Future Tense has done a radio program about how so many parents, and other adults, are freaked out at the thought of online sexual predators trolling for children online. The result is a “tech panic”.
Via Mind Hacks
On this radio show Dr. Danah Boyd, a prominent social media expert, discusses how “we’ve pulled young people indoors in an attempt to keep them safe” and that the reason kids are spending so much time online, is because they are being kept indoors to keep them safe from offline sexual predators. And that now, even that freedom is in danger, as many parents are in a panic over online sexual predators and now want to keep them off the internet.
So I definitely follow her argument. Kids are being kept inside to keep them safe (from predators, bullies, traffic and random violence). But I don’t see much evidence that kids aren’t being allowed online, just a lot of hand-wringing over online dangers.
Further, Dr. Boyd argues that kids are “sharing social interaction, very akin to the kinds of hanging out that we saw before. In terms of adults there is little doubt that the adults fears have been a part of what has brought young people in the home”. She also argues that this is a network effect “so for example, I’ll talk to parents who way I’d love for my daughter to run out and be able to go and hang out with her friends but none of her friends are allowed to do so, so therefore she feels this pressure to be at home cause her friends are online. We see these network effects, and in order to combat this, it can’t be individual parents who say hey it’s OK for you to get on your bike again, it has to be done as a society as a whole. And that kind of cultural shift is extremely difficult to do.”
First of all Dr. Danah Boyd (and other media cheerleaders) never, ever look at why parents have become so paranoid about offline and online dangers. During the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s the homicide rate doubled (since 1990 the homicide rate has come back down, now that we have a 500% increase in the incarceration rate). This lead to a TV news obsession with crime, especially child murder and child-abduction stories since they turned out to be very good for ratings. If there were no local child-murder or child-abduction stories, then stories would be found from further afield, to other cities, states and even countries in search of good-ratings horror. Homicide and crime rates have since gone down, but not true-crime coverage. The true-crime news obsession with scaring parents out of their minds has continued as it is so very good for rating and profits.
In addition there is the “mean-world syndrome”, the idea that after watching hours of violent TV everyday, that heavy viewers see the world as much more dangerous and violent than it actually is.
Plus, where did parents even hear about online sexual predators? That’s right, scary TV news stories. So basically certain types of technology (violent media and TV news) are actually creating the environment (kids being kept inside) for the “technology panic” that Boyd decries.
Secondly Dr. Boyd argues that offline and online socializing are the same. But they are very much not the same. Studies have found that people who engage in a lot of face-to-face socializing tend to be happier and mentally healthier, and that people who spend their free time online are unhappier and more depressed.
Thirdly, she is arguing that since most kids do not play outside, that it is pointless for parents to send their kids outside to play, and thus the only alternative is for kids to do their socializing online. Again, not true. Not as convenient as plugging in the computer, but there are alternatives, such as the “Boy and Girls Club”, the YMCA, after-school programs and summer camps. Plus, for some lucky families, there is the option of moving into one of those rare neighborhoods where kids do still play outside or go to each others home to play.
“The Winter of my Disconnect” is a book by a mother concerned, not about online sexual predators, but about all the time that she and her kids were spending plugged into technology. Her solution was to turn the electricity off for 6 months (they lived in a warm climate) and go technology-free at home. Her kids spent more time together, less time with their plugged in friends and made new friends with kids who socialized face-to-face (believe it or not, kids like that do still exist).
One other point, this “Future Tense” radio show supports the adult fantasy that kids are spending most of their technology time playing video-games and socializing online. That is not the case, kids on average spend the vast majority of their screen-time in front of the TV. From the age of 6 months to 18 years old, TV is still the 800 pound gorilla compared to any other type of screen-time, and yet “media experts” and “media psychologists” rarely even mention the lowly (and passive) television.
See also “Why iPhones Don’t Go to Summer Camp”