A couple of days ago I watched a PBS Frontline special called: Growing Up Online. It made some pretty interesting and scary observations about the generation of teenagers that spend so much time online. I watched it with the "watch instantly" feature on Netflix, but if you click the link above it will take you to the PBS site where it is also hosted for free viewing. It is just under an hour long.
One thing that was discussed is how very comfortable kids are with being public. Strangely while they are so public online much of the time saying some of the most outlandish, ridiculous, inflammatory, provocative, defaming things to and about one another, teenagers in general are becoming more and more withdrawn - making less and less eye contact with me when I pass them in public, and developing this strange pseudo-society sub-culture kind of thing. Not all - I am just making the observation that this is happening more and more.
My husband and I were discussing the other day how things used to take a while to catch on. I had cousins who would visit from out of state or meet kids at camp that were from different areas of the country and we would introduce each other to new music, movies, books, etc. Now there seems to be a consistency throughout the country - and although I'm not a global traveler I would assert possibly throughout the world. The internet is this constant flow of idea, style, technology sharing. In a strange way while we're becoming more diverse in being exposed to more, we are also becoming more the same.
One mom on the program was very concerned about her kids reputation. I would say that I have seen photos posted and I wonder if the kids that are posting them realize that they will exist forever? Once you put it out there in cyberspace, there is no taking it back completely. You can delete it off of your Myspace, but maybe not before someone else has saved it. I also do not understand the full spectrum of how the internet works, but it may exist on a server somewhere as well. I had a friend who asked me to take her daughter's name off of a blog post specifically because college admissions departments are learning a lot by googling the names of prospective students - good and bad. There was nothing bad in the particular post, but it was understandable that nothing on my blog should be a reflection on someone else.
One profound thing that was said was that the internet has created the greatest generation gap since rock and roll. Wow. I see that to be true in society at large. However, with my own kids, I don't see a gap. Unlike the mother on the video that was so worried about her kids safety and reputation, my kids don't black out a screen when I walk up. We have talked consistently about the kids keeping certain information private and being wise about predatory behavior. I don't get on their accounts and check them out, or their friends. (Which I find creepily voyeuristic of other adults. Check out your own kid - but your influence ends there. If you want to read what my kid is posting, see their pictures, evaluate their choice in movies or music, then get your own account and ask to be their friend.) I have found as with most other things that authoritarianism builds walls and causes a rift in relationship. I am not saying that I never talk to my kids about not liking something or disapproving of something. I do, vehemently at times. We saw a movie recently that seriously disturbed me, but Kendra loved. We have had several conversations about it. I know other parents that would say, "You're not allowed to like that movie." as if this can alter the hidden recesses of their children's hearts. I did say, "I have no idea how you could like such an awful movie." Can you hear the difference? I have also never had to trick them into giving me their passwords - if I am curious about something I ask. If I was worried about their safety I would verify - but we have the kind of relationship where if I wanted to know something, I would ask and they would tell. Only once has Kendra ever withheld information about a situation because it involved the privacy of someone else and a promise to a friend. I asked if the person was alright, and if there was something I could do to help. It was very difficult for me because she usually talks to me about things very openly. When the time came, she convinced the friend that he could tell me his secret - and he did. It's nice to be the adult that the kids will confide in and send requests to be their "friend" on the social networks. It is because they can do so without judgment.
Not long ago, one of my girls had an issue with someone, a man that we knew from the theater circle in our hometown who was in his late-20s. He was making comments on their pictures that felt a little icky. He revealed some secret feelings he had for her - and while none of it was overtly suggestive - she had learned to trust that feeling in her gut that it wasn't right. She was away with friends for a weekend, and talked to me on the phone about it, and then she said, just go on my myspace and read it. So she gave me her password, and I read the messages from him. None of the were cause for alerting the authorities - but I could validate her feelings that he was moving in a wrong direction. I didn't save the password and haven't logged into her account since.
One thing that is of note is that Kendra is 17 and Kaitlyn is almost 15. At 10, Kullen's online world is much smaller than that of his sisters. The internet is not going away. I think that there are a lot of dangers in letting kids grow up online - but sticking our heads in the sand is not going to keep them safe. We have to learn to deal with technology the same way that parents of the 50s had to deal with the thrusting hips of Elvis Presley. Relationship always trumps regulation.