An article in The Atlantic by Caitlin Flanagan (you can read the first page here but they don’t have the full thing online for free; I bought mine at the newsstand) called “Babes in the Woods” details the perils MySpace and other social networking sites present to children and teens.
The article doesn’t cover any novel ground. Here are the highlights:
-Myspace is huge with kids
-Kids are often mean to each other and this carries over online
-Kids are naive about the intentions of others
-Kids put a lot of personal information online
-It’s really easy to track a kid down in real life using their myspace profile
-Parents are mostly clueless about their kids’ online activities
Flanagan, a former school teacher, details the above at length, and even describes how she easily finds and tracks down a student from a local high school via MySpace and Google. This is clearly meant to shock and startle the aforementioned parents: while they weren’t looking, the world beat a path to their child’s bedroom door.
Now, I’m not a parent. Nor am I a particular partisan of social networking sites. However, Flanagan’s implicit starting assumption seems to be that a child’s social interactions must be managed, and all contact with other people is potentially harmful. To me, this seems, well, paranoid. Other than implying via some allusions to the NBC show “To Catch Predator” that there are of armies of pedophiles banging on the gates of digital Rome, Flanagan doesn’t really explain why a kid’s on-line presences is such an awful thing.
She gives a lot of time to school bullies “following kids home” via the internet, but doesn’t do enough to distinguish online bullies from adults looking to abuse kids. Being able to find a map to the kid’s school online doesn’t help the bully any, he already sees the kid there every day. Meanwhile, the faceless stalker lurking online can’t inflict emotional torment by dropping their quarry from their “Top 8 Friends”.
All of Flanagan’s discussion is anecdotal; she doesn’t offer any statistics about internet predators or cyberbullying, so the reader doesn’t get any sense of the real risks, and I think she’s overstated her case.
It’s journalism, that, however well-intentioned, and however real the dangers to the MySpace generation might actually be, ultimately fails because it appeals to the reader’s gut but neglects the reader’s head. Come on Atlantic, you can do better.
Interactions between kids and unfamiliar adults may not be automatically sinister, but I’m sure you are horrified to know that grown men sometimes mingle with ‘tweens at Pokemon tournaments (second and fourth posts).