What are your kids doing on their computers day after day? Do you really know
what’s happening in their online lives?
According to a recent New York Post op-ed by English professor Mark Bauerlein, even
though today’s young people possess both vast amounts of leisure time and
unprecedented opportunities for learning, they are becoming a generation of dunces.
The reason why may be seen in the title of his book—The Dumbest Generation: How
the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future.
The professor backs his complaints up with facts. A 2005 Kaiser Foundation study
showed 8- to 18-year-olds spend almost five hours per day in front of a TV or
computer screen. And consider this: four years ago, more than half of all blogs were
hosted by teens. Is that number going up? Well, as of last year, nearly one in three
online kids is a blogger. Add to this the personal profile pages that more than half
of all teens maintain and check daily, and the hours spent downloading, texting,
chatting online, etc., and it’s clear we’re looking at a major change in
how teens spend their time.
We adults might think all that time online is making our kids smarter. Not so, says
the professor. Remember the peer pressure and cliques we used to think were only
problems for school kids? Not any more. As the good professor informs us, “The
Web intensifies them [peer pressure and cliques] like never before.”
In Your FaceBookSpace
Humor columnist Michael Ackley has coined a term for kids who are on “sensory
overload from television, computer games, TV telephones and video iPods”: the
“tubeoisee.” Like the “booboisee” lamented by early
20th-century writer H.L. Mencken, they are quick to swallow plausible political
slogans and form snap judgments without actually taking the time to research the
issues. They crave popularity, which makes them susceptible to flattery and
Even worse things can happen. In a town near us a local girl, Megan Meier, committed
suicide not too long ago. Another girl, pretending to be a boy, encouraged an online
relationship with Megan and then abruptly rejected her. This became a big story
nationwide not just because of the all-too-familiar “cyberbullying,” but
because allegedly the cyberbully was paid by another girl’s mom to invent the
Even one decade ago, we could protect our kids from negative peer influences simply
by homeschooling them. But today, thanks to the Internet, negative peer influences
and endless timewasting are only a mouse click away.
So, what are we to do?
- Take away the computer. Fine option for preteens, who should be spending more
time outdoors anyway. Doesn’t work too well when teens need it for online
classes and homework.
- Password-protect the computer and rigorously control time spent online. Works if
you have the time for this.
- Use online filtering services. You have to know the names of all social
networking sites in order to block them: filters don’t consider them
- Get software that logs everything family members do online. May be necessary if
you suspect serious problems, such as porn or predators.
- Become familiar with what exactly is available online. Annoying but necessary.
- Ask your kids to “friend” you, e.g., add you to the list of those
authorized to see their profile pages. You should definitely do this.
The one bright spot is we now have a perfect answer for the “What About
Socialization?” question. The next time someone asks, just say, “My kids
are probably online right now socializing with your kids.”
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