Monday, October 20, 2014

The Social Lives of Networked Teens: Obsession? Addiction? Or simply a way to get past growing parental restrictions?

I'm reading a very interesting book by danah boyd about teenagers' use of technology for social purposes. I just completed a fascinating chapter on so-called social-networking addiction and teens' obsession with social media. boyd concludes that much of what we (the adults) perceive as addiction and obsession is not with the technology itself, but rather with the need for teenagers to socialize with their peers. Technology is helping teens fill the void created by a world where parents are convinced (wrongly) that their children are not safe away from home or structured environments.
"Today’s teenagers have less freedom to wander than any previous generation. Many middle-class teenagers once grew up with the option to “do whatever you please, but be home by dark.” While race, socioeconomic class, and urban and suburban localities shaped particular dynamics of childhood, walking or bicycling to school was ordinary, and gathering with friends in public or commercial places— parks, malls, diners, parking lots, and so on— was commonplace. Until fears about “latchkey kids” emerged in the 1980s, it was normal for children, tweens, and teenagers to be alone. It was also common for youth in their preteen and early teenage years to take care of younger siblings and to earn their own money through paper routes, babysitting, and odd jobs before they could find work in more formal settings . Sneaking out of the house at night was not sanctioned, but it wasn’t rare either." (Kindle locations 1425-1432)

Adults increasingly have become obsessed with controlling the lives of their teens and limiting their time away from home to do what they feel is either dangerous or nothing but a waste of time. Teens see social-networking through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, texting and now Snapchat as a way to connect and "hang out" with their friends.
"Teens’ engagement with social media—and the hanging out it often entails— can take up a great deal of time. To many adults, these activities can look obsessive and worthless. Media narratives often propagate the notion that engagement with social media is destructive, even as educational environments increasingly assume that teens are networked. Many adults put pressure on teens to devote more time toward adult-prioritized practices and less time socializing, failing to recognize the important types of learning that take place when teens do connect. When teens orient themselves away from adults and toward their peers, parents often grow anxious and worried about their children’s future. The answer to the disconnect between parent goals and teen desires is not rhetoric that pathologizes teen practices, nor is it panicked restrictions on teen sociality. Rather, adults must recognize what teens are trying to achieve and work with them to find balance and to help them think about what they are encountering." (Kindle locations 1635-1642)
For anyone who has been fascinated or exasperated by the teenage obsession with technology, reading It's Complicated is well worth the investment of time.

boyd, danah (2014-02-25). It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

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