Safe navigation still should be the priority

Anne Collier of NetFamilyNews describes why sites like Skout are bad for teens. Yet, overall, we should still encourage our youth to navigate the internet safely and wisely.

Teaching safe navigation is a good point to stress given the fact that this study (condcuted by McAfee, the internet safety company: Bias alert!) states that many teens engage in behaviors that result in them hiding some internet usage from their parents. Overall, the results of this poll are not too surprising to me. I mean, really: young people hide parts of their lives from their parents! No! Do tell…

Of course youth clear their history, close their browser window (note: I do this reactively at work even if I am doing something legit!), and use non-monitored computers. They are (young) people who don’t want their parents to know everything! And you know what? Parents shouldn’t know everything. Parents do need to know the big, important stuff, but not necessarily the day-to-day feelings and situations that come and go fleetingly.  It’s important that young people have some privacy in their lives, too. So for PCMag to say that  young people are “fooling” their parents by using cell phones to go online and high privacy settings (!) — shame on them! That’s just irresponsible fear-inducing.

I also find it disappointing that this article also lumps in searching for “sexual topics online” (36%) along with surfing porn or “nude content” (32%)  and accessing violence online (43%) as “inappropriate.” Really? Getting some sexuality education is not appropriate. Sigh.

 

Teen dating websites: A good idea?

News about Skout.com being used by online predators to lure underage youth has been all over the place lately. Luckily, many experts such as danah boyd, David Finkelor any Larry Magid are chiming in on this issue with their less-panicky perspectives on what is happening concerning youth exploring online, interacting with others, and staying safe. One quote, by Finkelhor, seems to be making the cut in most of the news items I have read:

“If someone wants to help teens do online dating, it needs to be carefully thought out with a lot of education, cautions, abuse detection mechanisms and quality controls.”

Is it just me that’s all excited about this possibility? I mean, really, could we actually develop a SMART teen dating website? One that has the usual online dating stuff, but also includes material about healthy relationships, some educational stuff, and a whole lot of acceptance? I am giddy at the mere thought of it.

I am also realistic, however, and do realize it’s a lawsuit waiting to happen — issues related to age of consent/statutory rape, privacy concerns, bullying, sexting. But I can’t help but imagine a time where such a site could happen, be used responsibly and successfully. How far off into the future is it?

Isolating Our Youth

I wanted to reflect on danah boyd’s opening paragraph in her commentary on internet safety in the Boston Daily:

…” four generations of parents have slowly eliminated children’s freedom to roam in physical spaces. In turn, children and teens have turned to the Internet to reclaim social opportunities they’ve lost. In interviewing teens, I consistently find that they would prefer to get together in-person, but that parental fears, over-scheduling, and lack of viable transportation often make offline socialization difficult, if not altogether impossible. For many young people, social media fills this gap, and allows them to ‘hang out.'”

This is horrifying to me. As boyd articulates, this idea is nothing new. Joel Best in his book Threatened Children, discusses similar issues in the over-sensationalization of kidnapped children and how that spreads fear among parents. Are we really shutting our youth away from social experiences in the name of their safety? What long-term impact will that have on their relationships, sense of self, and confidence as they venture out into the world?

What I find somewhat ironic is that while we are simultaneously trying to “protect” our children from the big, bad, world, we are also dismayed by the amount of time they spend in front of media — especially television and video games — and how this contributes to an increase in obesity. Adults also bemoan the amount of disclosure and maltreatment that happens in social media (though boyd in her commentary tries to debunk some of that).

We can’t have it both ways. Either we need to trust young people to frequent social spaces in the physical world, or we need to allow them more freedom in the digital world. Or, ideally, both. Learning to trust young people and allow them to make healthy decisions is, in my opinion, the best thing we can do to support them in both the short- and long-term. As USC Provost’s Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts  Henry Jenkins has stated:

“Kids don’t need us watching over their shoulders; they need us to have their backs.”

My own experience

So, I just witnessed firsthand a (pseudo) relationship that was driven primarily by technology. We met on an online dating site and exchanged a few rapid and flirty emails back and forth (through the security of the online site, of course). By the next day we agreed to meet. It went well, and saw each other a few more times over the next three weeks. Mostly, we communicated by text and this annoyed me somewhat, but I was willing to let it slide, especially in the beginning. Additionally, his “text speak” was grating on my nerves. But since I am not really looking for something too serious, I didn’t really put much stock into that either and ignored that as well.

Then, the texting thing got taken to a whole new level. I got a text that we needed to have a “serious conversation” and essentially in that same text was dumped due to lack of chemistry. I had to smile when I read this because it was pretty accurate, and it also confirmed my initial feelings about us. We weren’t connecting on any real level. And the fact that he had to text me the news further demonstrated the lack of connection. Here was a grown man that had begun to rely on technology too much as a communication device. He couldn’t call to tell me how he felt? Really? At least that particular message didn’t contain the text speak…

He said he wanted to stay friends, but I didn’t believe it. Yet the next day he texted a hello and wanted to know how I was doing. I bit, texted back (hm, could I be just as much of the problem here?), and let him know that I thought it was disrespectful of him to do what he did without the dignity of calling. Within minutes, my phone rang. Two hours later, he asked for a reset. I am not sure how I feel about it, but the conversation we had was telling. We actually connected. Talked about real things. Were able to explain and describe in ways that simply can’t be done in 160 words or less at a time.

I wonder how many young people rely on technology to build their relationships — or maintain them. Maybe I am old-fashioned here (and I am not a digital native), but while I do believe that technology can help with the little parts of a relationship, it can take away from real connection. At least that has been my experience so far.