Figuring out my kids’ digital lives

Chapter 2

As a parent, I had a strong reaction to many of the arguments put forward in the first chapter and spent the bulk of my time on that. The intro states that adults fail to recognize or appreciate the ways in which youth use tech to connect with others, learn and participate in public life. It also argues that as a default position, many adults simply come to the conclusion that digital media participation is bad or evil. I can remember a time when heavy metal music and MTV were seen as morally corruptive (I even did a high school project on rock album covers that were labeled as explicit because of graphic and sexually suggestive content). The parallel reminds me of the argument I used to make to my own parents. Just because they didn’t understand it or get into it didn’t make it a bad thing. I tried to remember that throughout the reading of this chapter.

It’s tough as a parent to observe kids operating online without [passing judgment or trying to guide them, although I agree with the author’s point that our desire to claim expertise based on our vantage point complicates matters.  But I will say that being an adult does offer me some level of expertise and responsibility over my child’s activities. Some of the passages the authors presented as evidence of the positive benefits of online experiences made me nervous. For  instance, danah boyd wrote that “some of my most formative experiences are with strangers that I met online”. This is a totally alien concept to me – I can’t imagine discussing (as she apparently did) my sexuality with strangers, although I can only imagine that the anonymity allowed her to communicate in a way she couldn’t with people she knew.

The authors draw parallels to radio and zines to show young people have often grasped new communication before their parents and argue that young people often have to defend the communities they created against adult attempts at regulation and intrusion. Could this be expanded as a point to argue against government restrictions and regulations as well? I think it can. The point they make is that young people inevitably change their public behavior escape that oversight or express their freedom in new ways.  It is an interesting point that regulation sometimes gets equated to good parenting. However , the idea that parents are now getting to see a part of youth culture that they previously didn’t get to see means that parents I guess need to be more educated about what they are seeing. The article seems to underline the  fear that parents have about kids, arguing that it is unwarranted, borne out of misinterpretations and overreactions, and that it can limit their opportunities and undermine trust.  I think this minimizes the role a parent can play in helping kids with the internet. Yes, I recognize that I can overreact, but when all my kid watches is Dance Moms and Carnival game videos, don’t I have a role in encouraging him to try other things?  Can’t I have a role in opening up a child’s vision of the internet as opposed to be accused of limiting it?

Danah argues that many parents have a “distorted understanding of sexual predation” and introduce “unprecedented risks of victimization”. I will say that as a parent I am at least as worried about my kids giving away personal information online as I am about them being victimized by a sexual predator.  I think some basic knowledge comes along with growing up in this media day and age and that some of those common sense protections are becoming baked in to our kids’ growing up.  I would ask – are we paying the same amount of attention to making sure kids don’t follow a person on the street that promises to show them a puppy?  We have to focus on common sense across the board – not just in one area or another….

In the same way, we need to focus on bullying across the board – part of that being cyberbullying. I have found that bullying in its entirety has become a primary focus for schools and I feel that by using terms like “moral panic” we minimize the threat from all forms of bullying….  I would agree that I believe that “bullying happens more frequently at school”. I question the authors’ position that “parents, on the other hand, focus on the digital realm.” (p44) Not sure that’s the case. If my kid is showing signs of depression or injury or withdrawal or anything weird, I’m looking at +all+ possibilities – not solely digital media, but im not excluding it either. If we agree that social media is a primary form of communication among young people, why =wouldn’t= you focus on it when things are going wrong?

It’s interesting and daunting that kids are creating their own languages and codes to express themselves online in a way that specifically alienates adults.  I’m not surprised though.

I think there is merit to the argument that kids’ ability to have not only private conversations but entire private relationships out of the view of adults is daunting. Didn’t our parents always say they wanted to meet our friends at least once?  My mom always told me she didn’t want me dating any girl that wasn’t willing to meet her.  So why should we expect less contact with our kids’ friends when we have absolutely no basis for knowing them – not even that they are from our same area, or have heard of their parents or know they come from the same school…. And this isn’t racist or classist or anything like that, it just means that we want to have a grasp of some aspect of who the people are that are interacting so closely with our kids.

