It looks like you're using an Ad Blocker.
Please white-list or disable AboveTopSecret.com in your ad-blocking tool.
Some features of ATS will be disabled while you continue to use an ad-blocker.
If kids can’t socialize, who should parents blame? Simple: They should blame themselves. This is the argument advanced in It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, by Microsoft researcher Danah Boyd. Boyd—full disclosure, a friend of mine—has spent a decade interviewing hundreds of teens about their online lives.
What she has found, over and over, is that teenagers would love to socialize face-to-face with their friends. But adult society won’t let them. “Teens aren’t addicted to social media. They’re addicted to each other,” Boyd says. “They’re not allowed to hang out the way you and I did, so they’ve moved it online.”
It’s true. As a teenager in the early ’80s I could roam pretty widely with my friends, as long as we were back by dark. But over the next three decades, the media began delivering a metronomic diet of horrifying but rare child-abduction stories, and parents shortened the leash on their kids. Politicians warned of incipient waves of youth wilding and superpredators (neither of which emerged). Municipalities crafted anti-loitering laws and curfews to keep young people from congregating alone. New neighborhoods had fewer public spaces. Crime rates plummeted, but moral panic soared. Meanwhile, increased competition to get into college meant well-off parents began heavily scheduling their kids’ after-school lives.
The result, Boyd discovered, is that today’s teens have neither the time nor the freedom to hang out. So their avid migration to social media is a rational response to a crazy situation. They’d rather socialize F2F, so long as it’s unstructured and away from grown-ups. “I don’t care where,” one told Boyd wistfully, “just not home.”
Forget the empathy problem—these kids crave seeing friends in person.
In fact, Boyd found that many high school students flock to football games not because they like football but because they can meet in an unstructured context. They spend the game chatting, ignoring the field and their phones. You don’t need Snapchat when your friends are right beside you.
So, parents of America: The problem is you; the solution is you.
If you want your kids to learn valuable face-to-face skills, conquer your own irrational fears and give them more freedom. They want the same face-to-face intimacy you grew up with. “Stranger danger” panic is the best gift America ever gave to Facebook.
Among themselves, in fact, kids tend to see technology as extending, rather than replacing, time with friends. When they have to be physically apart, they use e-mails, texts, IMs, and updates to stay in the loop. How else could they deal with interruptions such as bedtime? (Studies actually show there's a reason to have them leave the cell phones outside their rooms overnight -- the lure of its pinging is keeping up the already famously sleep-deprived demographic.) In fact, one set of researchers found that two of the three primary reasons adolescents texted were to make plans to get together and to schedule time to talk (the other was simply to chat). Most texting threads, the study noted, ended with them switching to a richer mode of communication, such as IM, phone, or face-to-face.
"There was a real hunger on both sides -- kids and parents -- to have more face-to-face time," says Marian Merritt, an Internet-safety advocate for Symantec, maker of Norton computer-security products.
But it's instructive to see where the Pew parents placed the blame for the disconnect. Mostly white-collar and middle-class, they said technology had eaten into their family time by blurring the line between work and home. They were the ones glued to the computer, churning out that last report. (And probably sneaking in a little surfing after: Norton found that 47 percent of parents spend time on social networking sites, as opposed to 46 percent of their kids.)
"Kids are watching what their parents are doing and modeling that behavior," says Megan Moreno, M.D., a physician and assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin, who sees adolescents as patients and has also studied their online habits. "The kids whose parents are texting and taking calls while their kids are talking? Those are the same kids who take phone calls during our office visits."
Texting, IMing, e-mailing -- anything, in fact, that's not immediate and face-to-face -- has a bonus, notes Nathan Freier, Ph.D., a professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute who studies how people interact with technology: It allows a buffer against awkwardness during what's already an awkward (and emotionally freighted) age.
"The more richly you engage someone, the more potential there is for embarrassment," he says. "Short text messages relieve kids of that anxiety." There are dangers, of course, in telling a girl you like her via text message -- notably, that she'll forward your note to the whole school. But for tweens, this pales next to the sinking feeling of having to watch her face as she decides how to reject you.