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Tag: social networking

Making Friends with Facebook: Technology has changed, but teens still just want to connect

rachel hansenThis week’s post, revealing the truth behind the hysteria about all the time girls spend on Facebook and texting, is by our talented program manager for Enlighten Education in New Zealand, Rachel Hansen. Rachel is an experienced health and wellbeing educator who has a first-class honours degree in Psychology and a Masters degree in Criminology from Cambridge University (UK). Her research has focused on youth development, youth offending and women’s health.

Every so often new research is published on just how much time teens are spending online and engaged in social media. Eye-catching headlines are designed to shock: “Teenage ‘hypertexters’ more likely to have sex, drink, use drugs”, “Psychologist Warns of Facebook Dangers”, “Facebook warning after Aust teen lured to death”.

Generation Y has never known life without internet, and at times the way their world functions seems completely foreign to many parents. I always get a chuckle from teen girls’ reactions when I explain to them how my friends and I managed to navigate girl-world without the assistance of mobile phones or Facebook. To them, social media is so essential to the way they connect with their friends that it is hard for them to imagine a world without it. The effect all this connectivity is having on our children is certainly a hot topic among parents that I speak to.

All this has got me thinking – just how different are the social habits of today’s teens to those a generation ago?

As a teenager, I spent many hours camped on our family landline. I would farewell my friends at school, and then as soon as I got home I would be on the phone. I have a note in my 1992 diary exclaiming: “Broke my phone record!!! 6 hours non-stop!!! One phonecall!!!” (My mind boggles. Did we have toilet breaks? Refreshment pauses?)

And when we weren’t talking on the phone, we were writing to one another. Pages and pages and pages. My friends and I would wave goodbye as we headed off to our respective classes or homes, and these waves would always be accompanied with “write me a letter!” When we saw each other again, we would exchange letters and keep them to read when we next had to endure separation for more than 10 minutes. Due to my hoarding tendencies, I have kept every one of these letters. And let me clarify that these are not notes – some stretch to 20 pages long!

My point is this: as a teenager I spent in excess of 20 hours a week engaging in non-face-to-face social contact – that is, telephone calls and letters. I think that this behaviour at times probably exasperated my parents, but it did not have them fearing for my future socialisation.

Today’s teenagers send messages and status updates constantly, just as I spent endless hours talking on the landline and hand-writing letters. The medium is different but the drive is the same: the desire to connect with others, explore friendships, delve deeper into one’s emotions, and understand and develop relationships. This desire has always driven teen girls’ behaviour. I suggest that when it comes to core needs and values, girls today are not that different at all to us as teens. It is just that the modes girls use to express themselves have changed.

A common theme of the concerns about social media is that it prevents girls from developing real friendships. In presenting Enlighten workshops to teen girls all around New Zealand, I see no evidence of this. I see girls hugging, talking and sharing their lives with one another. They write about how important their best friends are in their lives. Recent research by Girl Scouts USA indicates that:

despite popular perception, social networks are not necessarily a ‘girl’s best friend’ . . . The vast majority of girls prefer face-to-face communication. Ninety-two percent would give up all of their social networking friends if it meant keeping their best friend.

The study also showed that 52% of girls have used a social networking site to become involved in a cause that they care about, and more than half agree that social networking online helps them feel closer to their friends.

girls making heart signs

I acknowledge that there are valid concerns about cyber-bullying, children viewing inappropriate material and the effects on a teen’s sense of self-worth of maintaining an online profile. Along with the many milestones your child encounters on the way to adulthood, the “safe social media talk” must happen. The sooner kids learn the basics of social media and staying safe online, the better: Superclubs Plus is a safe, regulated social media site for 6–12-year-olds. In many schools in New Zealand and Australia, this is sponsored so is free to use.

Before we rush to condemn social media, it’s important to consider the many benefits of all this connectivity and how it can be a positive in our teens’ lives if used appropriately. In a previous post, Dannielle Miller has discussed the many benefits of girls being cyber-savvy:

Technology has the capacity to allow for connecting, creating, informing and educating. Let’s not allow fear to drive us to further isolate and limit our girls. Rather, let’s inspire girls to get savvy and to use ICT as a tool to meet their own needs.

One of the big concerns parents have regarding social media is privacy. However, ironically Generation Y is far more conscious of privacy online than their parents. According to Education IT consultant Robyn Treyvaud:

The Gen Ys who have been hanging out on Facebook for a while understand the implications of the privacy changes Facebook have implemented four or five times since December. I give them a lot of credit and we’ve got a lot to learn from them. We do fall into the trap of thinking we know better than them.

Furthermore, research by Mary Madden of the US-based Pew Internet Project this year found that

contrary to the popular perception that younger users embrace a laissez-faire attitude about their online reputations, young adults are often more vigilant than older adults when it comes to managing their online identities” . . . Young people were very aware of their online reputation – customising privacy settings and limiting the information about them that appears online.

