Part 2 – ‘It’s Complicated’ – My disagreements

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From Part 1

‘It is common for people to label anything unfamiliar as dangerous, and social media platforms and gaming devices are no exception.’

But to use these arguments to imply that the teachers, psychologists, carers and policemen/women who actually work with hundreds of children every year, are somehow hell bent on suppressing, confiscating or spoiling their digital fun is simply a form of self flattery.

This is Part 2 of 2 posts. In Part 1 I discussed what I like about Danah Boyd’s book ‘Its Complicated’. May I request that you read Part 1 first? That way you will see I am not simply negative about the book.

 

Let’s Continue…

Boyd’s position is largely laisezz faire when it comes to boundaries with technology and I will highlight where her views on teens contradict her criticisms of boundaries. Her book commendably highlights the positive aspects of Social Media (SM), but never really goes into any difficulties that teens might have reported with SM.

I also feel that in the same way that Boyd (aptly) criticises the overreaction, sensationalism and condescension of youth with social media, portrayed in the tabloids, she often uses condescending, sensationalistic and emotion provoking terms herself, when describing adults involvement in teens’ lives.

Phrases she uses to describe the attitudes of adults or professionals include:

  • Parents ‘violate children’s privacy’
  • Children have a ‘right to be left alone.’
  • ‘surveillance as a form of oppression’
  • Adults believe teens ‘incapable of having agency in response to temptations that surround them.’
  • ‘adults invent new blockades to restrict youth power.’
  • ‘the rhetoric of addiction is a cultural device used to undermine teens’ effort to reclaim a space.’
  • Children engage in ‘adult-prioritised practices and less time socialising.’
  • ‘rhetoric that pathologises teen practices.’
  • ‘panicked restrictions on teen socialisation.’
  • Adults engage in ‘nostalgia and idolising of childhoods’.
  • My personal favourite – adults engage in ‘moral panics’. (I lost count of the amount of times this phrase was used to describe adults’ and carers’ responses)

 

On Parenting

Boyd reasons,

“Teenagers have always been attracted to public spaces where they can hang out with friends, find new friends, and talk endlessly with peers about matters that concern them, away from parents and other authority figures.”

Yes, of course they have! I would be hard pressed to find any parent disagree with this. We all talked on the phone for hours, went to parties, skate parks, malls, movies or cycled to the shop  - and our parents usually wanted to know where we were. Additionally, if we had asked to do these activities at 11pm (on a school night) would our parents have said yes? Of course not!

I could also go on to discuss the havoc that midnight socialisation at the skate park (or iPad) would cause with sleep, but I think that is obvious.

Boyd indicates that she spent time speaking to adults, yet the stories she quotes not-so-subtly scoff at their views. She assumes that parents’ lives are far more social than teens that are ‘desperate to have access to a social world, which adults take for granted.’ Yet she ignores the large chunks of an adult’s day that consist of working, shopping, cooking, washing or mowing. Yes we visit and socialize, but not every afternoon or until 1am, while hypocritically denying our children the same.

Interestingly, the book labels sport, art and school as nostalgia induced ‘adult-prioritised practices’ and assumes that these are not part of teen socialization. She specifically highlights focus, attention and early bed-times as ‘adult oriented pursuits’. (These all sound a little like self-control and healthy boundaries to me.)

Come to think of it, how would I be writing this post if my parents hadn’t subjected me to these ‘pursuits’?

 

On Boundaries 

In the 20 years that I have worked with teens I have yet to meet a (healthy) parent that maliciously chose to spoil their child’s fun. Most parents make decisions thoughtfully and with care, because they want what is best for their child now and in their future.

Insisting on helmets while bike riding or fining people for texting while driving, are not just rules made for the sole purpose of oppression. We know that we don’t raise kids in a bubble, hence learning appropriate boundaries is a life skill – Corporates provide warnings or dismissals for repeated online infringements that a) affect colleagues, b) reduce productivity, c) affect the image of the organisation, yet Boyd derides universities or companies for looking up students’ online profiles.

In an ideal world our digital persona would not have any effect on the views of employers, friends or colleagues, but no matter how much we hypothesize that this should not be the case pressing the delete button will not alter human conduct.

 

‘Knock before you enter’ 

Let me be clear, I am not against increasing forms of privacy, as children get older. Privacy for an 18-year-old in Boyd’s interviews vs my 13-year-old clients would (and should) look markedly different.

It is important to respect your teen by knocking before entering her bedroom or the bathroom. Don’t barge into conversations with her mates uninvited, and don’t correct or knock before enteringcriticise comments on his Facebook posts. As a rule, don’t intentionally embarrass your teen. If you hear something worrying that your son is talking about, or see something inappropriate your daughter has commented on, find a suitable time to have a private non-confrontational chat.

However, parents would certainly not let a 13-year-old lock the door to his bedroom indefinitely. In the same way young teens should not lock you out of their online rooms.

Explain to your children that you will know their passwords and that (like their bedrooms) you will check in on them every now and again, without spying or secrecy. Talk about your responsibility to care for them and how you do things out of love.


On Professionals

I sometimes wonder if critics of ‘boundaries with technology’ think that the stories of police/youth liaison officers or psychologists are made up? That the incidents from the schools they attend EVERY day, to mop up the effects of digital-gone-wrongs are simply scare tactics, because these professionals dislike fun? Really?

I believe the right to be safe trumps the right to privacy. Yet any mention of safety is labeled ‘moral panic’ (I have written previously on how use of the term ‘moral panics’ grants the user a morally superior position of her own.)

At no point does Boyd discuss child development studies or research on the teenage brain. One look at such studies would provide evidence that teen brains are not yet fully developed and illustrate why young people make decisions differently to adults. Of course choices and mistakes create learning opportunities, but as carers we want to mitigate long-term harm in any learning situation. Surely?

I do like her challenge of the media’s sweeping use of ‘online addictions’ and online socialization as a ‘disease’. However when self worth becomes dependent upon likes or online affirmation, and checking or gaming happens consistently at 1am, then this is certainly an issue.

Yet, ‘It’s Complicated’ dismisses years of research and hands-on experience on Problematic Internet Use by Professor Kimberly Young. Boyd never once refers to 5 decades of research on gaming and does not appear to have interviewed families or professionals working with some teens actually engaged in problematic use in the areas of pornography or gaming. This would have provided a different perspective on a very real issue.

Boyd does acknowledge ‘at risk’ teens and to illustrate her point she tells the story of Tess.

Tess documented her struggles with Bipolar, abusing alcohol etc. online. Her friends tried to help but were clearly in above their heads.

In scouring comments Boyd found no indication that an adult had been present in any of the conversations. She goes on to say that neither social services nor school staff had accessed Tess’s account and she was clearly crying out for help online.

Boyd goes on to say,

“No one bothered to look or ask. Not all teens are lucky enough to have engaged or stable parents.”

“I met many parents too focused on themselves to notice their teens.”

“The Internet mirrors, magnifies and makes more visible the good the bad and the ugly of everyday life”

“The more eyes there are on the street, the safer the community is.”

This is where I find the book contradictory – If Social Media is a virtual neighbourhood how does Boyd propose adults keep their ‘eyes on the street’ when she derides parents for checking-in on these teen hangouts in the first place?

When professionals work with teens, we know that those hurting offline are not immune from hurting online. The iWorld can make it easier for them to become visible to us, so that we can direct them to the help they need.

Finally, I propose that if parents are to fully know and be involved in their children’s lives, then they need to be part of their world. And since online and offline are now one and the same world, it makes no sense to be excluded from either.

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