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Growing Up Online
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So how do you view the Internet's impact on kids? Do you worry about it - or not?  And do you have a story to share?

children in a computer laba child on a webcama child using a laptop in her bedroom

Dear FRONTLINE,

You'll have to excuse my lack of brevity, for I was a blogger for just about half a decade. And for me thats a terrifying idea, as I've only recently turned 21. That said, I suppose it should be obvious that I am someone who grew up online. I had two screen names before the time I turned 13 years old, and in high school I had more friends via my ISP than "IRL" (In Real Life) and could by-pass my school district's internet blockades.

For those who aren't web-savvy, don't get the wrong idea. I'm not the sterotypical anti-social, swallow-skinned codester. I'm an anthropology student who just so happens to enjoy the comforting glow of my monitor.Conversely, my aunt still won't allow my cousins to be online without some supervision (I had a computer in my room since late in my middle school years), and though I respect her want to protect her children, I believe it's much the same as not allowing them to walk across a street by themselves to see, well, whatever it is thats there.

Alright. Enough with the similies, I'll just continue back the the subject:I was very pleased with this program, actually. The comments about many/most of internet predators' "preys" are really participants were the first of that kind I have heard. While I wasn't surprised, it felt good to get confirmation. The attempt to explain how real life and the internet life converge, I believe, was a tad ambitious with the time alloted to it. I believe that how someone looks their relationship with the online world is subject to how much time they spend on it, as well as how and where.

I think theres still a lot more that could have been covered. Basically everyone knows abbreviations like "LOL". The advent of internet/text messaging typography is nearly pandemic in the majority of young writers. I've peer-reviewed college papers where the author didn't write out the full word "you", and so on. For years I've wanted to make a research project over the further (rapid) evolution of 'internet language', as it seems to be a driving force in the next new change in the English language.

I'd be more than happy to continue, but for fear of being long winded I'll end here.

Andrea Russell
Houston, Texas

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

More to say? Producer Rachel Dretzin wants your ideas for a follow-up to Growing Up Online. Click here to read her blog, view a video message from her and learn how to share your story.

Dear FRONTLINE,

I'd like to clarify one important point regarding the email that was sent to parents informing them of the events surrounding the concert. The email said, verbatim:

Dear Parents,

Hundreds of Chatham teens attended the OAR concert on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. We have heard numerous reports of widespread underage drinking and understand that a number of children from the area were hospitalized for alcohol poisoning. Many of you may not be aware of this behavior on the trains to and from as well as at the concert, and may want to have a conversation with your child on this topic.

No photos were sent or mentioned, no links included, no judgements rendered.

I appreciate the opportunity to clarify this point.

Evan Skinner
Chatham, NJ

Dear FRONTLINE,

I wanted to make a comment about something Mr. Maher had said. As an educator, I do agree that the use of technology in the classroom is extremely important. When it comes to piercing the veil and making an impact on the students, its use is well proven. Where I disagree with Mr. Maher is in the total reliance on online sources. Mr. Maher to me seems to be flagging to the internet rather than harnessing it. He states that it is more important to know how to data mine than to read a primary source and form your own ideas. As he states this ability may serve you well as a marketer or salesman, and in this case he is right. Unfortunately , in real life, cheating and plagiarism can cost you a great deal. Also if you are seeking a higher level college degree , the ability to research and cite primary sources or read a book is paramount. You can't "spark note" your CPA degree. There is not an abbreviated digital set of law library books that you must read for law school. Face book will not help you pass your nursing boards. The internet is fine but let us not forget the basic skill of being able to read a real book and develop your own thoughts and put them down is much more important than being able to cut and paste.

Philip McNulty
McHenry , IL

Dear FRONTLINE,

I believe our society is becoming dominated by the internet and cell phones. Hours of everyday are devoted to staring at a screen. Cell phones have become dangerously intrusive and incorporated into our lives. I watch people constantly staring at some gadget in their hand or cooworkers checking text messages literally every minute. How much productivity loss can our economy endure in our current economic swamp? Not to mention what texting is doing to our language. I hate cell phones with a passion and would never encourage others to be duped by the executives running this money-making circus. Any phone you buy is obsolete by the time you walk out the door and they know that.

Justin Keith
Boston, Massachusetts

Dear FRONTLINE,

Ten years ago or so I was working in the media center at a local Community College. They installed this automated media delivery system which at the time was state of the art technology. I took to managing it quite easily but some of the faculty were so technophobic that they couldn't understand it. Too bad. When I hear all these mid-lifers complain about their kids knowing computers/internet than they do I think "Whose fault is that!!??" Go take a class; its time to get on board, man.

Tony John
Dayton , Ohio

Dear FRONTLINE,

It seems that this show depicts the culmination of shallowness in American society. It is an intriguing topic.

When I view the philosophies of these young people it leaves me wondering how advanced and regressed of a civilization we are. Kids estranged under the same roof from parents and kids that are proud of not reading and using cliff notes ...

Indeed, there is a certain numbness to it all.

