Thinking Out Loud

October 24, 2014

Parents Possibly Clueless to Kids’ Online Account Activity

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In the 1960s a generation of parents, concerned for their teenagers told the kids to stay away from alcohol. It was turbulent time with seismic shifts taking place in culture which pitted adults against their children, but certainly some of the kids listened.

Instead they turned to drugs.

In the 2010s another generation of parents, concerned for their children told their youngest ones that they didn’t want their time or mental energies consumed with Facebook. This was also a turbulent time with technology in general and social media in particular changing communication and community. Certainly some of the kids obeyed.

Instead they opened Twitter accounts. And Instagram. And Tumblr.

As a researcher and writer who spends several hours each day online, I thrive on rabbit trails. I love seeing where they lead. In an earlier stage of life, when internet addiction consumed me, I referred to myself in terms of “catch and release.” I wanted to feel the thrill of the catch, but had no interest in eating the fish. The statement did not correspond 100% to what I was experiencing, but the sentiment was fairly accurate.

So last week when a series of rabbit trails led me to a handful of rather surprising Twitter accounts, I was rather shocked at the ages — both stated and masked — of the users. A UK survey published in The Guardian a year ago confirmed that “83% of the 11 to 15 year olds whose internet usage was monitored registered on a social media site with a false age…with one even claiming to be 88.”

Meanwhile, in a more recent article, published last week in Atlantic Monthly titled Why Kids Sext, it was reveal how rampant sexting is among both high school and middle school (junior high) youth.

Within an hour, the deputies realized just how common the sharing of nude pictures was at the school. “The boys kept telling us, ‘It’s nothing unusual. It happens all the time,’ ” Lowe recalls. Every time someone they were interviewing mentioned another kid who might have naked pictures on his or her phone, they had to call that kid in for an interview. After just a couple of days, the deputies had filled multiple evidence bins with phones, and they couldn’t see an end to it. Fears of a cabal got replaced by a more mundane concern: what to do with “hundreds of damned phones. I told the deputies, ‘We got to draw the line somewhere or we’re going to end up talking to every teenager in the damned county!’ ”

While 15 minutes of cursory observation by a layperson isn’t sufficient to explain everything, the general sense I got was that for the students concerned, this is normal, this is expected and this is not a problem. This is what you do. Welcome to life in 2014.

When I look back to my own teen years, I can only say that when someone handed you a camera, your first instinct was not to strip and take pictures of yourself. My earliest memories of photo taking were pictures of my friends, a trip to Niagara Falls, my new bicycle, and the kittens that our cat birthed in the basement. (Okay, the cat photo thing hasn’t changed much.) There were boundaries, there was personal privacy, there was modesty. On a high school trip, I remembered the horror when the people billeting myself and a friend put us in a room with a double bed. As soon as they went upstairs, we went out to their station wagon, which contained sleeping bags for a later part of the journey, informing them in the morning that they needn’t change the bed since nobody had used it.

Even in our pajamas — yes, we packed and wore those on this trip since we were guests in peoples’ homes — the notion of same sex contact of even knees or elbows had a certain yuck factor to it.

Today, parents should consider the possibility that their son or daughter’s first kiss may not have been with a person of the opposite sex. And kissing may be the least of their worries. If you can’t picture that, then I suppose denial helps.

You simply can’t talk about all that is taking place for more than about ten minutes without the internet factoring into it. Technology is driving a cultural shift at an unprecedented rate, and telling the kids they can’t use Facebook is simply missing the point.

2 Comments »

  1. Just last night spoke with my teen, again, about being careful on that wretched FB. I was informed that “nobody uses that anymore,” so I curiously asked how are they communicating and getting information. The answer included, instagram (picture worth a thousand words?) snapchat ( promoted as a harmless disappearing photo site, that now admits your naked photos are there forever) and reddit. So, you may want to check out the latest, or wait another day or two and something new will come along. Do they even know who Alexander Graham Bell was, or Marconi? I feel so very very old and out of date, and quite a bit afraid.

    Comment by MJ — October 24, 2014 @ 5:58 pm

    • I wrestled with whether or not to include a reference to Facebook’s declining numbers among teens, but decided to restrict this to a single focus; but yes, you’re right, teen use of FB has dropped dramatically even since the spring of this year.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — October 24, 2014 @ 6:18 pm


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