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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,

As a veteran high school social studies teacher who has been in the classroom for twenty-nine years, I found the comments regarding the "revolution in the classroom" decidedly one-sided. I cannot believe that there was not one word about plagiarism and the illegal nature of students going online to "steal" the words of others and submit as their own in an assignment. In fact, your narrator of the program called it "borrowing." That is exactly what some of my students try to do, but each year receive a "zero" for plagiarism after I check their sources. In the last decade, there has been a dramatic decline in the critical-thinking of high school students, their ability to construct a well-written essay, and to spell words that I learned in the fifth-grade in the 1960s. The widespread use of various forms of technology is largely responsible for this. Your program tried to qualify what the profiled high school was doing by stating how students are being bombarded on a daily basis with "media." There was no attempt on your part to balance that statement. For the most part, students are only daily linking into "social media" sources. Facebook and MySpace are widely used by students, but that it not "media." If anything, it is a by-product of these social networking media sources. The end result of such "social networking" is that students will try to submit work with "u" instead of "you" and many other lingo used online or via their cell phone messages.

The major message I took from your Frontline program was that because students socially use such technology, which has developed shorter attention spans and the demand to be entertained each day...they are now less responsible for their own learning than students were before such technology was so widespread. That is, students that are in schools that are do not have the money to afford Smartboards...and other technology in every classroom are being victimized. Don't get me wrong, I am not arguing against the merits of such technology, however, that technology should only enhance a learning environment that is predicated on the fact that "students have to meet teachers at least half way" and that "students are ultimately responsible for their own learning." Lacking such technology should not be reason for failure, but only for making success that much more attainable.

Michael Hopkins
Darlington, Wisconsin

Dear FRONTLINE,

A previous generation has already come of age online. When I was a teenager in the late 1980s and early 1990s, my friends and I were using dial-up modems to visit stand-alone Bulletin Board Systems, and other areas of the Internet such as Usenet discussion boards, gopher, IRC (internet chat) and MUDs (multi-user games). There is a plethora of research about teens and young adults going online since the mid-1980s.

You missed out on an opportunity to show how that trend affected those users, now in their twenties, thirties and early forties. Some of my friends from back then (usually male; as a girl, I was an oddity) are computer programmers, but almost all of us are interested in technology to some degree. But with our families and busy lives, we don't use technology the way we did as teens. We use Facebook as a tool to keep in touch with friends we made in real life; we think twice about how our professional career can be affected by a quick "Google" search; we use the computer for our job and for fun, but we've got other things going on, too.

You also did not describe blogging in more depth... or how it's managed to get girls and women online in even greater numbers.

And as for Cam Skinner, it's too bad we won't see a followup report when he has children of his own. His whining regarding his mother's benign and well-meant interference was thrown into sharp relief by what happened to Autumn Edows. In that case, her parents actually destroyed her work, which would be crushing for an artist or writer, and yet the family was able to empathize with one another and move on. In the long run, they will support Autumn in her new career, which looks bright.

Cam has a long way before he reaches Autumn Edows' maturity level. I presume he also has never had the experience of losing a friend or classmate to a drug overdose, as happened to me twice.

If I sound harsh, it's because as a former college administrator, I was often called out in the middle of the night to accompany one of the students in my dorm to the hospital, whether they had charcoal inserted to cut off a bad drug trip, or they were suffering the consequences of alcohol poisoning. Several of these kids were honor students.

Those complaining parents who attacked Evan Skinner over her well-meant email, for interference, are the same ones who would call me long-distance, screaming, wanting to know why I didn't keep their kid from getting in trouble or landing in the hospital. Most of them have no idea that colleges can no longer play "in loco parentis". At this age, when they're still in high school, you still have a chance to monitor their behavior. Evan Skinner is wiser than her town realizes.

S Wieland
Houston, TX

Dear FRONTLINE,

Part of what's going on with social networking is just a new outlet for the same concerns that have driven teens for decades: How do I look? Does anybody like me? Do I like myself? Fifteen years ago I worried that my high school age daughter watched far too much Oprah and MTV and that she would be too passive to engage in life. Now I see that she was just a teenager. Today, she uses her TV mostly to screen indy films, shares fiction with me, travels widely, works two jobs and chides me about spending too much time online.