Roy C.
Boise, ID

Dear FRONTLINE,

I have showed this video to my grad students who are preparing to become teachers. Although they are all familiar with face book and my space, this particular video has sparked some very important and valuable discussions about why teachers must be aware of the influence of the internet on their students.

millis, ma

Dear FRONTLINE,

I saw a rebroadcast of this show and am only now reading the comments about it. I'm not surprised Evan Skinner was called out for her behavior, though I understand the position of those who believe that intrusiveness of this sort is better than a dead child. I think there was more going on at the Skinner household than met the eye; from my point of view, it looks as though Mrs. Skinner was having trouble with her children's growing independence and did not show them the kind of respect as individuals that they need and deserve. But that's just an outsider looking in - which is what this show basically was all about.

I agree that the program was still in fear-mongering mode, and don't think it did enough to provide balance to the discussion. I'm a middle-aged woman and have my own blog. I, too, enjoy the camaraderie one can find with like-minded people online, and use the Internet to express myself. I have also felt the sting of flame wars and communities that turn rancid. In my opinion, it would help if parents met their children where they are - in a media-savvy world - learn from their children about this online world (if they don't already know) and teach them what they need to know to negotiate the rest of the environment.

Skokie, Illinois

Dear FRONTLINE,

In the first segment, the girl looking into the webcam saying that her parents aren't home and she can be as loud as she wants:What song is it that she's dancing to?

Seattle, WA

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

The song is "Sweetness" by Jimmy Eat World.

Dear FRONTLINE,

I found this information enlightening. I am a teacher and can relate to the fact my students knowledge of the internet far surpasses mine at this time. I am however determined to learn. I am impressed with the candor of the young lady and her parents about her myspace profile. I have students that use social networking and want to more informed. Thank you for your work and the presentation made available to us.

Grand Island, Ne

Dear FRONTLINE,

Hi. I am a mom of a teen. I am Chair of her School Council at school. I am in the process of picking issues that teens face today and finding speakers for that for the upcoming school year. I often poll my child and her friends for what they are dealing with. I happened across this show on 6-24-08. I can not thank you enough for broadcasting this episode. It was SO informative that I made my daughter watch it and I am discussing this episode with our school principal for a topic for our Parents And Teen awareness program that I am kicking off. So many parents are unaware of the dangers that our teens face. ALL too often our teens don't have anyone for info except each other and their info is waaay off base. So my mission is to give info to the teens at our school that they can refer back to when they deal with things... Wish me luck! AWESOME JOB PBA you really got this right!!

LISA LEHMAN
kennesaw, ga

Dear FRONTLINE,

I enjoyed the program "Growing Up Online". It was quite informative and thought-provoking. I am a fellow MySpace, Facebook, and instant messaging user. As the show stated, most [pre-]teenagers know to ignore or report the predators they meet online and I knew that, too. I commend what Mrs. Skinner is doing by protecting her children, but I do agree with what Cam said, she takes it to the extreme. EVERY single parent, regardless if they're computer-literate or not (which is not an excuse), should keep tabs on what their kids are doing online.

I believe that one of the most common problems that make teens rebel, cut, turn to drugs/alcohol, or commit suicide is having a family who does not understand them, that does not love them, or that are too overbearing. The parents (and even other siblings) should desire and want to learn and understand who their kids are, what they love (and don't love) to do, what they aspire to do in life, and to ultimately respect and promote their [pre-]teenagers self-esteem and well-being; not saying that parents are not in charge, they very much are. Parents that argue with, yell at, or cut down their teenager are doing the most harmful things to their [pre-]teenagers, which is far worse than the predators that the parents are worried about!Once parents come to earn their [pre-]teenagers trust, then they can responsibly (but not overbearingly) protect and monitor their activity online while upholding positive online and offline lifestyles. Obviously, this is all my opinion among millions of parents and that of fellow peers.

Frontline, keep this program frequent in your lineup on and offline. I think it has a positive effect overall. The teens who disagree are `really' agreeing at heart and want their parents and family to understand them and love them for who they are.

Thanks a lot!

Andrew Coody
Douglasville, Georgia

Dear FRONTLINE,

Hello. I just watched this and I decided that I need to go online and tell you what I thought of this program. As a thirteen(almost fourteen) year old going into high school, I get where kids are coming from when they don't want their parents to know what they are doing. I admit I have been the same way. Like some of the kids you featured, I spend A LOT of time online, because I can't text message so its the quickest way to talk to friends. I don't have a myspace, but I'm allowed to get a facebook when I turn fourteen.

I agree with a lot of what the adults are saying. How we need to be more careful and cautious on the internet. At the same time, most teenagers aren't stupid enough to give internet users that we don't know our cell phone numbers and addresses. Most of us only message people we know.

I want to talk about cyber-bullying and my encounters with it. What happened to the one boy on your program was incredibly tragic and my heart goes out to the family. I, too, have been bullied. A kid in my class made a youtube video saying that a girl in my class and I were gay and we were dating. The girl had a mental condition and he made fun of it. I found out about it in school and told my mother. She immediately told the principal who told the kid's parents. Most of the kids in my class thought that it was harmless and and I was wrong to tell my mother. I think that if it was them, they would be mad someone called them gay and made fun of them where the whole world could see it.

