Teens Are in the Driver's Seat
Web 2.0 is not going away anytime soon, and it's hardly something we can control (except maybe in our own homes). In fact, the interactive, user-produced Web is driven by people under 30, according to a May 2006 Pew Internet & American Life study of broadband Internet access. The report, "Home Broadband Adoption 2006," found that "fully 51% of 'under 30' home broadband users have posted content to the Internet, compared with 36% of home high-speed users older than 30."
So the socializing or creative networking part of Web 2.0 is not only here to stay, but increasingly what the Web is all about. The Web is not just a teens' hangout, but also their storage locker, research tool, communications tool, entertainment medium, and news channeland the distinctions between these functions are increasingly blurred.
However, here's what we do know:
Internet natives. Our kids are the "digital natives," or those who have not known life without the Internet. And we "digital immigrants" need to interactto learn as we teach media literacy and online safetyso we can effectively parent our Net-fluent children.
Influence vs. control. The more we try to control a user-driven medium like Web 2.0, the more workarounds its producers findwhether we're talking about laws or parenting. In this media environment, it's the responsible Web sites and obedient kids who are reached by the rules, not the irresponsible or defiant ones. Some fresh thinking, parenting, and governing are needed if we want to influence the latter.
A blurred distinction. More and more of our kids' lives are either online or mirrored online, as the distinction between online and offline continues to fade in their minds.
A healthy skepticism. The need for critical thinking about whom we're interacting with and what we're consuming and expressing is only growingfor all of usbecause so much is done in public and can be recorded forever.
Identity play. Wherever anonymity is allowedwherever IDs can't be confirmedteens will play with identity by trying on different personas, which is usually, but not always, constructive.
Support risk asssessment. Teens experiment and take risks in the process of learning who they are socially, emotionally, and physically, and we do them a disservice if we don't let them or if we try to remove all risk.
Uploading too. On Web 2.0, parents need to be concerned not only with inappropriate material that kids "download," but personal information and material that they "upload."
Perspective needed. We need to put risks into context. While there are dangers in social networking, children face a far greater danger from people they already know. Do we ban school, religious and family gatherings because of the risk of predators in those venues, or do we teach our kids critical thinking skills that can protect them online and offline?
Life literacy/tech literacy. Remember "Parental guidance suggested." Transfer all that good parenting sense you already have into cyberspace. Don't worry if you don't have your kids' level of tech literacythey can help you with that. They need your guidance on life literacy.
Interactive solution development. It's OK that parents don't have all the answers. Schools, lawmakers, and law-enforcement people don't either. Nor do we, of course. Not having all the answers forces us all to talk about social networkingin our homes, schools, and communities. This interdependence is a good thing because on a user-driven, social Web, the solutions need to be collective, interactive, and evolving too.