Shawn Douglas

Thursday - May 24, 2012

Youth on the InternetEarlier this month I brought up the topic of seniors learning to use computers and the Internet, as well as the challenges they face. Today I want to look at what our youth are doing with the rapidly changing technological landscape around them. Allow me dive right in with a few examples I’ve noted over the past few days:

• Nine-year-old Martha Payne has been blogging every weekday now for over a month about her school’s “dinner” (what many of us would refer to as “lunch”). She includes a photo of the meal, a ranking of how it tasted, how big of a portion it was, a health rating, price, and a “pieces of hair” count. In a short time her blog has received over 1.2 million page views. Why the appeal? Forbes contributor Beth Hoffman: “There has been a lot of talk about school lunches, … but until now there was not a daily check-in with someone who actually eats a school lunch.”

• The Arab Spring protests of 2011 brought to prominence several young Arab women who used social media and online journalism to make more public the local fight to overcome sexual violence and traditional gender roles. Bahrain’s Zeinab and Maryam al-Khawaja; Egypt’s Esraa Abdel Fattah; Libya’s Danya Bashir; Tunisia’s Lina Ben Mhenni: they all played important roles in this endeavor.

• 68 percent of India’s youth are reportedly using the Internet as their primary (or sole) communications platform, as opposed to 59 percent making more traditional voice calls.

Note the different themes with these examples. You have one youth using a blog for student journalism, specifically to record her experiences with her school’s meals. Other youth in the Middle East are using Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms as activist tools to spread word to the rest of the world about the local practices they so oppose. And youth in India are turning to mobile technology and the Internet to make voice and video calls, often for free. (Yes, that’s possible.) What an exciting time!

Yet as our youth continue to find simple but inspiring ways to utilize available technology, many parents are increasingly concerned about the safety of their children on the Internet, sometimes to the point of irrationality. In place of such worries should stand a less fearful and more supportive approach to allowing youth to explore the Web. I wrote about this topic in February, stating the parent who knows how to use Internet-based technology will relate better to their child and make more intelligent household Internet policies. But don’t take my word on it: a recent study seems to back that up.

This leads me back to the original question of how youth are learning about and using the Internet. Remember: they are eternally inquisitive.

“What resources do I have to find more information about the giraffe?”
“How can I share my photos and stories with my friends using technology?”
“What’s this Facebook thing I see my father using all the time?”

Of course, they’re going to want to know these things. And if someone doesn’t help them with that, they’ll surely attempt to find out for themselves. That’s why it’s important for parents, teachers, and others to demonstrate how to responsibly use blogs and social media. Don’t be afraid, share what you know, and learn what options are out there. Today, for example, Time outlined four of the safest social media sites for children under 13. If you’re a parent with an inquisitive child who wants to use social media, but you don’t want your child using it, that’s fine. However, if you’re willing to discover safe options and share them with your children, it may inspire them. Through that inspiration we’ll end up with more Martha Paynes in the world, responsibly sharing their experiences with people from all walks of life, using a little tool we like to call the World Wide Web.

Photo via Enokson, Flickr Creative Commons