Growing Up Online: Acceptance of Fear?

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In the Emmy nominated special entitled “Growing Up Online” PBS paints a portrait of what life is like for children growing up with the Internet. The documentary displays both the youth in question, and how the adults interacting with the children view this digital generation.

Many of the parents in the special seemed fearful of how the Internet would effect their children whether they were afraid of predators, consequences of lewdness, cyber-bullying, or the actions and identities their children were “posting.” I believe that many of the parents who were concerned in the film were overly fearful. Parents asking for passwords to their children’s accounts on Facebook (older children in high school) seemed extremely overbearing. I truly do not believe the Internet is any more dangerous for children then childhood was for those of us who did not grow up with computers in every room. When I was a child we feared predators grabbing us from our neighborhoods, and now few children play outside without adult supervision. In this sense has the Internet made them safer?

According to a website entitled the  rates have decreased for exposure to pornography or predatory behavior over several years. Most unwanted sexual encounters were occurring to teenagers who engaged in what the website deemed “risky behavior” which included visiting pornography websites, posting sexual pictures online, and engaging in sexual conduct with other Internet users.

However, the rate of harassment or cyber-bullying has dramatically increased over the past five years as much as 50%. Most occurrences happening to a broad spectrum of children from age 10-17, and with few of the children reporting the incidents to adults.

I think it is important to teach our children and young adults about the danger of the Internet, but I do not feel we should overreact completely. I believe the more parents overreact about the usage of the Internet with their kids the more they isolate themselves from their children’s lives.

Some parents even take this to an extreme by playing online games or MMORPGs with their children not only to ensure a safe environment, but to enjoy spending time with their children online. I think this is one way that both parents and kids can engage the Internet with both understanding and knowledge.

I think the Internet enable our youth to form a sense of identity and socialize on a  level that we had, but on a broader scale. When I was younger we would hang out at the mall or go to concerts. Many of us engaged in lascivious behavior just as many of the teenagers on the PBS special did, but the main differentiation was that we did not record it. So is it really the behavior itself that we deem dangerous or how it is displayed and disseminated? I believe what drives the parents fear is not an aloof concept of what their child MAY be doing, but is discovering what their child IS doing and who is watching them do it.


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