I think it is too easy for parents to dismiss social media and demonise it. Parents who ban their teenagers from social networks or widely condemn their use are doing their children a disservice. As one writer put it: “Is Facebook really worse for teenagers’ brains than the mindless reruns of Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch that their parents consumed growing up?”

I use Facebook regularly for connecting with friends, meeting like-minded people and keeping up-to-date on the latest research and news in my fields of interest. I live in (relatively) small-town New Zealand and I have many wonderful friends in my town. But Facebook allows me the luxury of connecting with a wide range of people who share my passions. I would feel professionally isolated without social media. Similarly I have heard numerous stories from quirky teens who just don’t have a social group they fit in with in their small town. The beauty of the internet is that regardless of how quirky your interests are, it’s guaranteed that somewhere there is someone else sharing your interests. For some teens, finding an online community of like-minded people can literally be a lifesaver.

Social networking icons by: ZyMOS [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Beyond Cyber Hysteria — Part 1: What is working?

I have recently begun presenting seminars for parents on how they can best support their children — girls and boys — to manage cyber world. This new seminar is called “The good, the bad and the ugly of cyber world”. (To make a booking for me to present this at your school, please email me: danni@enlighteneducation.com.)

When we hear disturbing news reports about children who have been tormented to the point of desperation by cyber-bullies, or groomed and exploited by online predators, it is tempting to want to simply shut the technology off! Yet whilst it is important to be alert and aware of the dangers, it is also important to take a balanced approach and recognise the huge opportunities that technology has opened up for us all. Over the next few weeks I want to share some of the insights I present in my new seminar and offer parents and schools some ways forward.

1197866_open_door_classics_3Firstly, what is the state of play?

Make no mistake, we are all wired up. Some fascinating cyber facts can help put the scale of change into perspective.

— It has been estimated that there are:

  • 1.73 billion internet users worldwide, with 20,970,490 in Oceania and Australia
  • 234 million websites
  • 126 million blogs
  • 27.3 million tweets posted on Twitter every day
  • 260 billion page views on Facebook per month
  • 1 billion videos viewed on YouTube every day.
  • 90 trillion emails were sent in 2009 (81% were spam).

— What are teens doing online?

  • 14% blog
  • 8% use Twitter
  • 8% visit virtual worlds
  • 38% share content
  • 62% get news
  • 48% buy things
  • 31% get health, dieting and fitness information
  • 17% get information about sensitive topics.
  • 41% of the Australian population has a social network profile, and 70% of them have 2 or more.
  • And about a third of high school students interviewed said they learned about sex predominantly through viewing pornography on the internet. (More on the implications of this for the development of healthy sexuality and positive relationships in another post!)

As I’ve argued in a previous post and in my book The Butterfly Effect, in our rapidly changing world, connection is vital. All young people need to not only be able to read and write in print media, but to be multi-literate — that is, to be competent in the manipulation of a range of media. There is considerable evidence that whilst girls are more successful at reading and writing than boys, more girls than boys are in trouble in relation to ICT literacy. NSW Department of Education and Training research tells us that:

girls (in Australia) were more inclined than boys to see IT as boring (36% compared to 16%) or difficult (23% to 11%). These factors result in more boys than girls studying technology related subjects. Analysis of NSW High School Certificate (HSC) 2002 computer programming student population revealed that only 17% of the total entrants were female. The trend is also demonstrated in the TAFE sector with women comprising approximately 40% of all Information Technology enrolments for 2001. This indicates a decrease in enrolment share from 1996 when women accounted for 50% of IT enrolments.

This trend is evident right across Australia and in New Zealand. If it continues, young women are at risk of becoming part of the information-poor and of being excluded from the new and emerging jobs of the future. Let’s not allow fear to drive us to further isolate and limit our girls. Rather, let’s inspire girls to get savvy and to use ICT as a tool to meet their own needs.

On the positive side, technology has the capacity to allow for:

Connecting. Whilst we often hear negative reports about teen girls behaving badly on Facebook, Enlighten Education’s Facebook page has become a testimony to the capacity young women have to be thankful and engage in meaningful dialogue about issues that matter to them. We have had almost 3,000 teen girls join since we launched it earlier this year and we have had only one negative comment posted on the wall to date. Girls post images that inspire them, point out ads they find sexist or limiting and offer their thoughtful opinions on topics we pose for discussion.

find_us_on_facebook_badge

Informing. There are some fabulous sites out there for young people. Some of my personal favourites include: www.myfuture.edu.au (career information), www.reachout.com.au (youth-friendly information on topics such as depression and eating disorders), www.whatareyoudoingtoyourself.com (aimed at curbing teen binge drinking), www.mypopstudio.com (a creative play experience that builds media literacy skills), www.newmoon.com (a safe online community especially designed for young girls), www.latrobe.edu.au/psy/projects/bodylife/ (a free online program to assist girls with body image dissatisfaction), www.operationbeautiful.com (a grassroots movement aimed at ending negative self talk).

