Social Media, Youth, and Risk

children_youth_internet_risk

Jeremy and his mom, Susan, in their living-room

J: Whadaya mean, you want my passwords?

S: How old are you?

J: Mom, you know how old I am; you were there at my birth, remember?

S: Yes, dear, I certainly remember but, at your ripe old age of 13, I don’t think you have the social wisdom you need to make completely  independent decisions on the Internet.

J: You want to censor what I say to my online friends?

S: No, I want to collaborate with you; I want to share your experience and use my  experience in the world to help you make safe decisions.

J: You’re starting to sound like a politician…

S: Jeremy, I really mean what I’m saying. I trust your judgement as long as you’re fully informed. You just haven’t lived long enough to know all the traps people can set.

J: So, I can post what I want—you just wanna see it and maybe talk some things over?

S: You got it, sweetie.

J: Well… We can try it out for awhile but, if you start cramping my style, I’m gonna change my passwords.

S: O.K., I hope we don’t have to go that far. I’ll try to be as fair as I can.

J: Mom, I’m not doing anything wrong, ya know, and what about when I’m chatting…

S: I know you’re the most virtuous son in the world, but there’re plenty of people with less virtue who can seem  to be saints. Your chat activity is something we’ll have to have deeper consultation about…

J: Whew! You really are becoming a politician…

~~~~~~~~~
Jeremy gave his mother his passwords and Susan learned that she had a very responsible son…
~~~~~~~~~

Our imaginary Susan and Jeremy have a rather remarkable relationship but there are  parents who treat their children with respect as they try to protect them.

There have been some recent reports published about social media and the risk they may pose for young users.

The one getting most of the attention now is called, Enhancing Child Safety and Online Technologies, and comes out of a group at Harvard.

One of the most interesting findings was:

“With all three types of threats (sexual solicitation, online harassment, and problematic content), some minors are more likely to be at risk than others. Generally speaking, the characteristics of youth who report online victimization are similar to those of youth reporting offline victimization and those who are vulnerable in one online context are often vulnerable in multiple contexts. In the same way, those identified as ‘high risk’ (i.e., experienced sexual abuse, physical abuse, or parental conflict) were twice as likely to receive online solicitations and a variety of psychosocial factors (such as substance use, sexual aggression, and poor bonds with caregivers) were correlated with online victimization.”

The report is heavy with detailed analyses of various technologies to protect youth yet does admit that technology is not the only answer.

An article from Agence France-Presse,  Technology alone ‘won’t assure youth safety on Internet’, which references the Harvard study, says:

“Risk for children appears more correlated to his or her ‘psychosocial’ profile than a particular Internet technology platform…”

They go on to identify the sponsors of the Harvard study:

“Task force members included Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, MySpace, Symantec and Second Life creator Linden Labs.”

I’m sure you can see some positive as well as negative influences being brought to bear by organizations who have a financial interest in social media. Still, the bottom-line can be a significant pressure to pay attention to bad press, not to mention bad outcomes of online interactions.

An article from The Washington Times, Social networking benefits validated, references a different study that “…looked at more than 5,000 hours of online observation and found that the digital world is creating new opportunities for young people to grapple with social norms, explore interests, develop technical skills and work on new forms of self-expression.”

And, to reconsider the role technologies might play, an Australian study, Developments in Internet Filtering Technologies and Other Measures for Promoting Online Safety, is referenced in an article from ON LINE opinion,  Filtering won’t deliver for Aussie kids. They say: “Although it is accepted that children do face some risks online, these risks are more complex than government rhetoric sometimes indicates. Several studies, including the government’s own research, indicate that so-called ‘content risks’—the risks associated with viewing unwanted content—come a distant third to ‘communication risks’ and ‘e-security risks’.” Which to me says that filtering content does nothing to protect youth from potential harmful effects in the actual communicating they do online.

Protecting our younger online citizens is very important but doing it in a way that doesn’t hamper their “style” is at least equally important. It’s been shown that social media is empowering youth to take up Causes and they’re showing a remarkable ability to initiate positive change. The Free Child Project  has quite a collection of links that will show the value of not only protecting our kids from predators but also protecting their inalienable right to interact and do their best to use their unquenchable energy to help our suffering ol’ globe…

Spiritual Quote:

This quote was directed to Bahá’í youth but you can replace Bahá’í with any other Faith and the quote still maintains its value…


“For any person, whether Bahá’í or not, his youthful years are those in which he will make many decisions which will set the course of his life. In these years he is most likely to choose his life’s work, complete his education, begin to earn his own living, marry, and start to raise his own family. Most important of all, it is during this period that the mind is most questing and that the spiritual values that will guide the person’s future behaviour are adopted. These factors present Bahá’í youth with their greatest opportunities, their greatest challenge, and their greatest tests—opportunities to truly apprehend the Teachings of their Faith and to give them to their contemporaries, challenges to overcome the pressures of the world and to provide leadership for their and succeeding generations, and tests enabling them to exemplify in their lives the high moral standards set forth in the Bahá’í Writings. Indeed the Guardian wrote of the Bahá’í youth that it is they ‘who can contribute so decisively to the virility, the purity, and the driving force of the life of the Bahá’í community, and upon whom must depend the future orientation of its destiny, and the complete unfoldment of the potentialities with which God has endowed it’.
From a letter of The Universal House of Justice to Bahá’í Youth in every Land, June 10, 1966

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8 thoughts on “Social Media, Youth, and Risk

  1. This is a great post, Alex. You’ve tackled a really serious problem in a way that helps us transcend some of the fruitless rhetoric that passes for informed discussion. The quotation from the Universal House of Justice is most apt. Thank you so much for posting this.

  2. This is a very important issue. Internet: a huge step beyond just knowing what our kids watch on TV.

    I had someone comment on one of my social networks and the comment was of concern to me. So I followed the link and it took me to an under aged teen (not yet 18 — age listed in porfile) and this person’s site was just a blast of darkness, blatant sex, every swear word you could imagine all over the page. And I thought, “Wow, where are his parents? Do they know this is what he is doing, seeing, thinking, etc.” I felt sad knowing that somewhere he fell through the cracks, sad because — at least on the surface — he thinks this is what ALL the world is about….AND that it’s cool and normal.

    I’m not a prude: I’ve lived too much for that. But it’s not about being a prude; it’s about the fact that it is NOT what all the world is about. And yet, since many youth are growing up almost solely exposed to this stuff, they THINK it is the world. If no one in their lives intervenes and shows them differently, then it IS the world to them, and it is what they BECOME.

  3. Dear Robin,

    Gratifying to read your comment!

    My concern for the “psychosocial” group of kids the post mentions and that you paint a vivid portrait of has moved me to begin planning a group for middle-schoolers to, in a very fun and engaging way, give them, not “instruction” in morals but, the opportunity to discover the natural virtues that are already latent in their souls……….

  4. Wow – right on! powerful blog. I believe that childhood has become way to complex for our children. The creative opportunities available online need to be balanced with a good game of “kick the can” or “hopscotch” every now and then.

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