Frontline, I hope you do a rebroadcasting of this program because I found it interesting and it opened my eyes to more about the world wide web.

Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Dear FRONTLINE,

My name is Marina McNamara, I am fifteen years old and have just finished watching your "Growing up Online" program. I would like you to know that it frightened me, I was frightened by the connections I was making with the other teenagers. I feel the same; that online you can be completely free and open about who you are. When I log on to my myspace account (for the most part that is daily) I spend about an hour to an hour and a half just answering messages, meanwhile in between letters I am usually texting several people, it has become very unusual to see me without my cell phone in hand. And this scares me, it's like I'm addicted to being connected, I imagine others must feel the same way. When I haven't spoken to someone within an hour I start to feel more depressed, I don't know why but I do. My point is that your program showed me that teens really do have the desire to stay connected as to not loose touch, but in reality we are.

Marina McNamara
Wheat Ridge, Colorado

Dear FRONTLINE,

I watched this 'Growing up online' program a few minutes ago, and just wanted to share my life and how the internet impacted and still impacts it.

Well, I'm a thirteen year old girl, but already I have dealt with a lot of problems in my life. About a year or so ago, I became horribly depressed. I hardly ever left my room, I didn't like talking to my parents, and I had a very grim outlook on life.

But then, there was the internet.

It was probably the one thing that kept me from hurting myself, or worse. I was a shy girl, and was also online. But I looked around, rarely talked to people, and mostly observed how it works. I discovered a thing, or concept if you want to call it that, called 'fandoms'. At first I thought it was silly to obsess over a show and characters. But I myself soon became engrossed in it. I soon stumbled upon a site called deviantART, where people post their art and things like that. I was always a very artsy person, and loved drawing. But it actually took me awhile to build up the courage to actually sign up there. It took even MORE to even post any art XD. I wasn't very good, but I gained skills through other people who would critique me.

While searching the internet, I would always come across the words 'anime' and 'manga'. I knew they were from Japan, but I felt like I should stay with my own fandom which was centered around a american cartoon called "Xiaolin Showdown". I was almost too proud to look at other things. I discovered that not seeing the anime style was impossible. And eventually became a anime/manga fan myself. Specifically of the series called Naruto/Naruto shippuden.

I won't go into all the details of my experiences, I will say that waiting every week for a new chapter to come out from Japan, and waiting for someone to translate it online. Was one of the things that would get me through the week.

Now I have a much happier outlook on life, and breaking out of my shell to talk to people has given me a boost of confidence. I don't think people know how much small comments like "You're so smart!" or "I love how you draw" really help me against the drama filled battle called life. So now, I'm actually taking Japanese language lessons, and I hope that when I go to college, I can spend the year there and be a assistant English teacher.

In my situation, I think that I can proudly say that the internet changed me for the better, and made me a happier person in general.

Melissa Kalfayan
Belleville, Michigan

Dear FRONTLINE,

Well, I just watched this special on Comcast On Demand and I have to say it was definitely one of the best reports on this type of subject I have ever seen. Most specials on this subject are usually ignorant and offensive. Coming from a fifteen year old teen, good job.

One thing I didn't notice was that you only seemed to focus on the majority of teenage internet goers. The majority being those who have these wild Myspaces, Facebooks, etc. Ones who spend their whole time chatting about things that include "Oh my god, did you see him today he was so hot!" and typically spending their time online as if they were just hanging with friends.

Now, this is not saying that you didn't include the other topics of this subject. Suicide, bullying, sexual predators, etc. and all were featured and well reported with testimonies from the teenagers themselves instead of (and I say this in the nicest way possible) some smug reporter who thinks they know all of the answers.

What I am getting at is that I didn't see much of the little group of teenagers, like myself, who goes to the internet not only to connect with friends (bearing in mind, these connections aren't made as extremely and the representations of ourselves are not as vivid and expressive) and do the typical teenager on the internet thing, but to connect for reasons like having deep, intellectual discussions with people of your own level. I have had discussions with people across the world about things like why nightmares occur, what is love, the 2008 election, and more topics that as a fifteen year old high school student, I would not normally have the opportunity to discuss these things so deeply with other people.

I just thought I would try and point this out to you, PBS, because you actually listen. If I were to voice my thoughts on some big report done by Fox News or NBC it would probably get overshadowed. The internet doesn't need to be viewed as this scary machine that is out to take every child's life over. It's an important tool for people to express themselves on topics that anywhere else, they would get ignored.

I also know that that kind of statement goes both ways. When you think of a teenager expressing himself on the internet you immediately think of a child on Youtube or something complaining about his parents. I think it shouldn't be that way. Parent's should encourage their kids to express themselves in an intellectual manner on different important (and even unimportant) topics without the typical teenage fanfare that is filled with expletives and ignorance.

I'm not sure if I am rambling on, so I just want to end with this:

Good job PBS. You delivered a great special that I highly enjoyed. It showed the worst of what is going on these days with teenagers on the internet without any of the typical monotony we have to go through to get the kind of answers we need.

Thanks,

Chris Marx
South Park, Pennsylvania

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posted january 22, 2008

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