Alarm Raised December 3, 2005Posted by Michael McVey in Students.
Today the Arizona Daily Star posted an article on the dangers of such interactive online sites as MySpace. The full article describes how three school districts in the Tucson area including Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) have blocked access to the site by students.
I am certainly not in any disagreement with blocking access to MySpace. Such online socializing is a time waster in schools. But my problem with the article was that it tried to tap into the fear adults have of teens. Images of teens engaged in lewd or vile activities accompanied by even more images of them drinking or smoking up are sure to incite a knee jerk reaction. I had been a high school teacher for two decades and can tell you that teens certainly know how to turn their insecurities into opportunities for button pushing and parental aggravation.
My other reaction to the article is based on a more cerebral researcher-based concern. First, the reporters spent a few minutes searching for images and commentaries based on school names and zip codes. Most of the users of MySpace, The Facebook (I’m in that one), Xanga, and other online communities, use them to connect with people they already know are there.
Second, the reporters leave it to their readers to speculate that the MySpace environment is crude and horrid in all its aspects because some students were seen appearing to drink and had left nasty comments. You should listen in on some high school conversations and you might see how the written comments are not too far off the reality of some daily verbal encounters. My point is that if you go looking for crudity, you are going to find it.
Third, as a casual or outside observer of online socializing venues, you are not privy to the many millions of private conversations that are mundane, pedantic, touching, or life affirming that happen between and among members of any online community. You are not a member of that community and have not had any history with the participants in it. That, alone, might discredit your observations of it.
Finally, the “Profiles” the reporters read are a totally different form of communication. They are composed by participants as a way of telling others who they are and what their attitude it. They are sometimes meant to offend, advertise, warn, chest thump, and sometimes to conceal. A young person might post a photograph as a projection of what they wanted someday to be or how they want someone to see them. In one forum I posted an image, an avatar, for my online persona that I took from a painting by Rembrandt. I was trying to appear thoughtful and mature. Today, after my second cup of coffee, that image might look completely different. Moods change and all I can say is that teens will grow out of their rebelliousness just as well mostly did (I am speaking to adults now). But keep the online socializing to the world outside of school.
Apparently, this is a bit of a hot button issue. I came across this quotation about MySpace in Business Week:
The MySpace generation, by contrast, lives comfortably in both worlds at once. Increasingly, America’s middle- and upper-class youth use social networks as virtual community centers, a place to go and sit for a while (sometimes hours). While older folks come and go for a task, Adams and her social circle are just as likely to socialize online as off. This is partly a function of how much more comfortable young people are on the Web: Fully 87% of 12- to 17-year-olds use the Internet, vs. two-thirds of adults, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project.