know what is and isn’t appropriate.

One of the best defenses against kids ‘doing something stupid’ or putting themselves at risk is a loving home where open and honest communication is paramount.

3 03 2008
Dana

As with anything, I think there is a balance. Being unduly afraid doesn’t help, but not recognizing there can potentially be a problem is also not the right course. When my daughter started her blog, she chose a rather innocuous name I thought nothing of. Until she started getting more traffic than me. At first I thought it was just because she was a kid and they stick together. But when I finally tried to figure out who they were, I found out that the title of her blog was also the nickname of an international porn star. None of them said or did anything and their stays were brief. After all, my daughter is not an international porn star.

But realistically, your child is much more likely to have their picture at the playground taken by a nut using a telescopic lens than your online photos being lifted off your blog. And then causing some sort of fixation that leads someone to track you down and hurt your children, Actually, if anyone hurts your child in that manner it is almost guaranteed to be someone you know you would never think of. Which is where the real danger lies.

Anyway, I think your feed is working fine through BNN. Now to figure out why mine is publishing multiple old posts at a time and none of Life on the Planet’s. I need a 13 yo to work it all out for me. : )

3 03 2008
JJ

The cyber-bullying part made me think about “all that’s necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing” — should we be concerned about sustaining and improving civil society generally too, and not just bullet-proofing our own kids?

3 03 2008
JJ

Yes, it does seem to be picking up Snook posts, thank you, Dana! I’m really enjoying it too, seeing what so many other bloggers are thinking and talking about. 🙂

3 03 2008
JJ

(Laughing at myself)
I went looking for the Edmund Burke citation to link, and found a whole paper on why Burke himself hated such jingoistic slogans and likely never penned this one! Here’s the clincher from the end, about “all narrow wisdom and narrow morals” serving the worst men as well as the best:

An attempt by a small and evil group to revive human sacrifice in modern society would fail, not through resistance by good men, but by a complete lack of support for such a crazy idea. But once you qualify the pseudo-quote to except these cases, its meaning is reduced to a mere truism, that if bad things are happening, we must do something about it.

The pseudo-quote is therefore without authenticity or meaning, and is just another of those political slogans which are used not as an assistance to, but as a substitute for real thought. It is not a deep truth, although it is constantly treated as one.

Burke incidentally hated such things. He thought that cheap political slogans, or ‘maxims’ as he called them, enabled politicians to invoke principles of expediency, so they could pursue their own selfish interests instead of fulfilling their obligations to country, party and people. To him they were quite distinct from the deeps truths, or as he calls them here, ‘first principles’,

” It is an advantage to all narrow wisdom and narrow morals that their maxims have a plausible air; and, on a cursory view, appear equal to first principles. They are light and portable. They are as current as copper coin; and about as valuable. They serve equally the first capacities and the lowest; and they are, at least, as useful to the worst men as to the best. Of this stamp is the cant of not man, but measures; a sort of charm by which many people get loose from every honourable engagement.”

And to this quote we can give a proper attribution,

Edmund Burke, Thoughts on the cause of the present discontents, 1770. In The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke, edited by Henry Froude, Oxford University Press, 1909, Volume 2, page 83, lines 7 to 16.

4 03 2008
JJ

(Laughing at this institutional lawyer quote: – “The rules that we’ve had in place, in some cases for hundreds of years, still work pretty darn well.”)

The Chronicle of Higher Education
From the issue dated March 7, 2008
The Digital Limits of ‘In Loco Parentis’
By SARA LIPKA

Being rowdy and impulsive is a time-honored tradition among college students. Documenting that behavior online is a recent phenomenon that still vexes administrators.

They know what to do with a drunken student. But what about a Facebook photo of a seemingly drunken student?

Some colleges have reacted with strict discipline. Two years ago, officials at Millersville University of Pennsylvania discovered a picture on MySpace of Stacy Snyder, in a pirate hat, drinking from a yellow plastic cup. With no judicial hearing, the alumna says, they deemed her unfit to be a schoolteacher, denied her an education degree, and awarded her one in English instead.

Ms. Snyder sued Millersville, saying it had violated her free-speech and due-process rights. The lawsuit is still pending, but it has attracted the attention of college administrators and lawyers across the country. And along with similar cases, it has already influenced the way they think about student discipline and the Internet. . .

4 03 2008
JJ

more of that story — I found this group online and link it here.

. . .The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education lambastes many of the colleges it believes too readily punish their students. The watchdog group is supporting Ms. Snyder against Millersville, as it did Justin Park against Johns Hopkins University.

Johns Hopkins suspended Mr. Park for one year in connection with a
racially themed “Halloween in the Hood” party he had advertised on
Facebook. The student did not sue the university, but amid a fierce
publicity campaign by FIRE, he appealed his suspension, which was
reduced (to a penalty neither he nor Johns Hopkins disclosed).

The group has called attention to many institutions — including Cowley
College, in Kansas; Syracuse University; and the University of Central
Florida — for disciplining students for online conduct it argues is
legally protected.

“What I hope will happen is universities are going to be a little bit
more sensible about how and when they try to punish students,” says Greg Lukianoff, president of FIRE. . .

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