In the PBS video “Growing Up Online”, we saw several different youth (and adult) perspectives on social networking and how it effects young people. It went from funny moments to talking about some really serious stuff associated with social networking, such as online bullying leading to suicide and blogs that encourage girl’s eating disorders. Despite being almost five years old, I found the video was still relevant, though a little removed from my own history of social networking.
There was one author interviewed throughout who wrote a book about the MySpace phenomenon. One thing she said really caught my ear: “We need to start looking at our kids more as participants and less like victims.” This correlated with the part of the video that meant the most to me, the one about the mother and her four kids and her desperate attempts to be involved with her son’s online life. I felt that this woman was overreacting. I graduated high school a year before these kids did. I never had MySpace and didn’t have Facebook until college (remember when that’s what it was made for?), so I never experienced the social networking drama that these high schoolers in the video do. BUT, the community I grew up in was very much like that one, and that mother struck me as just another overprotective parent, updated for the digital age. The parents in my community were always trying to catch kids sneaking into the pool, or which kids on the block were having a secret underage party. That mother was just using social networking as another way to spy on her children, with the guise of, “Oh, well online predators will get you if I don’t protect you!” It was sad to watch her in denial, that part in a parent’s life when they first realize that their children don’t need them anymore. She was just trying to hold on, and Facebook was the outlet she would cling to.
I felt that the parent’s interviewed in the video were overly paranoid busy bodies who are at the beginning stages of not understanding their children anymore. The whole notion that they aren’t safe on the internet is just a paranoid extension of the Reagan-era “Don’t talk to strangers!” movement. These parents had these kids in the 80s when that fear was huge, and raised their children with perpetuating fear brought on by programs like Oprah and Dr. Phil who highlight out of the ordinary circumstances and make parents believe that they are raising their children in the most unsafe time in history. Chill out people! Not only do your kids know not to talk to strangers, but they know more about the internet than you! So start treating them more like participants and not victims!
While I am ranting and making sweeping generalizations, I want to add that adults aren’t always safe on social networking sites either. Through my parents, I know two older (50s) couples who have recently divorced because of old flames that they reconnected with on Facebook and ended up having affairs with them. So while you’re so worried about your kid’s youth group photos getting looked at, you might should stop and think that your own marriage is in trouble through social networking. But I say stop the paranoia! When kids become teenagers, they have secrets from their parents. This has always been the case, long before the internet even existed. So, really, over protective parents aren’t new either.
Anyway, that was just one part of the video that made me think. The part about cyber-bullying was very sad. I’m not sure if kids can get away with that so much anymore, since Facebook is so open about identity. When I was in middle school and AIM was really popular, I can remember people making fake screen names and making fun of people on there annoymously. But there was the Rutger’s student, Tyler Clementi, a year ago who committed suicide after being outed as homosexual on Twitter by his homophobic roommate. So, cyber-bullying still exists, but I’m not sure of how to stop it. Instead of trying to keep kids from the internet to prevent bullying, we should just teach them tolerance and increase anti-bullying campaigns in all classrooms.