Naughty or Nice? Teens on social networking sites

I am woefully behind, and therefore just now reading the report from Pew released November 9th: How American teens navigate the new world of “digital citizenship.” Some things that strike me:

  • While I am glad that majority of young people (69%) say that their peers are “mostly nice to each other” on social networking sites, I am disturbed that 1 in 5 state that young people are mostly mean and another 11% stating that “it depends.” In other words, almost 1 in 3 teens can’t say that young people are mostly nice. That is a problem.
  • Almost all (90-95%) of teens say they ignore online cruelty when they see it. And 21% say that they “join in” when witnessing it.

I guess I am not surprised by that second bullet point — at least when it comes to ignoring. It’s what happens with other forms of bullying. In face-to-face environments, bullying/name calling/exclusion are seen every day at school, and youth just turn their heads, hoping it goes away, hoping it doesn’t happen to them. And the joining in? That saddens me more for sure, but I can see similar motivations that drive people to ignore fueling those who are just a little more insecure, a little more scared, to jump into the fray. After all, if you are mean to someone, then perhaps the attention is directed away from you as the potential next target. Given that bullies are often bullied, there is some support for this argument.

And while it can be shocking to think of the passivity that supports (and condones?) cruelty, it’s also understandable. A young person’s desire to fit in is strong and developmentally appropriate. And right now, adults certainly don’t provide good role models for speaking out against those who exude power inappropriately. Celebrities fights, demeaning radio show hosts, a divided Congress, and the way in which Occupy Wall Street protests are being handled, are all examples of how those in power matter and are listened to. And in all these instances, power is equivalent to putting someone else down.

If we don’t redefine power and what it means to be important, how can we expect youth to do it for those of us who supposedly know better?

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Tooting my own horn — and finding it’s limits

I had the pleasure (and I mean it!) to work with Elizabeth Bernstein as she wrote her Wall Street Journal column, Skip the ‘Talk” about Sex, Have an Ongoing Dialogue. Bernstein was genuinely interested in conveying the best information on how parents should talk to their children about sex in the limited space of a newspaper column. And while my last quote is definitely truncated:

“[Parents] should talk more about pornography. ‘Talk to them about why you don’t like it: It’s unnatural and unloving,’ Portland State’s Dr. Gowen says” (What I said in my conversation with Bernstein was that pornography does not portray sex in a realistic manner, features bodies that are often artificially altered, and shows sex outside of the context of a loving relationship).

I think the overall messages about talking to children about everything and doing it on an ongoing basis came through loud and clear.

Then my phone rang.

I picked it up with my usual greeting and there was a parent on the other end of the line. He wanted to know more about how to deal with a sexting issue he was facing with his daughter (I didn’t ask for details). Although no expertise was attributed to me about this particular topic, it was mentioned in the paragraph where my pornography “quote” resided. So, by proxy I suppose, I was the person to call.

He wanted to know about resources for parents of children who have already been involved in a sexting incident. Despite my almost savant-like ability to quote statistics and resources related to youth sexuality (think Dr. Spencer Reid from Criminal Minds), I was stumped. I gave him some possible resources — MTV’s A Thin Line and Nancy Willard, and wished him the best.

Not satisfied, I got on Google and tried to uncover what I did not know. And discovered I was really looking for something that did not exist. To date, all I can find are resources (some much better than others) that give parents tips on what to do to prevent sexting, but not what to do once it already has happened. Which, in my opinion, is just as important. But most likely not something columnists and health sites want to think about.

Is this my new mission? Possibly. At least this void will stick with me for a little while.

Straight from the Source: A Youth View of Social Networking Woes

I love reading essays published by youth. In fact, part of my job consists of working with young writers and getting their work published either online or in print, and it’s extremely rewarding and educational. So I could not resist sharing this post (on Huff Post High School, but originally on TeenInk) from a young person who discusses how her addiction to Facebook interferes with her daily life as a student. While scholars continue to debate on the issue, it’s nice to actually listen to a narrative about experience rather than generalities every once in a while.

The author discusses her struggles with time suck — being drawn into social networking at the expense of getting her assignments done efficiently:

“When I sit down to write an essay, it can take me almost an hour to start my work. “Just one quick look at Facebook,” I think to myself. I then end up on the website for an extended period of time.”

She also gets even more serious when she discusses the need to maintain popularity, but in a way that is essentially false camaraderie:

“These websites are addicting because they give a false sense of community. Users are tricked into believing that they are part of a close group…People become addicted to the high they get when someone acknowledges them on these websites.” 

Even as an, ahem, “older” adult, I can fall into this trap. I sometimes wonder why a particular post of mine goes unnoticed, when I find it highly amusing and/or inspiring; it disappoints me for that moment (I think that’s the strongest word I can honestly write about my reaction, though sometimes my reaction can increase to “bummed”). Conversely, I can feel giddy when I see lots of people responding to something that I posted, especially when I didn’t expect anyone to really notice (So why even do it? That’s a question for another time).

While this story is not meant to infer that all young people suffer from these issues, I think it’s important to be reminded that there are young people who are struggling with, not always embracing, social networking.  And since socializing online is an integral part of the ways in which communities are formed and maintained, it’s important to understand where and when frustration and disconnect exist for youth — those whom older folk often assume celebrate such connections the most.