Monday, November 21, 2011

Naughty or Nice? Teens on social networking sites

I am woefully behind, and therefore just now reading the report from Pew released November 9th: How American teens navigate the new world of "digital citizenship." Some things that strike me:
  • While I am glad that majority of young people (69%) say that their peers are "mostly nice to each other" on social networking sites, I am disturbed that 1 in 5 state that young people are mostly mean and another 11% stating that "it depends." In other words, almost 1 in 3 teens can't say that young people are mostly nice. That is a problem.
  • Almost all (90-95%) of teens say they ignore online cruelty when they see it. And 21% say that they "join in" when witnessing it.
I guess I am not surprised by that second bullet point -- at least when it comes to ignoring. It's what happens with other forms of bullying. In face-to-face environments, bullying/name calling/exclusion are seen every day at school, and youth just turn their heads, hoping it goes away, hoping it doesn't happen to them. And the joining in? That saddens me more for sure, but I can see similar motivations that drive people to ignore fueling those who are just a little more insecure, a little more scared, to jump into the fray. After all, if you are mean to someone, then perhaps the attention is directed away from you as the potential next target. Given that bullies are often bullied, there is some support for this argument.

And while it can be shocking to think of the passivity that supports (and condones?) cruelty, it's also understandable. A young person's desire to fit in is strong and developmentally appropriate. And right now, adults certainly don't provide good role models for speaking out against those who exude power inappropriately. Celebrities fights, demeaning radio show hosts, a divided Congress, and the way in which Occupy Wall Street protests are being handled, are all examples of how those in power matter and are listened to. And in all these instances, power is equivalent to putting someone else down.

If we don't redefine power and what it means to be important, how can we expect youth to do it for those of us who supposedly know better?