Name: margalit
Location: Massachusetts, United States Professional writer, educational advocate, opinionated ultra liberal mother of 18 year old twins, living life in the slow lane due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure, and diabetes.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Wired Teens: Not what the media claims

My kids are wired to the max. I don't care what the media says, or believe that being wired equates to being involved in dangerous activities. Communication has changed with the younger generation. They don't communicate with their friends the way I did way back in the age of dinosaurs. They IM, they use social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, they blog, and they text each other. All while they're using the phone. This generation is the ultimate in multi-tasking. They can carry on conversations with half their class all at the time using different communication devices.

The media portrays online activities of teens and tweens as dangerous and fraught with sexual promiscuity. They equate kids on Facebook or MySpace with kids lurking around sexual predators destined to be gathered up into the seemy underworld. Just look at those Dateline shows. Filled with sexual predators, they fill parents with with fear and dread. But are those fears warranted? Anastasia Goodstein, author of Total Wired: What Teens and Tweens are Really Doing Online doesn't think so.

Goodstein interviewed hundreds of teens with active online lives, and reports that they are much more savvy and careful than the media would have us believe. Goodstein presents an excellent guide guaranteed to allay parental fears, on what kids are really up to online. Her book arms parents with the knowledge they need to ensure that their children use the Internet safely.

While Goodstein's book is directed at parents who are a bit less wired than most bloggers, she carefully explains in easy-to-understand prose exactly what blogs, IM, social networking, and other wired communication is all about. She talks about various blogging platforms that teens might use, such as Xanga and LiveJournal, as well as explaining how social networks like MySpace and Facebook can be used safely.

Goodstein says:

Teens are still teens, doing all of things teens have always done -- just digitally. The nature of technology raises some different and challenging issues: it's public, permanent, viral, anonymous (or it can be), distancing and has an addictive quality to it. Because of these issues, parents need to step up, engage, discuss, limit and guide teens in their use of technology. You can't do this effectively from a position of alarm or fear. That's my message and I'm sticking to it.
I completely agree.
In this book, Goodstein covers the all bases, including cyber bullying, blogs and "social-networking sites" such as MySpace. She asks boomer parents like me to remember talking on the phone for hours or writing in a diary, which she compares to chatting online and blogging. Today's teens are developmentally identical to teens who listened to Elvis and wore poodle skirts, Goodstein argues, but they have a new venue—the Internet—for exploring their hopes, desires and voices. Goodstein urges parents to take the plunge into cyberspace not only in order to keep their children safe but also to build closer relationships. "Ask them about their digital lives," she advises, "and they'll start talking about the rest of their lives." Focusing on the pros rather than the risks, Goldstein presents a solid and accessible guide to help understand the wired generation.

This is exactly how I've been relating to my own teenagers and their online activities. I am an active participant. My agreement with them both is that they use my email addresses for their MySpace (largely forgotten these days) and Facebook pages, so I can check what's going on. I look at my daughter's pictures and delete anything that I feel is inappropriate. Mostly, my kids use their pages for sharing photos, writing down their frustrations, and poking each other virtually. Goodstein recommends many of the same strategies for keeping kids safe that others do. Keep computers in public spaces. Talk to your kids about what they're doing online. Don't present online life as filled with danger, instead point out how to keep safe.

Kids are going to be wired, no matter how luddite their parents remain. It seems to me that keeping communication between parent and teen open and honest about online activities and personas goes much farther towards keeping kids safe than does attempting to restrict their activities. Goodstein urges parents to take the plunge into cyberspace not only in order to keep their children safe but also to build closer relationships. For those of us that are bloggers, we're already on our way to showing the safe side of online relationships.

I really liked this book. Oddly, so did my son, who grabbed it out of my hands and read it before I ever got a chance to start reading it. His comment was that Goodstein clearly knew what kids were doing, and was aware that kids haven't changed, only the methods of communications between kids have changed.

For more information about Goodstein, visit her various sites:

http://www.mashup.ypulse.com (the first Ypulse conference! July-16-17. Register now!)

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Blogger Rob said...

I just interviewed Ms. Goodstein for my blog at http://blogs.experience.com/marketingchannel.

Her insights into youth media and marketing are very impressive. I am glad that you found her book to be helpful in your efforts to understand just what the deal is with my generation.

10/5/07 4:12 PM  

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