For kids and teens, the online social scene is a little like what happens when 18-year-olds go off to college. Suddenly there’s a lot of freedom; people get experimental socially. Most of what happens is relatively harmless, some not. What’s different about the online scene is, the experimentation starts at a much younger age and – to an even greater degree – there are no grownups around. What I mean is, so far: 1) Parents and educators have “few clues” about what’s going on in the free- wheeling world of teen cybersocializing (Xanga.com, LiveJournal.com, Blogger.com, chat, email, IMs, file-sharing, etc.); 2) There’s an unwritten rule there that what happens online stays online (teens are reluctant to fill us in); and 3) Some of us parents even agonize about whether we should respect their privacy and not even go there (see “Daughter’s blog, mom’s dilemma”).
The thing is, there’s nothing private about it. It’s all going on in a public forum, the Internet, and the youngest online socializers (kids 9-14) generally don’t understand the implications. They don’t understand that when they post text and pictures involving peers in a public forum it can be even more hurtful, it can spread far beyond their circles, and it can be nearly impossible to take back. That’s why parents need to know what’s going on and help our kids get some street smarts. To that end, I interviewed Nancy Willard, director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use (CSRI). Nancy is also a mother of three, has taught children with behavioral difficulties, and has a background in computer and copyright law, as well as education technology. [Please see my newsletter this week for background, solutions, and links to cyberbullying stories around the country.]