I think it's too soon to measure the subtle and pervasive affects of the Internet, but certainly they're different in, say, China than in privileged white America. What looks like a safe, supportive environment to parents may not be stimulating enough for kids exploding with energy and curiosity. I'm more concerned about the boy who never reads a book, the teacher who sees technology as a tool for building slick presentations rather than digging deeper into social studies, and the mother who obsesses over her children's private communications than I am about someone stalking those kids.

Deeper self-destructive teen impulses deserve our attention, but I don't think the Internet is the root of the problem. We might look to a culture where advertising presents a never-ending array of rail-thin role models, business measures success solely by the bottom line, and the medical insurance industry favors handing out medications alone rather than insisting upon counseling from a qualified professional. The Internet may offer information about how to kill yourself or perpetuate your anorexia, but the impulse comes from somewhere else.

Carolyn Jackson
New York, New York

Dear FRONTLINE,

To see how the youth of the 21st century is completly wasting their valuable time with myspace.com, facebook, instant messanging and cell phones is just insanity! Instead of leaving school to study their subjects, do homework, read or anything to the point of actually educuating themselves they instead turn to the internet for entertainment. I think we sometimes feel that we need for instance myspace.com, in our lives in some ways in order to feel adaquate about ourselves. I do have to admit that I fall victim to the devious ways of the internt. I find myself soemtimes wasting my time just as the people in your program do every day. I think there needs to be a very big awakening to the youth and they need to see that there is more to life than facebook. I also find is sickening that anyone can find ANYTHING they want on the internt. The fact that there are websites that support anorexic and suicides is horrendous! That young people are looking this information up instead of facts about their constitutional rights is unreal. Parents need to start educuating their children and shake reality into their heads!

Noreen Mumford
westerly, RI

Dear FRONTLINE,

I am a 19 year old college student. I first got an AIM Screenname when I was 11. By the time I was 14, I had gone through 5 different names because I wanted to change my persona. Also, at 14, I had first created my page on MySpace. Now, I maintain a Facebook account. I am a definite product of the cyber age.

I have mixed feelings about this program because, though it did address social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, it did not address a major part of the latter: blogs.

The program discussed the tragic suicide of Ryan Halligan, and I feel that more could have been said concerning the things that people post online. I personally can attest to this: I used to write about such topics and allude to suicide on my blog on MySpace.

A major criticism that I have of the program is that it still seemed like fear-mongering. I didn't think that enough was said about the positive aspects of being online. For example, I have done research for a term paper on blogging. One thing that is important to recognize is that blogs are journals. Psychologists have stated that journaling can be therapeutic, and thus writing in a blog can be just as therapeutic.

Overall, I feel that the program was great. I appreciate the fact that Frontline is choosing to cover a topic that will definitely be looked at for years to come. The Internet is not going away. Now, it is necessary for people to look back and determine the consequences that modern technology will have for future generations.

Bob Kasper
Frankfort, Illinois

Dear FRONTLINE,

I am currently sixteen years of age, and have spent the entirety of my life smothered in electronics. My parents are Irish immigrants who came to the United States looking for a stronger job market. My mother worked at Digital as an IT manager, and my father was a Professor of civil engineering at University College Dublin. Upon arriving in the US, my father, who had some experience in software programming, began working at various software development companies, and eventually found a job at The Mathworks. My mother left Digital for more IT work at Harvard's art museums.

Born and raised around technology I learned very early to fix, program, build, and master the computer. I admit that I drove my father banana's when I screwed up our home computer by making a few silly mistakes, but through trial and error and my parents I learned how to use a computer better than most of the teachers at my elementary school, and then at my middle school. In fourth and fifth grade, my friends and I would play games, and help the teachers with their computers.

I had fun playing games, but eventually, my friends found AIM and E-Mail, and they had begun chatting online. I was in fifth grade when I had heard about AIM, and when I got home I wanted to create my own account. However, my parents who had lived in the internet and who knew how to out maneuver me on the home computer forbid me from setting up an email account or an AIM. This was very annoying because everyone else had had an AIM, and sometimes I needed an E-Mail account to access cool Internet games. I did understand that they were trying to protect me, but I told them I would never share my personal information online, or talk to someone I didn't know. It took two years of arguing before I decided to secretly create an AIM account and talk to my friends. By the end of that year in seventh grade, my parents had slowly become aware that I was talking with my friends on the internet. It was hard to hide chat screens when the computer was in the living room, but my parents amazingly allowed me to keep my account, and would occasionally look over my shoulder to make sure I wasn't getting in trouble.