Creating. Many girls are creating their own blogs and websites to promote causes that matter to them. I love teen girl Parrys Raines’ site, www.climategirl.com.au, where she discusses all things planet-loving. My own teen, Jazmine, posts her amazing photography on Tumblr so she can share and get feedback from other budding photographers.

Educating. Many schools are doing incredibly innovative things with technology and have moved way beyond encouraging students to make their own PowerPoint presentations. Greg Whitby, Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta, is widely considered to be at the forefront in encouraging teachers to use ICTs (information communication technologies) as enablers to facilitate deep learning. He shares some of his favourite sites that promote true collaborative learning at his very good blog: www.gbwhitby.parra.catholic.edu.au.

So, Step 1: Join in! Get to know the online world your daughter or students inhabit.

Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

—Mark Twain.

Familiarity with the online world will become increasingly important as you learn some of the strategies that will help you protect children and ensure they are safe online — more on that next week.

Embracing cyber world

Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph ran a disturbing story on the rise of cyber related sexual harassment in our schools recently. 

This story serves as a reminder that we need to equip girls to use technology safely and wisely, and educate all young people on just what is, and is not, acceptable behaviour on line and indeed within our society as a whole. There are a number of sites that offer advice on on-line safety: www.cybersmart.org, www.wiredkids.org, www.wiredsafety.org, www.cyberbully.org, www.besafeonline.org.

Whilst we should exercise caution, what we must not do is get so panicked by stories of cyber-evil that we ban our girls from on-line participation. A recent study by the Australian Clearinghouse for Youthstudies showed that one of the main reasons young people who have been harassed on-line do not report their negative experiences is due to a fear of having their access to technology removed. They want to stay connected and worry that adults who do not fully understand the technology will think banning it is the solution.    

Make no mistake, in our rapidly changing world, connection is vital. All young people need to not only be able to read and write in print media, but to be ‘multi-literate’, to be competent in the manipulation of a range of media. There is considerable evidence that whilst girls are more successful at reading and writing than boys, more girls than boys are in trouble in relation to ICT literacy. NSW Department of Education and Training research tells us that:

..girls (In Australia) were more inclined than boys to see IT as boring (36% compared to 16%) or difficult (23% to 11%). These factors result in more boys than girls studying technology related subjects. Analysis of NSW High School Certificate (HSC) 2002 computer programming student population revealed that only 17% of the total entrants were female. The trend is also demonstrated in the TAFE sector with women comprising approximately 40% of all Information Technology enrolments for 2001. This indicates a decrease in enrolment share from 1996 when women accounted for 50% of IT enrolments.” 

This trend is evident right across Australia and in New Zealand. If it continues, young women are at risk of becoming part of the information-poor and of being excluded from the new and emerging jobs of the future. Let’s not let our own fears drive us to further isolating and limiting our girls. Rather, let’s inspire girls to get savvy and to use IT as a tool to meet their own needs.    

Educator Bronwyn T Williams offered a refreshing approach towards connecting girls who may be reluctant users of IT in her 2006 article for the Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy:

Rather than trying to find ways to help girls use computers in the same ways boys do, how do we help them build on their strengths to find new, creative, and feminist ways of designing and using computers? For example, if girls have been less interested in learning computer programming and software design, including literacy-connected software, perhaps this can be traced to a perception that such work is not relevant to their interests. But when interests such as the desire to build relationships or engage in more character-driven narratives are foregrounded as the goal, girls may be more intrigued…”

If your girls seem uninterested in learning IT skills, use some of the mediums they do enjoy, such as social networking sites, blogging etc as the hook to connect them to the wider possibilities the on-line world allows.

Finally, let’s not lose perspective. Although there are perils in cyber world, there are also some excellent sites (see my “Links”, column right, for some of my favourites) and invaluable opportunities for on-line collaboration. The good far outweighs the bad.

I hope the sites below will inspire you to encourage your girls to be multi-literate. Thanks to Judy O’Connell from blog Hey Jude for the great resources:

I particularly love the Nerd Girls “About” statement: 

Nerd Girls are everywhere, from Tina Fey to Ugly Betty. The celebrity culture of vapid, shallow girls with little to offer is rapidly losing its allure – and the media, from Newsweek to Vanity Fair, has picked up on the emergence of a new type of female role model. Nearly all the tech companies are now offering gadgets designed specifically for girls. Our mantras “Smart is Sexy” and “Brains are Beautiful” have begun to resonate with women across the world. And, as more women seek higher education in technology and engineering fields, Nerd Girls hopes to encourage and empower them make a difference in our world.”

Go nerd girls!

 

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