young people faced (particular adolescents in high school) were pimples, pregnancy, grades and parental over-protection. There were also mean-spirited rumors that were spread, there were cliques and pecking orders, and there was bullying as well. But in the 21st century, with the power of digital technologies, those mean-spirited rumors — and bullying practices — have transitioned into video and still photography scenarios that can be sent at the speed of light from one smart phone to thousands of others.
I have been part of the culture that is captivated by texting and keeping up with my friends through digital media. I can’t say that I have ever bullied anyone online or been bullied (well, maybe once or twice but it wasn’t serious bullying), but I do understand how today’s teens can become addicted to texting and no matter where they are — at the dinner table or in science class — they can’t wait a moment to see who just texted them because their smartphone gave off a little vibrating sensation. Where is it all leading? After what I learned in this class, I am worried about this generation of adolescents and future generations as well.
Today’s online bullying and mean-spirited verbal and web-published attacks on others are meant to harass, embarrass, and humiliate the victims — and in some cases teens think it will be funny to disgrace another student. But because of this class, I have seen the product of the misuse of digital technology from an objective perspective, and it looks a lot more like viciousness than humor to me. In the video “Tagged: what you do online could tag you for the rest of your life,” the girl posting a fight between two students says, “It is fun,” in answer to her friend who has concerns about the ethics of this posting.
Emails and texts, with photos, video and with audio, now supplant the dirty little tricks teenagers used to play on each other (up through the 1980s) based on their lack of maturity and belief that making someone the subject of a cruel rumor was funny. Is it funny when a young middle school girl in California takes her own life because it was reveled through texts and pictures that she was gay? Is it funny when a girl in Missouri hangs herself because she was humiliated at school by online bullies?
And in the Waging War video we talked about — which made it fun to shoot and kill — any objective view of this sees it as a disgraceful way to entice young people to join the Army. I see through this class that the twisted, sometimes unethical use of digital media has really opened the door for impersonal but interactively attractive ways to manipulate, maim, hurt, offend, and provide entertainment for young people. The Frontline video that shows how enamored with and addicted to digital technology many adolescents are, may have exaggerated the problem by pointing out the most disturbing trends, but not every parent is naive and not every kid is out of control, so there needs to be a perspective on this whole problem.
A very good perspective was presented in the book Hanging out, messing around, and geeking out: kids living and learning with new media (Ito, 2009). Unfortunately it was a book, so getting adolescents to read it would be problematic; they are so locked into video and online dynamics they can’t really see the world as it is much of the time — but parents could find an avalanche of good information in there.
But a good deal of that book was right on the money because while parents do try to keep an eye on what their kids are doing, kids can fool them, make their MySpace sites private, and sneak around the rules of their household. Not every parent in every country is clueless when it comes to what their children are doing online. In the book Kids Online: Opportunities and Risks for Children, the authors point out that parents are “well acquainted with the Internet” in Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Iceland and Denmark (Livingstone, et al., 2009). I wonder why American parents can’t be as web-savvy as parents in Scandinavian countries.
The purchase of a smartphone for a 5th or 6th grader is frankly a mistake, in my opinion. Okay some parents need to be able to get in touch with their kids, and phones seem to make sense. But real life isn’t about texting with a 10-year-old friend who lives two doors down. For me, at that age, two boys should be out shooting baskets, or tossing a football around, or even heading to the lake to go swimming and maybe meet new kids — even girls!
Once a young girl gets a smartphone, no matter what her parents think, in time she will have access to online places where she shouldn’t go. In the book Digital Youth, Innovation, and the Unexpected, Justine Cassell and Meg Cramer present an essay that features a scary public service announcement (PSA) that shows a hideous person, purportedly one of the “50,000 predators” that are online “at any given moment” (Cassell, et al., 2008). While it is true that there are predators out there, is a PSA like the one shown on page 53 really helpful? Cassell is correct to point out that too much media reporting of negative news about the Internet has cast a pall over what is actually transpiring. Kids are more apt to be sexually or physically abused by “family members and friends, rather than strangers,” so while there is danger online, the media has presented a far scarier case about online predators than is justified, in my opinion.
Nevertheless, there definitely is serious cause for concern in Australia because of the statistics presented in the “Children’s Participation in Cultural and Leisure Activities, Australia, April 2012.” The concern should be raised because 90% of children between the ages of 5 to 14 used the Internet in the previous year; that 90% is up from 65% just eight years ago, which is a startling jump in numbers. Still, that having been said, much of the texting between adolescent girls is innocent, just “a means of constructing a social worldâ€¦using words to construct identity and make social plansâ€¦ [and] using silenceâ€¦and sometimes manipulative forms of mass and interpersonal communication” (Stern, 2007).
However, giving five-year-olds a mobile phone is ridiculous. The statistics show that 29% of five to fourteen-year-olds had phones and more girls had phones than boys. The good news was that “â€¦2 million children used the Internet for educational purposes,” although when a kid is online there is always a temptation to see what else is out there (Australian Bureau of Statistics).
Meanwhile, as to my own experiences, what kind of an image to I project online and how to I think others perceive me? I try to project an intelligent and healthily active picture of myself — eager to meet people who are intelligent and creative. That was not always true; I admit when I was younger I did mess around and present myself as something I wasn’t. But we all go through the growing up period, and the “Growing up Online” feature — while, as I said before, might have been a bit heavy-handed in its portrayal of kids’ addictions to digital technology — hit home because everyone in college has friends with little brothers and sisters or has siblings of their own and they know the terror in a parent’s mind when thoughts turn to online predators.
Frankly I used digital technology to communicate with my grandfather. His daughter, my mom, had an old computer she wasn’t using so I talked him in to learning how to email. One day I asked him, “Would you like to get a letter from me every day of the year?” He said “Yes, but how could you do that?” I set up mom’s computer, sat him down and made him write down step one (turn on the computer); step two (log on to Yahoo); step three, step four, and so on. Soon, he was getting my short email greetings every morning and writing back once or twice a week. So there was no digital divide between me and grandpa, and it was thanks to digital technology.
In conclusion, I have learned a great deal and my eyes have been opened in this class. We have covered material that is relevant, contemporary, and useful for today and in the future.
Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2012. ‘Children’s Participation in Cultural and Leisure Activities, Australia, April 2012.’ Retrieved April 10, 2014, from http://www.abs.gov.au.
Cassell, Justine, and Cramer, Meg. 2008. ‘High Tech or High Risk: Moral Panic About Girls Online.’ In Digital Youth, Innovation, and the Unexpected, Editor T. McPherson. MIT Press: Boston, MA.
Ito. 2009. Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media. MIT Press: Boston, MA.
Livingstone, Sonia M., Livingstone, S., and Haddon, L. Kids Online: Opportunities and Risks for Children. The Policy Press: Bristol, UK.
Stern, Shayla Thiel. 2007. Instant Identity: Adolescent Girls in the World of Instant Messaging. Peter Lang Publishing: New York, U.S.