Now I play many games on the internet with other people that I have never met before, and I can even speak to some people on Xbox Live. However my parents taught me to safe guard my information. I never connect my address, phone, or any other identification means with my name on the internet. I never share information nor meet people in person whom I don't already know on the interweb (interweb sounds cooler). I have met all sorts of people online, and while I am polite and friendly I always keep some cautious skepticism about me.

I believe that parent's fears of their children on the internet are not unfounded, but I also believe that that shouldn't drive them to paranoia or over constraint. I think that just as we were taught not to talk to strangers in person, should we be taught not to talk to them on the interweb. If a parent were put in the shoes of their child, would they want their parents looking through all of their private things? also, what makes a parent safer than their child on the internet? Parents suffer from identity theft just as much, if not more, than the few kids who are solicited every year. If all kids were protective of their identities and their internet lives, then the internet would be great tool and information source they will need to master. I believe that everyone should learn how to protect themselves on the web, and instead of invading a child's life which may alienate them further, parents should talk to their kids about security and safety just as they would talk about drinking or drugs.

Newton, Massachusetts

Dear FRONTLINE,

I caught the end of your show on the internet's impact on the pre-teen and teen generations and wanted to add something about my own generation. I am 24 and out in career-land now and I find myself in an awkward predicament: my bosses, colleagues, and superiors want to be my Facebook and Myspace friends. Clearly, I am not the only one in this situation as Facebook has recently added a filtering program in which the user chooses who can see what (only specific people can view your images, etc). Professional networking and social networking is happening in the same arena and my friends and I find that we have both college buddies (and college party pictures) and our employers looking at the same page that we use to identify ourselves online. A sticky situation that will only continue on in the future, it seems.

Brookline, MA

Dear FRONTLINE,

The reactions of most of the posters revolve around potential for good or bad outcomes when kids use technology. I think the use/misuse of technology is secondary to the real issues I saw.First, I found many of the teens interviewed to be amoral, self-centered, ignorant and completely vacuous. The don't have good friends, or funny friends - they have 292 friends. When they speak it is the fast loud hype of advertising. They are utterly convinced of their own rights and equally unaware of anyone elses. I am both deeply saddened and angry to see the willingness of so many young women to make themselves sexual objects, seemingly driven to advertize their availablity and desirablity constantly. Teens have always had to tolerate lame Moms and Dads but I saw pure hatred for their parents in the faces of some of the people interviewed. What I saw was much of the same tribalism and barbarism I experienced with my peer group in the early '70s, but it seems to have intensified and deepened. I also agree with other posters that the this was not a true cross section of America's youth - it was primarily the the experience of middle to upper middle class white kids - the popular kids who take it for granted that everyone wants to see them and hear them because they are so very special. TV or internet, these kids are "stars". Maybe PBS will do the real story - what is going on with kids in a country where racism and class struggle can prevade every day of your young life? Where parents dump material wealth on kids as a substitute for the time no one has any more to simply be with someone? Where overpopulation has created limited opportunites and ruthless competion?

Richfield, Minnesota

Dear FRONTLINE,

It's part of the job of personal development for teenagers to fight for their privacy and independence. They can't be controlled. And they shouldn't be. Control is not a proper idea to assign to any human relationship. Of course, we all need to set limits, demand respect, and offer honest feedback to each other. Teenagers are in the throws of biological upheavels and social and personal transitions that are confusing at best. Haven't we all done things that we knew were 'out of control'? It's an ongoing challange to be a self-aware, self-determined human being. My point is this: the most important tools to employ in handling a teenager are love, respect, honesty, comradery, loyalty... all that we would want them to learn and devleop in themselves, we must give to them and teach by example. One more point, however, regarding the influce of technology on personal development: Silence and stillnes are required for spiritual maturation. By 'spiritual' I'm not in any way referring to religious indoctrination, but the ability to sit, attentively and openly, perceiving all that is both within and outside oneself. To learn acceptance of what is. And gratitude for the simple 'miracles' of life. There are magnificent realms of experience that are not possible online, that I do believe our generations are increasingly deprived of. Compare pornography to loving sexual relations, for instance...Ah, one last point: while we may think we're smart enough to identify clearly the boundary between cyberspace and actual existence, our brains are not able to make the distinction. People are acting in ways online that they would find abhorent in real life. Surely, over time, this will change what we consider acceptable, normal behavior in ourselves and each other. Every tool is just a tool. Regardless, we must never forget that our main responsibility in life is to advance the complex process of being human together.

