31 July 2008

Being a Teenager in 2008 - How Technology Can Be Destructive

Being a teenager in the 1970’s was not a joyous time in my life but being a teen-ager today is being made even more difficult through the introduction of technology. This is an odd statement coming from me since I make my living through the implementation of technology, but the teenagers of today have found new ways to make each other ever more miserable through the use of social networking websites such as Facebook and Myspace not to mention text messaging, instant messaging and email.

I monitor my children’s use of all the above technological tools which I must admit is an exercise in walking a fine line between allowing my children the freedom to express themselves and being aghast by the use of abbreviated language transmissions and the sometimes horrendous use of foul language.

Back in the 70’s we didn’t have technology to spread a message about someone far and wide except for the rumors that spread from person to person and which were, by and large, mostly false. Today, teens have a myriad of tools with which they can spread an ill conceived message about someone else in about the same time it takes me to unlock my front door and step to the other side. There is no need for teens today to confront someone who is a little different than they – it is easier for them to spew their contempt for someone different by simply posting a negative message on Facebook for others to see, or to add commentary.

I recently saw an online attack where a group of kids on Facebook made some very derogatory comments about another child, who was also part of the discussion. Surprisingly, the kids who made these comments are considered good kids at their schools and in their neighborhoods, but get them in a group, in a semi-anonymous environment, and they soon become something quite different. I give credit to the kids who stated that the discussion was unfair and had gone too far, and in the end the ones being derogatory apologized, but the damage was already done. The child who was the target of the attack feels even less secure in a period of life where insecurity abounds.

Being a teenager has always been difficult. Those who are not “in” are “out” as the expression goes. The problem now is that it is much easier for teenagers to use technology to drive in that point. I made a copy of the discussion mentioned above, and my initial thought was to send a copy to the parents of each child who participated in this unfortunate discussion, but instead I thought it better to write this commentary and encourage all parents to really look at what their children are saying online to other people. Technology has permitted today’s teenagers to “swarm” a victim – essentially create a “virtual” gang, which is just as harmful as physical bullying could be, if not more so.

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