Teens and Texting–New Book Says Parents Should Use Technology to Strengthen Kids’ Life Skills


Author sarah boyd, Microsoft researcher and NYU professor of media and culture

Microsoft researcher and NYU professor of media and culture says in her new book, It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens that parental surveillance and stalking of their kids online life, sometimes referred to as “creeping,” is devastating and destructive to building the needed trust and communication with teens as they navigate life and learn to make critical choices and decisions.

In the sense that Dr. Boyd’s book is groundbreaking (full disclosure: I have not read the book and only listened to her interviewed) is that Boyd is saying that social media is more of an opportunity for kids than a another way of  finding out if their kids are doing drugs or dating the wrong kind of person.  “It’s the new mall where kids can hang out and be themselves.  We should use social media as a way of asking them questions, like “what’s going on in your life I should know about or are you OK at school and with your friends?” as well as being available for them online, allowing a dialogue,” she told CBS reporter and technology journalist Larry Magid on a podcast (http://www.gamespot.com/videos/plants-vs-zombies-garden-warfare-now-playing/2300-6417343/#ftag=ACQ704c545).

Following MIT professor and psychologist Sherry Turkle’s book three years ago, Alone Together–Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, danah boyd (who does not capitalize either her first or last name) has followed up with extensive interviews on how teens interact with social media and their parents’ concern that they’re wandering out of  effective control.  Boyd’s book has created a stir in both the liberal and conservative parental camp (as well as teens for her suggestion that kids should give their principals their password and allow teachers to “friend” them on Facebook in case they need help), arguing that she doesn’t see the need for parents to lay down rules and is too permissive of sexting and texting.  She counters by saying that parenting is a process.   Kids need to learn to make their own choices. Parents as “Big Brother” sneaking into kids’ FB pages or tweets doesn’t advance that process, she says.

Another new insight offered by Dr. Boyd (and others) is that the Internet and specifically social media has not created more bullying.  “Cyber bullying” is just a different form of what has been going on for years,” she says.  “Instead of your kid coming home with a black eye where we knew something had happened, now it could by hurtful words by a cyber bully that results in hurtful psychological bruises.”  Boyd says the Internet can help by offering online help lines with adults who can act as role models, friends, confidants, sources of encouragement and advice.

Boyd says teen issues of identity, privacy, addiction, danger, bullying, sexting, inequality, literacy, and finding their own voice and community is what makes “the social lives of networked teens” so complicated.  “There are no clean lines,” Boyd says.  Indeed.  The same could be said for all adults and social media. A topic worth considering and a book worth reading.

Here’s Dr. Boyd on “Science Friday” with Ira Flatow for a longer conversation on the book and its issues including some teen call-ins.



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