Saturday, February 2, 2008

Growing Up Online: The Province of Teenagers

"The Internet and the digital world was something that belonged to adults, and now it's something that really is the province of teenagers. " - C.J. Pascoe, University of California, Berkeley's Digital Youth Research project.

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
The Revolution in Classrooms must include more than cool tools. That earnest teacher who insists that children have to be "entertained" is wrong: students need to be engaged learners, not a passive audience. His statement that we should "accept plagiarism as reality" ignores the fact that a well-designed assignment, which requires critical thinking skills, cannot be copied. Rather than give up because she is not technologically adept, the English teacher needs to take charge of her own professional development and learn what she needs to know in order to be an effective 21st century educator.

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, 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.


Anonymous said...

Diane -

Very nicely written - concise and excellent points made. I actually posted today on almost the same topic, although you seem to have said the same thing in quite a few less words! Parents and educators need to wake up and work together rather than running and hiding when faced with the giant that is the online environment.

diane said...


LOL I was so busy watching the program and composing this post that I haven't had a chance to catch up on my Reader feeds.

I agree with you completely: the government and school districts need to stop emphasizing filters and start arming our kids with knowledge.


Parry Aftab said...

I think the best filter is the one between our children's ears. When they carry around Internet access in their backpacks, on cellphones and hand held gaming devices, we won't be able to look over their shoulders.

I disagree with Dana Boyd, though. I have seen serious sexual solicitations online. And many teens and preteens taking risks engaging in offline meetings and cybersex with adults, knowingly. They are often flattered by the adult attention, and do it on a lark.

But the greatest single risks we face, without question, is denying our children the skills they need to use the Internet in life, work and school.

There is a solution for every single risk.

Teaching our children that they are not anonymous online and should be held accountable for what they do online, just as they are for what they do offline is crucial.

And teaching parents that they should all stand up, and raise their right hand and say, as loud and as firmly as they can, "I am the parent!" and remember it.

Set rules, take a few minutes to talk with your kids and get to know what they are doing online and offline.

It's simpler than it looks.

Thanks for your thoughts.
Together we might change things.

Parry Aftab
Exec Director

diane said...


I thought your segment was very effective.

We teach children about fire safety, human sexuality - why is social networking taboo?

"Stop, block, and tell" should be the mantra for all students.

Walls can be breached; knowledge is their true protection.


Parry Aftab said...

I spend a great deal of time teaching teens how to use social networking effectively. The rules have changed since the advance of myspace in Spring 2005.
While we may want to lock our kids in a closet until they are 50 yrs old, we need to be realistic and at the smae time not let them run into trouble for being unprepared.


Anonymous said...

Please go to the PBS companion website for the film and read the transcripts of the teachers interviews used for the film. You will not only find that I never said we should “accept plagiarism” but rather accept the fact that students will use information resources, which are two different things. In addition, I did say “You take it as a given they're going to take stuff from SparkNotes and from other sources like that. With that in mind, then you craft an assignment where you make that process immaterial, where it doesn't count.”

The media in my classroom and in homework assignments is merely the raw material of history in a different format. History teachers armed with audio recordings, paintings, clips from movies, excerpts from personal diaries and letters are better armed to capture the attention of students. It can appear on the surface that we are entertaining the student, but look at the assignments, the same media that can be used for entertainment can become a powerful learning tool when used effectively.

The process of working with the directors of this film has been a real learning experience for me. They used less than 400 words of a 5,000+ interview for their film, and many viewers took that excerpt as a valid and complete representation of my views. In the end, this is just another example of how 2.0 trounces traditional media every time when it comes to reasoned discourse. Yet those who support 2.0 education accept the traditional media on its face when they should know better.

That earnest teacher who insists that children have to be "entertained" is wrong: students need to be engaged learners, not a passive audience. His statement that we should "accept plagiarism as reality" ignores the fact that a well-designed assignment, which requires critical thinking skills, cannot be copied.

Parry Aftab said...

thanks, Steve, for clarifying that. I do national TV a couple times a week and local more often. I have learned the hard way that often editors and producers have a point of view and your sound bytes are carefully selected to support it.

The people behind the special were better than most others I had worked with. This program started a year and a -half ago, with an idea for a show that wasn't a rehash of Dateline's To Catch a Predator. They managed to make a serious impact.

I applaude them for that. But after every major show there is fallout when statements are shown out of context, etc.

I was surprised by your quote, but when I thought about it, I realized how insightful it was. You can always look-up a date in history when Napoleon won or lost a major battle. But understanding why he did is something that requires education.

I'd love to talk some day soon. I live in NJ too. You can reach me through

Good teachers, who care and get it, are to be prized.

Parry Aftab

diane said...


I apologize for taking your words out of context.

The complete transcript of your interview may contain the statement, "With that in mind, then you craft an assignment where you make that process immaterial, where it doesn't count” but it is not included in the video.

Thus, people only watching on TV or online do not get the full impact of your comments regarding how to "redefine cheating" and render plagiarism a non-issue.

Thank you for your response. When I have a chance, I'll read the entire transcript and give you - and the other interviewees - a fairer hearing.