Monday, August 27, 2007

Thoughts on Preteens and Teenagers and Online Socialization

As I continue to sort books I am listening to podcasts on the Connecticut NPR station (WNPR) from the archives of “Where We Live”.

I just finished listening to a podcast called “Schools and Online Socialization” about online socialization and children and teenagers. The show was supposed to be mainly about high school students and the use of online social networking on sites such as MySpace and FaceBook. There were discussions of online “friends” versus real life friends and about chatting with IM versus face to face discussions or telephone discussions.

‘Schools’ was in the title but not much was said about it, other than a discussion of whether or not a person’s online persona helped get them out of the clique they are in at school. For example, students who are not popular can make their own online profile to show who they feel they really are and perhaps other students may read that information and get to know the person for who they truly are. Also a teacher who was on the show said she reads her students profiles and she learns more about them than she’d have known otherwise.

There was some talk about privacy issues. There was not much talk about dangers of online social networking and certainly nothing was said about online predators.

Later in the show when they were taking questions from callers, a mother stated that although the sites require that users be at least 13 years old, that her daughter felt left out as all the friends were using it when they were years younger than 13, and this mother was following the rules. The discussion was long and included one person saying that some children as young as 7 and 8 are actively using the social networking sites by lying and saying they are aged 13 or over. In the end I was disappointed when someone on the show recommended to the mother that she lie to the site, break the rules, and say that the girl is old enough so long as the mother is actively monitoring the chat that is happening.

There was also a section of the show where several teenaged girls were interviewed. They seemed quite responsible as they said the only people they let be their “friends” were people they knew in real life already. Hearing them talk it made the whole worry about whether online socialization was bad seem overblown and a figment of paranoid parents’ imaginations.

One teen was on the show saying he did not have a FaceBook and he actively refused to participate with online networking, saying that he preferred face to face friends; however, later he called himself “unsocialized” which I felt was not good to say (and an odd thing to admit).

The outlook portrayed was that this online social networking is what is happening now and that it will continue to grow in the future. The gist was that the teens might as well get into it now as it is unavoidable. One last comment made was that the President was going to have one so in order to stay in tune with society basically everyone had better get into the game.

Overall the show was quite tame, I felt, and was actually encouraging teenagers (and younger aged children) to get online and do social networking, that nothing was wrong with it, basically. It was mentioned that other shows they did were about cyber-bullying but that was not really discussed on this show.

While I don’t yet have teenagers I do have children aged 7 and 10 who are feeling pressure from friends to join social networking sites geared for that younger set. I don’t allow my kids to be on those sites. I feel my kids are not really even ready for steady phone communications, so they should not be communicating in shallow conversations over IM and through Internet sites. For the time being I insist that my children socialize with other children face to face.

To listen to this podcast about online social networking for preteens and teenagers, go here.

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Judy Aron said...

My kids are older - 15 (soon to be 16) , 20 and 23 (soon to be 240. They are all on Facebook and MySpace.
Just like any other tool they have learned to use it safely. It's a great tool for them - they connect with people they know and they meet friends of people they know. It's a way of keeping in touch. They don't go there to meet total strangers.

I hoestly don't see anything wrong with these social networking groups - and you should know that there are such things for adults, businesses, and even senior citizens.. but you don't hear about them.

Shawna said...

We had a meltdown here last night about how toys today just aren't what kids want unless they are electronic/technological...and that was with my 7 year old! He does not want action figures nor any other toys his brothers played with that did require a bit of imagination; he wants to be plugged in. And it will not happen.

His 7 year old friend just got a cell phone and of course he now wants one. Nope, not going to happen. We do not buy any of our children cell phones (28, 22, 20, 17, 16, 16, 17) they can buy their own when they can afford them. I didn't even get a cell phone until about 6 years ago shortly after the birth of our last child and deciding to stay home with all 7 kids. We never felt we were that important that we needed to have instant phone contact with anyone and that safety issue was mute seeing that we had grown up and lived a few decades without a safety hook in our back pocket--pay phones still existed on each corner and school office and public building.

As for Myspace and Facebook--my kids all have accounts and had them as teens; some were responsible and had decent pages, one had a page that totally offended me...but he was an adult, immature at that, and I had little to say other than the accasional talks we had.

Having had my own pages as a grown 30 something woman with other grown women as friends, these networking sites aren't all that benign. The individuals get caddy about being added or not added as friends or if you do not add their friends to your friends lists; there is gossip on the sites and behind your back in emails and IM's; there are silly and graphic and inappropriate games/surveys/questionaires as Bulletins...and yet, when browsing a page it all looks innocent and clean and simple enough. A few of us women eventually chose to close our accounts after we came to realize what it was really all about--high school all over again: unhealthy, petty, distracting.

Yes, my older teens can and will have accounts; it's hard to control when computer access is available from libraries, friend's homes, school campuses, etc...but my younger children will not have acoounts so long as I can help it. I have agreed to help him start a blog here at home, something we can work on together and seems to be much healthier in networking aspects and input :-)

That's just my two cents based upon my experience over the last two years with message boards and Myspace and the rest...don't mean to trump anyone else's positive experiences.