Parental Monitoring

I was struck by the findings of this research presented at the NetSafe Conference in New Zealand this week. According to a survey done by the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI), 70% of parents monitor their teens texts and 84% monitor their online usage (to what extent, I don’t know). Despite this high level of investigation (prying?), few teens were aware their parents were doing it — 70% of the teens didn’t know their phones were being monitored and only 39% knew that their internet use was being investigated by their parents.

Time for disclosure here: I am not a parent. I work with youth and young adults as a small part of my job, but that’s it. That said, here is what I think of these research findings:

The disconnect between parental “spying” and teen awareness of it, to me, is disconcerting. I remember that my parents would rifle through my backpack to get a sense of “what was going on” when I was in high school (this was B.I. — before internet). I had closed up as several teens do and I believe they were simply desperate for information. But as soon as I caught on to what they were doing, it only sent me further underground. I learned to better hide my secrets — my grades, my crushes, my hopes, fears, and desires. I felt betrayed and vowed not to tell them anything about what was going on with me and how I was feeling.

I am not saying my experience represents that of a typical youth today, but I do believe that there are some out there that are a lot like I was then. And, I admit, I needed help from a trusted adult back then. Finding out I was being spied on did not help that situation. So, I wonder: How would many of these young people react to discovering that their parents are invading their privacy without their knowledge?

I know some parents believe they have a “right” to do what they are doing, and are more often than not monitoring digital behavior out of love and concern for their children. I still don’t think it makes it right. And I do believe that for those young people for which there is something to be concerned, such actions could backfire big time. Research shows that youth who are struggling in the offline world are more likely to engage in risky online behaviors. Making the world seem less safe for them through spying seems that it could make matters even worse.

My hope is that parents and youth can somehow engage in more open dialogue. Easy to say, and an enormous challenge to actually do. Building the trust for this sort of conversation takes a lot of time and effort from all parties, but I believe it is worth it in the end. I know I would have benefited from this approach much more than I would have from backpack snooping. My relationship with my parents would have as well.

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.”

New Standards for Sex Ed: Where’s the Tech?

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?

 

Words of Wisdom (since I don’t seem to have any)

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”:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?

Making the Move

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.

Comments of Passion

I love that term — it pretty much captures the reasons for flaming, sexting, and other regretful internet sharing moments. I read this phrase in a post by Margarita Tartakovsky, where she pretty much shares the work of Dr. Tristan Gorrindo.

The overall message: Think before you post something that might not be so smart to have forever captured in cyberspace. What should a person think about is summed up in the acronym “WAIT” — for Wide audience (who and how many might read this?), Affect (what emotions am I feeling right now and am I able to make a rational decision?), Intent (will I be understood properly?), and Today (Can this wait a day?).

While I see the benefits to this brief series of considerations, some don’t seem to fit. The main one being “today.” The answer to the question “Can this wait a day?”, for the most part, will always be “no.” The internet and social networking are so immediate, that waiting a day to post a comment is akin to saying something in an empty room — no one, including the immediate recipient of the comment — will ever see it. While I am all for thinking about the consequences of posting something before actually doing it, perhaps the “T” should really be for “Tomorrow” as in “How will I feel tomorrow after everyone reads my post?”

And I totally agree with Tartakovsky’s statement that adults can benefit from following these steps just as much as youth. In my own Facebook account, I have read posts about drunken vomiting, pubic hair, and baby poop. Wonder how many of those posts I would have read if someone WAITed before they broadcast those news items?