It’s interesting that the authors want to celebrate young people’s agency when it comes to doing what they want to do in regards to digital media but condemn adults’ agency when their choice is not to participate in digital media.  Maybe I’m missing the point a bit. Of course the idea is to shrink the gap between what young people and adults know about digital media, but at the same time, the authors are making the point that young people are actively trying to retain that gap.  Adults need some help in trying to close it.

It’s nice to hear then that, as Henry puts it, “there are spaces where adults and youth have extremely healthy cross-generational interactions”.  However, I’m interested to know where the interests of, let’s say, young teens and adults intersect however – and how often misunderstandings derail interaction simply because of the maturity gap. (Is there a maturity gap online in the same way there is in person?) Maybe, as the reading points out, there are opportunities for adults to give kids insight into their problems… but is it effective when that adult may have next to no knowledge about the context of that problem or that person?

Since my kids are adolescents, I can appreciate the idea that we must recognize this period as kids being in a “state of becoming” who are looking for “opportunities to learn.” I think Mimi’s argument that adults need to recognize that they exhibit some of the same unappealing behaviors that their kids do is old. Yes we all realize that we have to model better behavior for our kids. It’s not that we as parents don’t realize it, it’s that we have trouble actually changing our behavior even knowing that we are setting a poor example. I don’t agree with danah’s argument that young people are pigeonholed as the ones that are oversharing. I hate oversharing and, as far as I see, adults are the ones most at fault. Perhaps it’s just because I don’t have as much contact with young people on social media, but certainly that are adults that spend far too much time chronicling their own li9ves without asking anyone if they care to hear it. Again, I see the authors railing against a situation that I am not sure exists. (Of course that doesn’t mean it doesn’t, but they seem to be attributing issues of digital media participation that cross age lines and creating a delineation – that when young people do it they get demonized and we should pay more attention to when old people do it).

I found it interesting that Mimi argues we see the digital generation as one mass and don’t distinguish among populations that are more and less privileged and how the same kind of media impacts different populations. It reminds us that it is not just the message that makes an impact but the way it is received and by whom.

Chapter 3

Genres of participation get into the idea of “hanging out, messing around and geeking out”. Focus is on friendship-driven learning and participation – motivated by social connection. Messing around is exploring digital tools and techniques. Hanging out leads to geeking out – the kind of online participation that connects people around interests not necessarily around seeking information.

As pointed out in the last chapter, we have to recognize the difference in access and participation for different groups of people. Interesting that they talk about people kind of taking on alternate lives – not wanting to be associated with their “mundane lives” or lives outside the digital communities. I can certainly relate to wanting to seek out a life different from the one I live every day. This kind of enhanced fantasy gives people the chance to start over and be valued for a different set of skills than the ones they’ve grown up with – perhaps a set that they’ve never used outside of their digital lives. What an awesome opportunity. The idea that culture picks and chooses what types of digital activities are valued and what aren’t feels to me like a cultural ebb-and-flow that exists far beyond the digital realm.  Look at music. Certain types of music – even certain types associated with certain cultures or genres of the population – were alternately disparaged, driven underground, brought to the mainstream, celebrated, then sidelined again.  I’m thinking of blues, rock, metal, rap, on and on. Back to the digital aspect of this, the hope would be that as digital access improves, some of the barriers will come down. However, we can’t assume that will be the case just as we cant assume that people operating in genres that are sidelined within the digital community currently would rather than those genres be mainstreamed – perhaps they like being in the shadows. As Mimi points out, the problem is that the position of power and resources are pretty ingrained and aren’t going to change the way cultural opinions might (or if they do, they’ll change very slowly). As she points out, just having a smartphone doesn’t change that.

I see danah boyd’s argument that the kinds of political practices that are most visible and most celebrated are being conducted by middle and upper class white people. I’m not sure that the Ferguson protests and the Black Lives Matter movement  didn’t put that theory to rest. I note that she says activism from people of color are often deemed controversial and problematic and in the case of the aforementioned protests I think there’s some validity there but I would argue there were a lot more factors that went into making the protests controversial other than just race. I think the participation gap is closing, just as the authors had hoped, but as they point out, it doesn’t mean we are all on the same playing field. However, I would argue that, as someone who is not as active in digital communities, that the divisions between us as cultural groups and digital communities stretch far beyond race and gender. With access improving, people that want to participate can do so more than ever.


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