Of course that's the fear: Our teenagers are way overexposed as they socialize on the Net. But think for a moment about the atmosphere in which we're all living right now and how that might be shaping our thoughts about
There's a "war on terrorism" going on. Reportedly, there's a pandemic approaching. In the spring of 2006, "Dateline NBC" couldn't seem to stop airing shows featuring sexual predators, while local papers across the country were beginning to pick up on the trend and running stories about predators on MySpace. We need to remember that "what goes wrong is news," as
New York Times
political reporter Elisabeth Bumiller wrote in "The White House Without a Filter" (June 6, 2006). It's a good idea to take what the news media and
say about social networking with a good-
grain of salt.
"Fear is a very important emotion," says Boyd, who is often quoted as someone trying to
fears. It alerts us to risk, she adds, "and how to assess it." That's true for everybody, but psychologists tell us it's also one of the principal
of adolescent development: risk assessment. It's something they need to do.
Even so, every generation of parents wishes it could eliminate all risk from children's lives. And every generation of teens engages in behaviors that make parents have that wish.
A few generations ago, parents fretted over the jitterbug. In the '50s, parents worried about the sexually charged influence of rock 'n' roll. Parents in the '60s worried that experimentation with marijuana would lead their kids into lives of depravity, but somehow, those kidsthe Baby Boomersnot only survived, but also managed to grow up to run companies, universities, media empires, and the country itself.
We're not being cavalier. We're just saying that social networking is today's fear of choice. But as in every generation, despite a few casualties, the vast majority of these "users" of a different
are not being harmed even emotionally, much less physically.
We suspect that today's young people will survive this new "threat." In fact, we're confident that the positive aspects of social networking far outweigh the dangers, and based on what we now see among high-school and college students, it's clear to us that the vast majority of kids using these sites will be just fine.
And they'll be in even better shape if they consider one important caveat: If teenagers are still in denial about the social networks being their own space, they need to come out of denial. Increasingly, college admissions offices,
, and other people whom they want to impress are searching MySpace and other such sitesnot just general Web search enginesfor information about them.
What young people put in their profiles and
can not only be found by people other than their
, they can be printed out and filed online and on hard
, passed along in emails and IMs, and
and shared on
networks or third-party Web sites (more about this in Chapter 5). Social
soon will soon need spin-doctor skills as they negotiate this "superpublic"