Kristin Cell
San Diego, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

I watched this show and had my pros and cons towards it. I'm 19 years old and have been raised by technology and the internet just like the rest of the kids in my generation. We've seen it all, and heard it all. I myself had my share of altercations online: myspace, aim, etc. I've been bullied, pressured, and threatened, but there's one thing that I theorize that can make or brake a child; mental strength. Yes, stories like the boy who commited suicide tear my heart, and I feel for those parents. Children need to be taught to be mentally stronger. I was born and raised on the border of the U.S. and Mexico, I've experienced more than most of the people I know ever will. I've been robbed, jumped, gunned down(several times), held a person in my arms as they die. My first friend was murdered when I was 13, been to many funerals of people that don't deserve to die. Things that impact you so much make you mentally strong; however out of all those things I've experienced, nothing has affeted me more than my parents being dissapointed in me for my wrong doings. I was raised with so much freedom, went to my first night club at the age of 11, never had a bedtime, or curfew. I've had so many opportunities to do so many wrong things, but I haven't. For one reason and one reason only, losing my parents' trust. I'm not a child-raising expert, but I am a child, and a well-raised one at that. Liberty is what has kept me from temptation, it works. For that mother at Chatham, Mrs. Skinner, asking for her children's passwords? Never, no teenager would, we as well as adults have our personal and private lives, we don't like to share everything with parents, and it's not necessarily that we're doing something wrong, but we like to feel like we have something for ourselves too. If not, what's the point of even having our own rooms. Do keep your eye on your kids, but let them mature, there are many bad things open to us on the internet, but a kid with common sense will know what to do with the information. I don't call it bad parenting, but take a break from work once in a while, take your child fishing, hunting, camping, something to get them away from technology and experience nature. I don't have a perfect resolution for this epidemic, but if I can put all my words into one sentence; Never underestimate the mind of a child, for the worse or the best.

Mike Segura
McAllen, Texas

Dear FRONTLINE,

Your program makes me wonder who pays for the cell phones and computers? Who provides the internet. Are there adults in the home when children visit other people's homes. I realize that we live in a busy world and that it is impossible to spend every minute watching and listening, but I wonder why the computers of the children were not reviewed by the parents. When I was raising my children I gave them as much privacy as they earned. All privileges have responsibilities and this must be taught ASAP. If I became concerned about one of my daughters, I read anything I could get my hands on. Do they have a right to privacy? Up to a point, if they are endangering themselves it is my job to intervene in the most acceptable way and maybe not so acceptable. I am 67 years old, life is much more informed with the internet and I would miss my computer and PDA very much. Being a parent is a full time job and the most difficult one I have ever had; also the most rewarding.

Suzanne Brickner
Tulsa, OK

Dear FRONTLINE,

I found the online piece interesting. While reflecting on the teen generation and the web's influence acting as a break down of communication between adults, I don't find it strange. Teens traditionally build their own social network as they grow into adulthood and independence, often limiting exchange and information with parents and adults. Although, I do see the added road blocks and cautions. I am an Activity Director in a long term care facility and find myself on the other end of the spectrum. The web has allowed, supported and promoted communication availability to our residents relating to their relatives across states and time. It has expanded our liesure program to include computer learning & use and helped us as professionals to glean information for our programs at the drop of a question. Technology has also improved the quality of what we offer and what our residents see, hear and experience. Their environment, although they are physically limited, has expanded to be more connected to the world in which they helped to create and which we now reflect on and live. I had a 92 year old lady say, "You're never too old to learn." It's still a growing up on line situation.

Terri Bartlett
Milwaukee , WI

Dear FRONTLINE,

I am a big Frontline fan but must say I was quite disappointed with Growing Up Online, as it seemed shallow and sensationalistic, focusing on the lurid and violent rather, stoking fears rather than seeking to enlighten. I raised three boys online and I know of the risks, but what about the benefits? All but ignored in the report were positive impacts of the internet for youth such as:

1. Exploding access to information and knowledge. In the old days, if you were doing research and the library book was out, you were out of luck. High school students now have instant access to the knowledge they need.

