Kim Cofino, Sean Sharp and others have done reflective posts about the PBS Presentation, "Growing Up Online". I finally had the chance to watch the program today and would like to share a few observations.
The Child Predator Fear is what haunts parents, yet a Department of Justice study seems to indicate that most solicitations that occur online are mild and quickly deleted by minor children. As Danah Boyd points out, teens in particular are more likely to indulge in risky behavior offline rather than through the Internet.
Who's in Charge Here? The program begins by mentioning that 90% of the teens in the spotlighted city of Morris City, NJ are online. There are glimpses of two computer-themed parties, with no adults in sight. Boys as young as 7 years old are shown accessing the Internet without direct supervision. One teen discusses how he switches to Brittanica online whenever he detects his parents' monitoring program and jokes about his mom's inability to use modern technology. A concerned parent places the family computer in the kitchen and is still unable to observe exactly what her son is doing.
Each of the preceding points would seem to indicate that:
- parents need to understand technology to comprehend the dangers and possibilities it offers
- schools should educate parents, as well as students, in cyber safety
- filters are not the solution to keeping our children safe online
Cyberbullying is a real and present danger. Teenage girls describe how online trash talking escalated into a physical confrontation at school (as one ruefully reflects, the fight is posted on YouTube and now "my college is going to see it"). An anguished father traces the path to suicide followed by his 15-year-old son. Although the teen was able to confront and overcome face to face bullies, cyberbullying left him no safe haven. He corresponded online with another victim and eventually took his own life. As the program points out, the computer and Internet didn't cause the young man's suicide but amplified his pain until he felt he had no other options.
Parry Aftab, Internet security expert and executive director of WiredSafety.org, warns that the Internet can function as a new weapon for bullies. She emphasizes the need to teach children "good manners online" so that they can learn how to live safely in the new society they now inhabit.
Trying on New Identities has always been part of the process of maturing. The difference for today's teens is that their experimentations are now displayed and stored online for a much wider audience than their real life circle of friends.
It's My Life. Throughout the program, teenagers are adamant about boundaries: they value their privacy and do not want parents invading what they consider their personal online space. One girl said she'd rather not use a computer at all in her home if it meant she would have to give parents access to her accounts.
FRONTLINE asks, "Just how radically is the Internet transforming the experience of childhood?" My response is that our students have become vulnerable in new ways. It's our responsibility as educators to work in partnership with parents to teach children and adolescents how to safely navigate the Internet. That's the only real protection they will have.
"ST/BORF" by ND. The Wonder Boy.