This New York Times article highlights the life and work of danah boyd, self-proclaimed “social media scholar, youth researcher & advocate.” What I like about this article is how boyd shares some of her personal experiences and how those tie into her work and philosophy — that youth going online is not only not necessarily dangerous, but can even be helpful. It can promote political awareness and advocacy. It can reduce isolation. It can save a life. In the article, boyd states that “At the age of 16, I thought I’d be dead by 21,” she said. “I lost 13 classmates to drug overdoses, suicides, accidents and a murder…The Internet was my saving grace. I would spend my teenage nights talking to strangers online, realizing there were other smart kids out there.”
To some extent, her story sounds exactly like the ones adults are terrified by — talking to strangers online in times of pain and trouble. But, for whatever reasons, boyd came out the better after reaching out to an online community.
I am around 10 years older than boyd, so did not grow up with an online world. However, she and I do share some similar experiences in terms of having a troubled adolescence. I wonder if I would have benefited from reaching out to others online, or if I would have been more representative of the general research which states that troubled youth are more likely to develop close online relationships and put themselves in danger as a result. Clearly, I will never know. But I do wish I had options to reach out to others when I was hurting most.
On January 9th, 2012 the first national standards for sexuality education in schools were released. These standards were established through a collaboration among the American Association for Health Education, the American School Health Association, the National Education Association Health Information Network, and the Society of State Leaders of Health and Physical Education, in coordination with the Future of Sex Education (FoSE) Initiative.
As a sexuality educator, I am very excited to see these. They give schools a place to start when wondering what to teach and when. It guides people through age and developmentally appropriate, evidence-based, medically accurate, sexuality education guidelines — and manages to do so in a manageable 40 pages or so.
The highlight for me was the fact that by the end of the 8th grade, the Standards suggest that young people are able to recognize, analyze, and negotiate the role that technology plays in relationships (p. 18). They also suggest that young people learn how to negotiate technology use in their relationships. These lessons are to be repeated (and most likely beefed up) during the high school years (p. 33). It’s important to bring up topics like cyberstalking and online romances into the classroom — it allows young people to understand what a healthy relationship looks like. The Standards also clearly state that both the “advantages and disadvantages” be discussed, hopefully steering educators away from fear-based messages, which simply will not work.
And while I applaud the Standards for highlighting the need to teach young people the role that technology plays in shaping and influencing relationships, I feel they fell short of integrating technology into the standards. What about using the internet as a resource to access information? Use cell phones as a tool to help them maintain sexual health? Yes, there is a brief mention of technology when discussing how media influences perceptions of sexuality (p. 11), but I don’t think that statement goes far enough. I think it’s about time that the internet get it’s own category, instead of incorporating it under the generic “media influences” where it can easily be over-looked in favor of TV and music. I also think there needs to be an explicit standard that would have young people learn the proper ways to search for accurate and reliable information online.
So, yes, the standards just came out. But when is the planning for the first revision coming out?
This article in the New York Timesby Dr. Perri Klass offers a great perspective on youth online that I fail to have these days. Gems from this article, “Seeing Social Media More as a Portal Than as Pitfall”:
- Let’s stop talking in a “danger paradigm” about the internet. I like how Klass makes an off-hand remark about equating being online with driving. I could really go with this comparison: Sure, both can be really dangerous. Or just mundane. Yet necessary. So, you figure out how to drive responsibly, carefully, and intelligently. But there are tons of others on the highway (be it made of pavement or the “super information” kind), and not all are as savvy or as well-intentioned as you. Some are even really nice (especially here in over-polite Oregon). But, really, most are inconsequential.
- The internet can actually be used to reach out and help others. The article mentions how Residential Advisors can monitor first year students as they navigate college and being away from home, perhaps for the first time. In my own work, I know how wonderful websites such as ReachOut, Youth MOVE, and MindYourMind can support young people through challenging times. They offer personal stories, resources, and a chance for people to realize they are not alone, no matter what they are experiencing.
- Pay attention to youth voice! They are the ones who can tell us what’s really going on, and what we should worry about.
Now, can anyone tell me how to shake this writer’s block?
Hello WordPress! I have migrated my blog to this venue due to technical difficulties with my old host. I want to polish myself up and make me look all purdy before I really launch back into my editorials. Heck, I may even change my focus somewhat!
I really want to keep writing and contributing to thoughtful dialogue as to how technology — mostly the internet — has impacted relationships. Given my background, I usually focus on teens and sexuality, but I think there is a lot more to be considered. I also have come up with some instances where I want to process some personal things as well, so readers be warned! This blog may take an interesting turn.
Or not. I may continue on my merry research-y way. Who knows what 2012 will bring! I hope you stay tuned to find out.