Friday, September 15, 2006
Teens, Tech, Sex, and Cyber-bullies
What passes for teen literature these days.
Every once in a while we entertain guests overnight and we have teenagers or college students in the house. Inevitably, sometime after dinner has ended and adult conversation has gone on for awhile , I always get the question:
“Can I please use your internet?”
It seems to me that people under the age of 25 really have a hard time sustaining conversation for very long without having to get online and see what their friends are up to in cyberspace. I always feel squeamish about this request but I rarely refuse... We have the desktop in the family room in a very visible spot. I see these teenagers go online and all of a sudden there are chat windows popping up all over the place and all kinds of software flying across my screen that I’ve never seen before. In addition, as you are all well aware, they aren’t into going to bed early. If I hit the hay at 11:00 or so, there’s a good chance that they’ll still be clicking away well into the wee hours, and that makes me nervous. When I rebuilt my O/S last year I didn’t re-install Norton, because my subscription was almost up, and it slows things down too much. Therefore, I worry about where these guys go and what might wind up on my machine.
Last night I was lounging around watching Girl With a Peal Earring on the IFC when I heard Anne call me from the basement, where she was on the treadmill watching TV. She told me that I had to watch what was on Primetime on ABC.
What Are Teens Hiding on MySpace. Is the Social Networking Site a Menace to Kids or Getting a Bad Rap? (see video under "Cruel Kids, Tragic Ends", and "How Mean Can Teen Girls Be?")
It was a story about an awkward teen boy who had a few problems with depression. In fact, he was in contact with another male teen who was actually encouraging him to take his own life. In an unrelated matter, a number of teen girls from his school decided to yank his chain a bit. In a series of IM chats they gave him the impression that they were attracted to him and interested in him. When he responded positively, they turned on him and asked him how he possibly thought they could be interested in a “loser” like him. Between these two whipsaws, he killed himself. It was heartbreaking.
The Primetime program also took a look at the whole MySpace phenomenon, not only in the dangers posed to kids by adult predators, but also in the meanness, viciousness, and spoofs that occur with it, and how many kids are being devastated by the bullying from their peers. Primetime put together a controlled “role-playing” experiment in which a set of “popular” college-age boys and college-age/high-school age girls were in one group, and some slightly younger girls in were in the other group. They were given the latest in cell-phone and internet technology and left to go at it. I was amazed at how nasty things got so fast, and the boys in the experiment were stunned at how bold and forward the sexual references from the girls were. In short order, the messaging had gotten out of control….”slut… whore… bitch…”. Doctored photos… Even though they were supposed to be role-playing, feelings were getting hurt and tempers frayed. The college-age participants were also taken aback by the tech-savvy of the younger kids.
Anne has told me a few horror stories about neighbors who’ve found raunchy, explicit electronic trails left on their computers by babysitters. I don’t know…. I was in a fraternity in college and I thought I had seen and heard just about everything, but I guess things are at a whole new level now. Either that, or there are urban legends out there designed to either outrage, terrify, or titillate adults. I guess I am out of touch in a lot of ways. In even the mildest terms, just take the whole mainstream acceptance of tattoos, for example. It mystifies me. I think it’s barbarism. Where did it come from? If you go into a Barnes & Nobles now, the Romance Novel section isn’t quite what it used to be. Now there’s always a table filled with “chick porn.” I don’t get it, but maybe I’m just getting old. It’s not like it was written by Anais Nin.
In the Atlantic Online, there is an article by Caitlin Flanagan titled, Are You There God? It’s Me Monica. Flanagan explores girl-power, hooking-up, and how something that was once taboo became a favor reserved for special relationships, but has now become commonplace, casual, banal, and meaningless. A throwaway of an act. Almost a way to get rid of somebody. Is this what feminism was supposed to do? Flanagan makes tough accusations towards Planned Parenthood and other feminists.
I’m glad I’m older, and not coming of age now. Between all this and the puerile marketing they are actually making sex boring... When we were at summer camp as adolescents, just the sight of the girls in bathing suits was enough to send us swooning in a flood of hormones. Now, the young guys just seem jaded. Non-plussed. They’ve seen everything, and nothing affects them. As the father of three daughters, it worries me to think that they’ll someday be dating boys who’ve been exposed to all sorts of pornography we wouldn’t have ever dreamed of.
I also worry about my oldest daughters in this respect… They’re good kids, but they don’t run in the popular set. They are, however, very good at Drama, and they win big parts in school productions. Do I need to worry about them getting torn apart by alpha-girls? Do I need to worry about them setting up a MySpace without my knowing, or worse yet, a MySpace spoof that someone else makes about them? Ugh.