Anastasia Goodstein covers Generation Y in her blog YPulse. She has worked for Current TV, AOL, and Oxygen TV. She recently published a book that will help you understand the online activities of young people called Totally Wired: What Teens and Tweens Are Really Doing Online.
Question: How does being totally wired change being a teenager?
Answer: Teenagers are connected to each other, lots more information, and media 24/7. They need parents and adults to set limits on this use and act as guides as to what’s credible as well as to help them be more media and marketing savvy. It means that there is a new way of communicating that adds an element of distance, the possibility of anonymity, and the reality of much of this communication is public or can easily be made public.
Question: What are the positives and negatives of this development?
On the positive side, teens can say more digitally than they might feel comfortable with sharing in person. On the negative side, you can be meaner when you can’t see that person’s reaction—this has led to the new term cyberbullying. People should check out Cyberbully 411.
Teens are learning, often by making mistakes, that what they post online can be seen by more than just their friends. They are learning that what they post online or what others post about them, can be hard to take down, and that it can spread virally to lots more people. All of the impulses, motivations, desires, and feelings around being a teen haven’t changed, but technology definitely raises new issues and challenges we all have to deal with.
Question: Why are MySpace and the like so popular?
Answer: Teens put the “social” in social networking. Being a teen is all about individuating from your parents and spending more time with peers. We did this by hanging out in malls, parks and parking lots. Today’s teens are much more scheduled and structured, and today’s parents are more reluctant to let teens hang out unsupervised.
MySpace and other social networks have become virtual hangouts where teens can socialize without parental supervision. Teens also love decorating their MySpace pages as a way to tell the world who they are (at this week!) and find other teens who may be interested in the same things: for example, cars, video games, animal rights, and goth fashion.
Teens love being able to communicate to all of their friends with a bulletin and getting feedback through comments. Plus we all know high school is all about social status—now it can be quantified, exaggerated or minimized with the number of friends on your MySpace profile.
Question: Is banning MySpace and other social networks by schools a smart thing?
Answer: I advocate educating as opposed to legislating. Schools should bust teens for using MySpace when they shouldn’t be but don’t block it. Educators have a role to play in teaching teens when it’s appropriate to be on MySpace and when it isn’t, as well as what is kosher to post and what isn’t—and what it means to maintain a public profile.
Blocking technology doesn’t teach teens how to use technology safely and ethically or how to think critically about the sites they visit. For many low income teens who still may not have computers or access to the internet at home, a school library, public library or federally funded after school program are often the only places they can participate in Web 2.0 at all. If we block and ban these sites, a whole population will miss out on what their peers have access to at home.
Question: Is the danger of online predators exaggerated?
Answer: Yes. They’re out there, for sure, and parents should be talking to tweens and teens about how to be smart and safe online, i.e. don’t talk to strangers – even those who say they are teens, don’t post too much personal information, etc. But the reality is that more kids are abducted by someone they know, usually an estranged parent or relative than by strangers.
Kids and tweens are much more vulnerable to being manipulated by online predators and are usually experimenting with identity themselves at that age, so they may venture into an adult chat room and say they are 25 “just for fun.” Older teens mostly just ignore creepy adults, reject them as friends or tell them to go away. They’re there to socialize with their friends, most of whom they already have relationships with offline.
Question: Why do teenagers blog?
Answer: Some teens still keep written diaries with their deepest thoughts scrawled in them hidden away in their bedrooms, but this generation is more comfortable putting that stuff out there for their friends—and often the general public—to read.
Most teens blog as yet another way to communicate with their friends. They are more about the commenting back and forth and keeping the conversation going than writing lengthy blog posts. That said, there are lots of teens who post poetry and photographs and who actively journal on their blogs as well as teens who blog about specific topics like tech or music. Check out this teen-run blog network: Random Shapes.
Question: What is healthy sexual behavior for a teenager?
Answer: That’s a tricky question. I believe in teaching teens about human sexuality with a more holistic and developmental approach vs. focusing on just whether or not to have it and what kinds of diseases you can catch if you do.
A really positive and accurate site for teens about sex is Sex, etc. Teens meeting strangers online to “hook up” is rare—it does happen, but I would venture to say it’s a teen who is already engaging in other kinds of high-risk behaviors. Is “cybering” healthy sexual activity? I’m not a psychologist, but it’s definitely safe sex!
Question: What big brands truly “get” teenagers?
Answer: I’m not saying this just because you worked with Apple, but ever since the iPod launched, teens love Apple as much as any Mac fanatic. And it’s not that Apple is marketing to them specifically, they just have created great products and design that teens are crazy about. While MTV has ceded some of its trendsetting dominance to the internet, you can’t underestimate their understanding of teens and how to reach them. Other brands teens love: Nike, Toyota Scion, Xbox, Sony PS2/PSP, and Nintendo.
Question: Coming back to MySpace, can one make the case that MySpace teaches computer and writing skills?
Answer: Any time teens are playing around with language, whether it’s coming up with a new acronym for IM or a text message, it’s a good thing—even if you have to tell them not to use shorthand in their English papers. Writing on a MySpace blog, writing messages to each other, or commenting all involves writing and language skills.
It’s not the same as structured writing in school, but any time teens are expressing themselves through the written or typed word, it can only help their writing skills. And being on MySpace definitely teaches computer skills—teens spend hours on layouts for the pages, embedding video, photos and widgets and learning how to navigate and use new sites. They have a better understanding of Web 2.0 than many adults, including their parents and teachers!