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.

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August 4, 2014

Remembering Braxton Caner

Braxton CanerThe death of Braxton Caner, the 15-year old son of Baptist writer Ergun Caner has haunted me all weekend. I’ve followed various internet rabbit trails trying to extract some meaning from his sudden, untimely death, apparently at his own hand. Why?

From the obituary:

…Braxton loved three things: God, his family and sports. When he got to Texas, he added four things to that list: Football, his friends, weight training, and Hannah Spencer. Braxton only loved one girl in his whole life — He and Hannah were inseparable for these last two years, and reflected a godly love far beyond their respective ages… Before he died, Braxton began researching collegiate programs in sports fitness and kinesiology, and wanted to become a sports trainer. Braxton only lived 15 years and four months, but he did more in his brief life than many people do in a lifetime. He traveled with his parents, visiting 41 states. He attended over fifty weeks of church camp in his life, on every major ocean. He learned to surf in Hawaii, escaped a moose in Alaska, got chased out of Canada, helicoptered over the Grand Canyon, and ducked out of the way of a lion in the Serengeti. He got to help do a chapel for his beloved New England Patriots and learned to drive his F150 pickup truck on dirt roads of Texas. Braxton’s faith in Christ was also reflected in his life: He was the best big brother to Drake, led his cousin to Jesus shortly after his own salvation, and was a positive role in the lives of many others. He traveled around the world on eight mission trips, including Kenya twice, Tanzania, Israel, Mexico, the Bahamas, England and Wales…

While there has been speculation as to what propelled Braxton to this action, I think this is one of the news stories that will only become clearer with time. His father is not without controversy, and some have noted* that Braxton was being bullied on his Twitter account by enemies of Ergun Caner. He left no note…

I leave the comment section open to anyone else who has followed this story and wishes to add their insights; please be respectful… 

*UpdateTuesday, August 5th, 10:30 PM EST: The investigative website The Wartburg Watch thoroughly chronicles the role that certain people would appear to have played in Braxton’s sudden death. Writer Darlene Parsons begins, “This is one of the hardest posts I have ever written;” and many gut-wrenching paragraphs later, concludes, “Things have gone way too far.” To read that article click here.


News search results from last week:

Evangelicals Grieve as Braxton Caner, 15-YO Son of Christian

Christian PostJul 30, 2014

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