Parents Clueless About Teens' Lives? Same As It Ever Was
- August 10th, 2009
- 5 Comments
It was with a deep breath and a sigh that I read several articles about the latest poll from Common Sense Media asserting there is a gap between what parents think their kids are doing on social networking sites and what they’re actually doing. For example, The LA Times excerpted these stats (read the full release here):
- 37% of teens said they used social networks to make fun of other students, but only 18% of parents believe their own angels do so.
- 13% of teens said they posted naked or semi-naked photos or videos of themselves. Only 2% of parents said their kids have done that.
- 24% of teens said they signed on to someone else’s account without permission, while only 4% of parents said their kids have done that.
- 28% of teens posted personal information that they normally would not have revealed in public, but 16% of parents said their kids did that.
Yes, technology makes it easier to share personal information online (and lack of awareness about privacy settings may make it unintentional), and yes, there are new ways of bullying (logging into others’ accounts, using networks to make fun of others), but the notion that technology is somehow increasing the gap between what parents think they know and what they actually know, feels somewhat false. With the exception of incredibly strict parents who don’t let their teens socialize without adult supervision (online or off), most parents have always tried to parent the best they could and then dropped their teens off at the movies or the mall and hoped for the best. I agree that there should be more parent education around privacy and digital citizenship on social networks (ahem, and not just for teens using these sites), but I’m just tired of these sorts of studies being spun so negatively.
What if the numbers read this way?
- 63% of teens said they DO NOT USE social networks to make fun of other students
- 87% of teens said they HAVE NOT posted naked or semi-naked photos or videos of themselves.
- 76% of teens said they HAVE NOT signed on to someone else’s account without permission
- 72% of teens HAVE NOT posted personal information that they normally would not have revealed in public
I would say wow, most teens are using this technology pretty responsibly….
In another related study from MySpace UK posted on ReadWriteWeb, 36% of social networking users between the ages of 14 and 21 said:
...they found it easier to talk about themselves online than in the real world, leading them to share more about themselves using technology. This group also felt that their online friends knew more about them, and so, in a sense, were closer than offline friends because they all knew what was going on in each other’s lives.
This is the flipside of technology providing the distance and anonymity that makes cyberbullying so easy. You can say more, share more and feel closer. The concern is that young people will forget how to do this in person—but maybe they wouldn’t have done it in person to begin with, and now that they have shared virtually, they feel closer to their friends when they DO see them in person. I see this study as showing the positive potential of the internet to bring people closer together as well as helping teens struggling in the social Darwinism that is high school to have an alternative social outlet where they are able to connect without those offline pressures.
Finally, Mashable reported on another study blaming Facebook for increased jealousy in the romantic relationships of college students.
The report concludes that there is a “significant association between time spent on Facebook and jealousy-related feelings and behaviors experienced on Facebook.”
This study actually makes sense to me and here’s why: What we put on social networking profiles or what we tweet is such a highly edited, curated version of our lives. I’ve joked with my own friends about how looking at people’s profiles can be depressing (or inspire jealousy) when you’re feeling down. They all seem so “happy”—smiling vacation or party photos, more comments on status updates or walls than you have, etc., feeling like your friend or significant other is closer to other friends than you. Even with prolific posters, you only get part of the picture or as the study puts it “lack of context.”
Technology is changing the ways in which we interact with each other for better, and at times, for worse. There’s a big difference between blaming technology as the cause vs. looking at how it alters human behavior in a more balanced way. And many of those underlying behaviors/motivations are, as the Talking Heads said, “same as it ever was.”