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Beware the Tubeoisee

By Mary Pride
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #83, 2008.

Keeping tabs on our kids social media
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Mary Pride

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 temptation.

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 fake boyfriend.

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?

Options include:

  • 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 potentially harmful.
  • 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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