the tragic end for Amanda Todd has reignited a look at the roles that online media – and social media in particular – play in personal interactions. while the social web has offered the users of all ages opportunities for finding communities of like-minded people, offering and receiving social support, and exploring identity we also know that there can be negative outcomes. the online world is another space (or set of spaces) and like any other type of space it can be used in a wide variety of ways. youth social interactions are not much different online as they are in the physical world. there is entertainment, play, thoughtfulness, and genuine friendship, but there is also subversion, anger, insecurity, and spitefulness. the dominant social narrative is that the latter types of behaviours are more prevalent, yet the evidence from research demonstrates consistently that these darker experiences are not the general case. sadly, it appears that when things go wrong they can go very wrong.
the reality is that there is a decline in the types of spaces that young people have available to them to try things out. malls, parks, street corners, etc. have become regulated spaces where they are scrutinized and asked to disband. increasingly urban cities are ‘youth unfriendly’ and even at the college and university levels our youth are shuttled from place to place, or tethered by their mobile phones. the online space becomes a place of…freedom, and while it is true that with freedom comes responsibility this is something that must be learned, not just in the classroom, or in the home via lectures but by living it - making mistakes and making corrections.
history is likely to look back at our millennial generation (currently 18-33 years old) as the group that had to learn how to navigate the digital world with little guidance. while parents remain the gatekeepers in the home, Pew Internet and American Life data from 2011 found that 41% of parents had no conversations or controls in place for online use in the home – and this is self-reported data so it is likely that this number is higher (see Pew Internet). we do not have research data in Canada to compare this to but we can guess that it is similar from anecdotal information and smaller case studies. as we as a broader society struggle to figure out the social norms and rules for social interaction via new media, experts in child and youth developments suggest that there are early steps that we can take in the home.
From these experts come the following suggestions:
1. try to find your what information about your children is online (search for their names/nicknames on a browser).
2. go on online trips with your millennial (or younger) children on topics of common interest. working together you can model appropriate online information practices.
3. talk to your teens about things that are bothering them – on and offline. Encourage them to talk to their peers and to speak out if there is something that they have seen or experienced that makes them uncomfortable.
4. seek professional help if you feel overwhelmed or don’t know how to start the conversation about safety online. talk to the councilors in your local school or to your family doctor for resources in your area.
l8r 4 now, R.
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image source: calgaryherald.com