Growing Up in a Wired World: How the Internet Influences
Childhood and is Changing Parent-Child Relationships
It cannot be denied that the internet has become a normal part of life and an internet access has become as necessary as cable television or a telephone line. People use it for communication, for staying informed, and for entertaining themselves. It is not surprising that today’s adolescents and children, who have grown up in the internet age, would feel comfortable with the lifestyle offered and made possible by internet-driven technologies. The documentary, “Growing Up Online” notes that “this is the first generation to come of age immersed in a virtual world, outside the reach of their parents.” The fact that the internet is everywhere: from computers to cellular phones, and almost the entire world is on the internet, makes the internet lifestyle more attractive and more compelling for young adults who are trying to find their own space and their own voice, as depicted in the documentary “Growing Up Online.” According to the documentary, many adolescents find the internet useful because “it’s a world largely hidden from parents and teachers.”
Clearly, the internet provides adolescents the freedom to literally build and customize their own world, and social networking sites are only too happy to accommodate these kids on their web pages. It allows adolescents to “be more crazy online because there’s no one watching to see what you’re actually doing.” However, the internet also makes adolescents more vulnerable to criminals such as stalkers because of the false sense of safety that online sharing of information creates. Thus, the internet has become a source of heated debate, with some parents and other adults arguing that children “don’t realize that when they’re sharing on that keyboard, it’s, like, let Ôem on in, baby” while others have clearly learned to live with the internet as a normal part of life and in the process have also become more appreciative of their children’s creative and constructive efforts on the internet.
In “Growing Up Online,” directors Rachel Dretzin and John Maggio present both the positive and the negative effects on adolescents lives and how parents have had to contend with the responsibility of ensuring their children’s safety amidst the changing patterns of teen and children’s socialization brought about by the rise of the internet as the veritable multi-media. Most of the concerns and issues discussed in the movie were legitimate parental concerns, as Evan Skinner states: “The scariest, worst part for me is stalkers, is somebody becoming obsessed with one of my children.” However, the most interesting question that “Growing Up Online” poses is the question of children’s right to privacy and the parents’ growing sense of alienation from their kids, who have clearly found their own universe in the internet. Tory, a kid shown in the movie, states that “I’d rather not use our computer and just use it at my friend’s house than have my mom go into my personal things and my private life and, like, take charge of it. It’s my own stuff.”
What most parents fail to understand, however, is that the internet has become a normal process of growing up: today’s kids send instant messages to each other through the internet in the same manner that teenageers a decade ago burned up telephone lines chatting to their friends. Hence, the parents’ inability to comprehend the attraction of the internet only makes it more attractive as an outlet and medium for expending both negative and positive energy among teenagers. This tension in the parent-child relationship that is caused by both generation and digital gap is explicit in “Growing Up Online,” which shows a mother, Evan Skinner, describing her horror at the pictures and videos uploaded by her son and his friends into the internet after a party which showed “open, public, drinking, vomiting, on the trains going in, on the trains going out.” Unfortunately, parents’ increased efforts to establish control over their children’s internet activities often strain the relationship further. For instance, Evan Skinner’s intervention into her son’s activities, which involved sending an e-mail to other parents about the drinking spree, made him “cut off his family being involved in his life, other than we have dinner.”
Instead of worrying about adolescents’ online activities, parents should also see the benefits of the internet on teenagers’ lives. Our own experiences with the online world teach us that the effects of the internet, like any other technology, would depend on how web activities are used. For instance, the internet has made online education and the expansion of learning abilities more possible than ever. It has also allowed people to open up to other cultures and other realities, which make them more tolerant and sensitive to other people’s experiences. Most of our online activities, such as surfing the internet, also encourage teenagers to do more constructive things than destructive ones, such as creating a cool movie or taking great pictures our friends would appreciate, as C.J. Pascoe from the movie notes, “the Internet has allowed them to display that identity in a very dramatic and very succinct way.”
Perhaps the most important idea that “Growing Up Online” imparts to its audience is that parents and adults have to consider the fact that the internet is increasingly playing a significant role in adolescents’ and children’s lives and is changing their socialization patterns. Consequently, parents need to adapt to these changing patterns by being familiar with the internet in order to be able to provide appropriate guidance to their children. Parents can and should try to know if the activities that their children are engaged are as threatening as it appears to them before criticizing their children for such activities. As long as parents act like they are shocked or are intimidated by technology and are unwilling to be non-judgmental towards the non-threatening activities of their children, the latter would not want to involve them in their online lives and activities, which decreases the parents’ ability to assist them when they are being threatened or are exposed to danger through the internet. Thus, instead of focusing on the negative outcomes that the internet supposedly results to, parents and concerned adults should try to understand these activities more. As Rob Hunter in “Growing Up Online” observes, “If it’s bad, if they’re looking to hurt, that’s what they’re going to look for and they’re going to find it. But if they’re looking for a way to create or to reach out, that’s what they’re going to find on the Internet.”
Growing Up Online. Dir. Rachel Dretzin and John Maggio. PBS, 2008.