The headline of a recent Reuters article read: Schoolgirls bullied into stripping online.
“Bullies are no longer content to taunt their victims in the playground but are turning to cyberspace…and are using e-mail, text messaging, and social networking sites in new forms of victimization.
This article went on to discuss how young people are pressured to do things online that they would not do otherwise and are too scared to tell their parents in fear of their computer privileges being taken away.
We are now emerging into the latest version of the internet; what is called Web 2.0, and it is all about personalization, uploading your personal life, and virtual interaction. So in a world of personalization and content being uploaded to the internet, how can we as parents become more aware for the health and safety of our children? It is our job as parents to pay attention to our child on the internet.
Online social networking sites like YouTube and MySpace have capitalized on this personally invasive trend, allowing people to establish their own online presence; to be seen, and known by others about whom they know nothing. On the surface, some may think, what’s wrong with that? Technology they argue is just a device that helps us communicate. Meeting friends, journaling, posting pictures and videos; it is just a new venue in which to explore our own individual creativity and at earlier ages!
A good example of this is the adolescent site, Clubpenguin.com. It is innocent enough, providing games and a forum for chatting, but it also fosters an early behavior of virtual interaction. Youth today are becoming more accustomed to posting and communicating in this medium. It is not that clubpenguin.com is dangerous; but it establishes a pattern of behavior for both the child and the parent.
Yes, these behaviors and habits are innocuous at first; but later, as they become conventionally accepted and a part of a routine method of communication, those things that children once used become boring as they grow older. The pattern, however, remains, and so new sites and methods are found. These days, the sites range from flickr.com, to xanga, sconex, facebook, lastnightsparty, and vimeo, along with a host of others. The avalanche of sites allowing this generation to interact with friends and strangers has blurred relationships from what is “conventionally acceptable. And what is more alarming is that we are just at the advent of the internet.
We as parents must recognize how the web is evolving and becoming a place where culture is changing and eroding. In an article in the New York Times Magazine entitled Say Anything, the author Emily Nussbaum discussed how this generation of youth is increasingly willing to reveal their private lives online.
“There’s a difference between being able to absorb embarrassment and not feeling it. But we live in a time in which humiliation and fame are not easily distinguished quantities. And this generation seems to have a high tolerance for what used to be personal information splashed in the public square.
Certainly you can watch the news concerning Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, and Paris Hilton and see that what was once private is now more public than ever. Does this surprise us? Do we as parents recognize what is happening? Why is there such a strong appeal to “living life out loud and for the whole world to see?
Commercials on TV drive home the point that you can be significant; you can matter; you can be known to an audience far larger than my backyard; just upload yourself. “Celebrity status no longer just applies to Hollywood in a virtual world of friendships and community. We all want to matter, and in an online world an unknown person can be a “celebrity. American Idol and other reality programs capture this essence perfectly: we can be discovered! In an online world our voice can be heard. Our search for personal significance will continue to drive the direction of the internet; a desire to fill in the relational void that exists in teenagers and children today.
“So where do the young thrill-seekers go? Increasingly, to new Web sites like Stickam.com and liveleak.com, which are building a business by going where others fear to tread: into the realm of unfiltered live broadcasts from Web cameras.
So what are we to do?
Here are some practical applications to consider:
- Recognize that people are using the internet not only to communicate, but to fill an emptiness.
- As regulations on popular social web sites emerge, anticipate that new sites will be created and gravitate towards the risqué, lewd, and grotesque.
- Computer habits that form early often become behaviors that challenge parents as your children grow older.
- Protect your family by placing a computer in a central location and look for web filtering/tracking services for individual computers.
- Don’t be afraid, learn how to interact online. Use technology as another way you can communicate with your child.
- Set boundaries and enforce those standards by monitoring what they are doing.
- Confront your children when they do not obey your standards.
- Do not allow your children to share their passwords with friends.
Do not be merely content to say technology is over my head. Virtual communication and socializing is going to continue to evolve and adapt. It is an arena where parental stewardship is paramount as the stakes are too high! Be engaged!
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