Summary: Frontline’s Growing Up Online

For all of my busy parent readers who were unable to watch Frontline’s Growing Up Online special, here I have summarized it as briefly and succinctly as I could, with some of my comments at the end.

frontline.pngTeens are able to have a different persona online. They use it to rant, journal, express artistic or creative endeavors. The Internet is no longer the space of adults, it is a land of teenagers and young people. The Internet is not a separate place we go, it is actually a continuation of our reality.

Many teens know that if their parents saw what they were doing online, they would freak out. Parents are struggling to keep up and worry that their kids are not realizing how much they are exposing to strangers. They cannot keep up with parental controls.

Story 1: One girl was having relationships online, does not talk in real life. She is able to do more online because she is shy in real life. She took pictures of herself in her underwear and sent it to her online boyfriend. They have ways to signify meaning in their pictures, by “looking hot, but not too hot, because then you are slutty.” She feels like she has a fake identity offline, but online she can be real and tell her true feelings. She has an eating disorder and finds online ‘thinspiration.’ There are many chat rooms that glorify eating disorders and motivate each other t stop eating. Her parents do not know she has an eating disorder.

Story 2: Jessica able to be a ‘goth’ chick, punk chick, surfer chick whenever you want. She was so depressed in real life and felt out of place. But when she became a goth chick online she finally had friends, finally felt like she fit in. She could never tell her parents because they would not understand her ‘sacred’ online identity. She finally felt beautiful, she was on the computer all day long because of all the popularity she had. She did not feel like herself and loved it.

A parent at school saw pornographic pictures of Jessica and told the principle and contacted her parents. The website was shut down and other students called her a slut. She was devastated that her entire identity and world online was deleted.

Schools are having trouble keeping up and try to use electronics to keep kids interested. Teachers are turning into entertainers. There are more students who have problems focusing today than ever before, many teachers attribute this to the speed of online media.

Parents are know they do not have bad kids, but they are worried they will make bad decisions and pay for it permanently. There are no safegaurds and someone can always find what you have done. There is a false sense of security because kids are at home and think, “well what can happen to me in my home?” Are online predators an issue? Parents want to take control of their profiles to protect against online predators. Most kids absolutely know to not talk to strangers.

Story 3: Kids snuck into an overage concert and acted crazy. They filmed the public drinking and vomiting (3 emergency rooms had to close because there was so many drunken children) and posted pictures and videos online. One mother sent out an email to all of the parents describing the events, and her child was furious with her and felt she invaded privacy. Some parents were thankful, some were furious that she was meddling in their lives, and some felt that she was naïve to not know kids ‘do these things.’ Son has now completely pulled away from the family.

Story 4: Ryan asked his dad to teach him out to fight because he was being bullied. Dad began to teach him out to fight, but in October of 2003, Ryan killed himself. Dad examined the computer and realized that it was not predators he had to worry about, but it was actually his friends. Dad asking friends why they were cyberbullying Ryan. Ryan never had a safe haven, he could not escape the cyberbullying. One popular girl flirted with him online and then later told him it was a big joke. Ryan had a friend online and they figured out the best way to kill themselves.

Findings: Kids do have risky behavior online, but behave in much more risky behavior offline. Much of the risky behavior happens with friends online.
Conclusion: Parents need to teach kids about cyber-citizenship and how to protect themselves online. Teens forget how many people can see their videos and the immediacy of the online atmosphere encourages teens need to act on impulse.

Wow, so after I watched this I was depressed and freaked out and I am part of this generation! I could not imagine how overwhelming it is for parents, and wish that Frontline had:

  1. Shown parents more of the ‘how.’ How they can actually use parental controls, how they can talk to their kids, how they can explain cyber-citizenship, etc. This would have felt like some sort of resolution.
  2. I also wish Frontline would have shown that the Internet can be good. For me personally, I also spend hours and hours online, I chat, have MySpace and Facebook all of the warning signs discussed in the show, but I am better for it.

Without the Internet, I never would have been able to publish my book, start my company or even write my college honors thesis! I spend hours online each day yes, but I also am able to read five newspapers online, watch election videos and comment and learn about global warming. I would not be able to do these things otherwise. The key is finding balance.

I will be doing a few posts on the ‘how’ part of protecting your kids that I think Frontline missed. Overall, it was a very sobering and informative hour.

Stay tuned, don’t worry!


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