2. "eLearning." The digitization of pedagogy is one of the great breakthroughs of our times. The constraints of time and space have evaporated, democratizing and lowing barriers to entry to learning. Our youth see this and know it is good and want it, and understandably resent it when misguided teachers and parents demonize the Internet as a force for evil.

3. Social networks. It is common knowledge that in life a strong social network is correlated with success in life. Teens know this instinctively and seek to grow their networks and become "popular." How can the "adults" in this debate on the on hand preach "community" and global equality and then denigrate a tool that achieves this so successfully? We want kids to make friends and be nice to others. My boys have used the internet to strengthen their relationships with a network of people who will support them in life as they get out there.

4. Reading and writing. Computers and the Internet require a lot of reading and writing. It is a cerebral process, which should promote learning. In the old days, maybe my boys would have been out in the garage working on cars, which could lead to death on the roads and pollution. But they would rather now learn how to use information technology. So what? Let's not let nostalgia color our view of the goodness of something.

5. Physical separation. What's worse, a teen girl showing cleavage on her Facebook or getting drunk making out in the corner at the school dance? Phobic parents drive their kids three blocks to school because they fear abduction, increasing the tendency for isolation within the home. Needing connection, they reach out via the communication tools available to them. Phobic parents perhaps would like to see their kids in bubbles, isolated and "safe." Isolation, I would argue, is not safe at all.

6. Evidence. When malfeasant communications take place via connected computers, computers do what they do best: make copies of everything. If kids conspire to commit crimes online, or predators seek contact, the information is recorded and hard to erase. This is the flip side of the privacy phobia. We want no trace of our identities online but such traces can lead to catching the bad guys. Is it not a truism that in organized crime it is a "best practice" to refrain from writing things down?

I am not suggesting the Internet is a benign phenomenon. Far from it. Telephones are similarly are used for all manner of crime and contribute to moral decay. But let us not become hysterical about the evils of the Internet. The Nazis had no Internet when they enlisted legions of youth, and it is a great irony that atheistic, communist bullies who fear the Internet the most. Unfortunately, human nature is the one constant in the ever-changing technological landscape, and those growing up online, like those before them, choose light instead of darkness.

David Brett
Vancouver, BC

Dear FRONTLINE,

A nicely done wake up call to parents and educators new to the discussion; a helpful booster shot for those of us who have heard and seen similar reports.

Two things struck me. First, no conversation of pornography -- "The crack-cocaine our generation" as one of my students recently said to me. The other, I would have liked to have heard the students' take on technology in the classroom. The conversation seemed to come from an adult point-of-view and from this assumption: The kids are all wired and tech'd up, which means we have to be, too, or we're ineffective and irrelevant. (Q: What would you rather have, an engaging smart board or an engaging teacher? A: (I know, I know) Both.

Good work.

J H
Detroit, MI

Dear FRONTLINE,

I think the program was a good start towards informing parents and others about the unknown worlds our children are taking part in, but it missed the mark by not including the world of online game servers that run real time games were people can chat and speak through micrphones to each other.

I have run game servers for the most popular game ever created (half life) and its mods, counter strike and day of defeat, for the last 5 years, And what I have seen take place in public game servers, I would never let my child (if i had one) hear or view.

Many of these type of games can have up to 64 players playing live from around the world in them at any given time.With the invention of STEAM (the new valve content delivery system) http://www.steampowered.com/v/index.php - and the steam community friends network, kids can have massive lists of friends they can game with or find in game servers anywere on the planet in real time 24 hours a day.

In these servers children can hear anything an adult can and since the children often are using head phones, The parents dont get to hear what they hear. the most abusive disgusting language one could hear at the local biker bar is served up to anyone who has paid for the game and is able to join that particular game server, and there are hundreds of thousands of public game servers running 24 hours a day around the world.

I also think that frontline should have included the fact that 75 human beings (mostly korean) have died simply due to playing the game (world of warcraft). There are many incidents of players playing for way to long, Not eating or drinking and they get positional hypotension and have heart failure and die.

Then theres the boy who commited suicide and the parents are now supposedly sueing the WOW creators for his death. Not to mention that two parents let their child die while they went to a local lan cafe to play the game.

The internet is a tool and can be fun at times, But we as a society need to never allow our children to have computor/internet access in their bedrooms or private areas.

kyle mcdonald
Fresno, ca

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posted january 22, 2008

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