‘Teens turn to, and are obsessed with whichever environment allows them to connect to friends. Most teens aren’t addicted to social media; if anything, they’re addicted to each other.’
So says Danah Boyd, author of It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. She makes the point that it’s tempting to think that being a ‘good’ parent means knowing everything about what your child is up to, especially now the internet makes it easier to hover, lurk and track your children’s activity.
There’s no doubt that young people do need monitoring. Teenagers sometimes struggle to control their impulses and need help in managing their priorities. It’s often much easier and far more tempting to go skateboarding, play a computer game or go on Snapchat than it is to get down to homework.
Even so, following children’s activity on the internet very closely isn’t always good for them. Young people need space with their friends and they need to manage the impressions they’re making on other people of themselves in the context of their friendships.
Danah Boyd argues that when teens move away from their families towards their friends, parents often grow anxious – and not unreasonably: there’s often a gap between parents’ goals for their children and teenagers’ own desires. Parents can fear online spaces because they make it harder to set boundaries and isolate children from values that are different, or from other teenagers who aren’t doing so well.
The answer, though, Danah Boyd says, is not to blame the technology or to condemn what teenagers are trying to do. Establishing yourself in opposition to your parents is a natural part of growing up and technology is just one of the tools teenagers are using. A tactic that’s more likely to result in success is to recognise what young people are trying to achieve and work with them to think about what they’re encountering online, helping them to achieve balance between long-term goals and short-term desires.