I told you to clean your room!

Taking risky opportunities in youthful content: teenagers’ use of social networking sites for intimacy, privacy and self-expression from New Media & Society (2008 SAGE Publications) has finally “scientifically” addressed my 4-year-old statement; “MySpaces are the virtual dirty bedroom of today’s online teenagers.”

Interviews of 16 teenagers (high school sophomore, juniors & seniors) conducted resulted in clarifications like “I think layouts really show like who you are. So look at the rainbow in that. I think that would make you sound very, like bubbly … I like to have different ones … it’s different likes, different fashion, different feelings on that day.” Like changing outfits, changing MySpace backgrounds shows a sense of who the owner may be; however teenagers are aware that profiles can be “just a front.”

Interviews brought about an interesting discussion regarding the social differences between MySpace and Facebook. The elaborate layouts available on MySpace seem to be geared towards a younger crowd, while the older social networkers are drawn to the clean, white, everyone-has-the-same layout of Facebook. “This isn’t to show off my personality. I’m not trying to say, oh, I love purple or I love hearts … It’s more just like talking to three friends and, seeing as my friends know me, there’s no real need for me to advertise my personality.”

Another interesting point Livingstone brings up is that idea that younger teens use their MySpace pages to create an elaborate identity with hundreds, sometimes even thousands of friends and classmates while older teens are using their pages to make authentic friendships and solid relationships. “Adult onlookers have been puzzled by youthful peer practices,” states Sonia Livingstone (author of the article Dr. Kris sent me), and I’d love to sit down and talk with her, because I’m starting to be puzzled by these “youthful peer practices.” However, this isn’t a new phenomenon.

My Grandpa Lloyd couldn’t (and still doesn’t) understand why my dad had to have “The Long Hair.” (“Girls wear rubber bands in their hair! Why do you want to go out with hair like that?”) My Dad doesn’t get why I added seven extra earring holes to my body. (“If God had meant for you to have a ring in your nose, don’t you think you’d have been born that way?”) I don’t understand how teenagers can share so much information on their hot pink & green, flashing hearts & flowers MySpace page. Call me an old lady, but I’d be happier if teens kept more of their personal information private and cleaned up those dirty bedrooms!

Classroom Surfing

Slightly OT, but highly relevant to my career and generally related to this board. A recent NY Times blog post about college students surfing the net during class caught my eye. Written by Yale law professor Ian Ayres, it addresses the issue as to whether students should be allowed to browse online while in a lecture class. It’s a tough topic, but one that I have been forced to think about and form opinions on, as it is relevant to my own classroom experiences.

Personally, I allow internet browsing, under certain circumstances. I see it as identical to sleeping, doing the crossword puzzle, or day dreaming in class. No, the student is not going to learn as much if they are not paying attention, but that is not my responsibility. It’s theirs. If they want a good grade, surfing is not going to get them one.

Here is where I start to put limits on the surfing: if it is distracting other students. In the same way I ask students to stop talking during lecture, or when I wake up a student who is snoring, I do ask students to stop playing on their computers if what they are doing is distracting either other students or, frankly, me. And I tell them why I am asking. I literally stop lecture and ask them to cut it out because it is distracting. They usually do and often come down and apologize after class. And I accept the gesture.

This has not really been an issue yet, but I would also tell students I do not want them to surf in a seminar-type class where participation is crucial and respect for fellow students comes first. Surf all you want when I am talking. I am getting paid to do this, and I have enough tough skin to not take the behavior personally. But when a student is brave enough to express an opinion, that person deserves attention and respect. Blow me off all you want — your grade will suffer, and that is the consequence. Do not blow off your colleagues. That is not OK. Ever.

Sometimes, however, a computer in the classroom is a good thing. People ask questions I can’t answer (gasp!). Then there is some research-data-computer-addicted person there to save the day (see this Doonesbury comic also referenced by Ayres). We all just need to make sure that the answer provided is from a reliable source. I use this teachable moment to talk about why we would trust the answer being provided by the site. Students don’t think about the quality of their references often enough. This helps them think about polishing that skill.

Bottom line is that students have always come to class and then never paid attention. If you can’t deal with that fact — don’t teach. But we also need to consider how the method of not paying attention is affecting the rest of the students. Because they are who comes first. Build rules around that and I bet your classroom environment will be conducive to learning. Just not everyone will take you up on it.

A rose by any other name

When you visit sex education sites, do you expect to get that “warm-fuzzy” feeling? Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette wants teenagers to feel just that, so they’ve started a new campaign: Take Care Down There. With skits & songs ranging from I didn’t spew (“you can get a sexually transmitted infection … even if you don’t spew!”) to Threesome (“you two have been makin’ some intercourse, haven’t you?”) to the Down There Song, Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette hopes to warmly welcome teenagers to their website to learn about sexual education. The Down There Song even surprised me – there were names for sexual organs that I had never heard of.

While I was entertained by the videos, I was plagued with the question; “will teens think this is too cheesy?” and “Is this as ridiculous as it seems to me?” and we want to know what you think about the site! Take a look at the videos, listen to the song, and let us know what you think? Beware though, the song is catchy and you may find yourself humming the tune all day long! Very few other bloggers have written about this new campaign, so we want to know what YOU think! Is this site TOO immature for teens? Share your honest opinion with us – we really want to know!

Another Planned Parenthood entry by the Virtual Mystery Tour can be found here.

Sexiest Grandma Retiring

AP wires report that Sue Johanson, the 70-something host of “Talk Sex with Sue Johanson,” is going to retire. Her last show will air this Sunday on Oxygen, after six full seasons of frank, unabashed information about sexual positions, desire, technique, and fantasy. Sigh. We will miss you, Sue!

The good news is — older broadcasts will be made available on Oxygen’s web site.

Thank goddess for the internet.