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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,

I didn't grow up online (I'm 63), but I love the internet. If I were parenting children now I would only expect them to want to make use of everything it has to offer, including personal online webspaces. In every instance of dangerous or other unacceptable behavior noted in this program the child had a pre-existing vulnerability and a less than open avenue of communication with real life friends, mentors or parents. As a parent I would have to set and enforce boundaries for internet use including time use issues, content and access by me; but I would not deny internet use. A parent's first responsibility to a child is to act protect him/her, and the second is to establish trust. Parenting has to be an ongoing conversation about boundaries (including privacy, plagarism and bullying), civility and respect for self and others. I didn't grow up with the internet but did experience bullying and food issues in my teens as well as suicidal ideation. I never told my parents because I didn't have that kind of ongoing trust and nurture. Who knows, if there had been an internet, I might have found a friendly community or mentor online instead of suffering in silence.

Los Angeles, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

I just watched your special and it seems to me that often parent's fear of the internet is the fear of the unknown. I am eighteen years old and I just finished my freshman year in High School and the internet is incredibly important in my life. I have a facebook. I chat in forums. I am on Deviantart which is a website devoted to creativity and sharing art. I check my email at least 3 times a day. I'm always connected.

This is not bad. It doesn't prevent me from having a non-virtual life. I read books. I'm currently reading Wuthering Heights. I talk to my mother. I hang out with my friends. I think that most kids do not have a purely virtual life. The internet is just another facet.

For a long time my mother was completely uneducated about the internet, but just recently she's becoming connected. She talks to friends she hasn't seen in years on aim. She's editing photos and sending them. I think that if parents get involved on the internet they'll realize that it isn't innately dangerous.

I'm not saying the internet doesn't have dangers. It does. But so does real life. The internet is really no different. If someone is going to be anorexic they would do it with or without the internet. If someone was going to be a bully they would do it with or without the internet. Kids would explore sex with or without a chatroom and instant messaging. It's always been this way and it hasn't changed just because the internet exists.

I think that your show is a bit alarmist. It points out and emphasizes all of the negatives. Most teenagers who are online are not in trouble. They don't cause problems. They don't become anorexic or kill themselves. I think shows like yours are part of the problem with all of these paranoid parents. Not that I can blame you. Pretty much all television media is alarmist purely to get people to watch it, but as a Public Television production I think that it is a shame to see such methods.

The internet has made it possible to learn so much more so much more quickly. It has made it possible to keep in contact with people you would otherwise never get to see or talk to. It provides entertainment, news, and creative outlets.

I could live without it. I just don't want to.

Grace Wagner
Norman, Oklahoma

Dear FRONTLINE,

The internet and its various usages could not be imagined when from a scant 15 years ago. I was a college student back then and all of were is awe of its potentials, just as we were of the dot com business model(s) that went with it. For me I have embraced this phenomena as a passage to other parts of the world, a place to do shopping, a place to communicate with others a continent away. I have not looked back.

Where children and adolescence are concerned it is like learning to drive a car, turning 21 and buying alcoholic beverages, getting your first credit card at 18 as a Freshman, a concept and a tool one needs to learn how to use responsibly. Merely because the technology is there and the means to use it are at one's fingertips, it should be an all consuming event day in and day out with nothing else to do. I agree with the observation that it can be a relief from boredom, because as perceived by the young users it is an escape from the world they live in. So is the television set or going to a ball game.

Young adults need to learn to work out there own personal and peer issues, so Facebook, AOL, MSN, Google and the like, make available those portal opportunities available to do just that. What the web has to offer are the same as what the world has to offer, if you want it you can find it. The internet just makes it faster and at times instantaneously available to the user.

The documentary is a first good start.

Philip Ohmes
Boulder, Colorado

Dear FRONTLINE,

I just watched you show and am devasted. The father who lost his 13 year old boy has hit home for me. I have a 12 yr old that is constantly bullied at school. Called Loser, shoved, elbowed in the back, called many names. He says he just ignores it and does his own thing. He is new to the school 1 yr and not very happy at home or school. he has no life in him, after watching the story I need to really make sure I know what's going on in his life/computer.

Thank You for maybe saving a life!

Jo ame
victoria, bc

Dear FRONTLINE,

I was engrossed by kids growing up online, but not at all surprised. I founded a myspace site (myspace.com/randompeoplewhocare) which allows kids to offer peer support and encouragement in a faith-based online setting. At first I was surprised by the kids candor, but I've become used to their frankness, and feel privileged to be a part of these kid's lives. One constant heartbreak, however, is the fact that so many parents , teachers, etc... are unaware of the serious problems that many of these kids are dealing with. Sarah's story of her eating disorder particularly resonated with me. Thank you for trying to bridge this gap of information.

Kelli Boyle
Fairbanks, Alaska

Dear FRONTLINE,

As a 30-something parent of small children, I found myself partially identifying with both the parents and the teens on your program---yet I felt really a world away.

I fear for the future of my children. And I realize now that a policy of "One computer in a public space" in our home will not be sufficient to protect them: They will need to have the tools to help themselves navigate this ever-expanding frontier.

Please continue to follow this story.

Doug Anderson
Orem, Utah

Dear FRONTLINE,

As trivial as this may sound to some, one of the greatest losses to our society - fueled, in my opinion, by the internet - is basic literacy.

It is disturbing to me that the people who will be in great part controlling society in another 20 years do not know the difference between "your" and "you're" and have possibly never read a book that they weren't forced to.

There is no substitute for instilling a desire to learn, and the parents of this generation seem to have failed in this.

Welcome to the fast-food culture of America.

Noel Kaplan
Houston, TX

Dear FRONTLINE,

I have always felt it important to monitor the internet activity of my children. I was less worried about predation than about the persistence of data published on the internet. Its all still there. Boast on your myspace page about some activity and there it is still available years later to your employer, insurance company, government, scam artist, or blackmailer.

Five years ago I installed a commercially available monitoring program on each of their computers. The children were told about the program, and the reasons I felt it was important. The kids don't like it but their welfare was more important. I would jump in front of a speeding truck to save my child, why wouldn't I protect them as well from other dangers?

Balancing the child's need for privacy, to express themselves, to develop their own personality, was not easy. Instead of hanging on their every written word or viewed website, I used the software only to check in from time to time to see where their heads were at. How many school shootings, how many suicides, would be prevented if parents monitored the internet activity of their kids? I owe it to my kids, we owe it to society.

The following is a brief summary of some of the events of the past five years.

An angry father called on me about some very suggestive things my son had allegedly written to his daughter. I invited him in for coffee and we reviewed the logs together. He had only seen one half of the conversation. Upon review, his daughter had instigated the incident, and her writings to my son, he quickly backed down. My son learned that what he writes on the internet is subject to being printed out by another party and used in ways he had not intended. We also discussed sexual harassment and how what you think is fun can be quickly turned against you if the other party has a change of mind.

An eating disorder was discovered in time to get help.

A friend mutilating herself by cutting was discovered in time to get help.

A principal was notified that his middle-school dance was the planned site for a stabbing of a 8th grader by some older boys from another town because of some things said on the internet. The older boys did show, but the principal and the local police intervened at the door. (My kids not involved!)

A MySpace page that even though "annonymized" by not including real names, towns, ages, etc., still gave enough information for someone to find the real name, age, date of birth, school, age, street, home alone after school, and favorite fruit, all by answering and reposting responses to a chain letter.

Think my kids are wack-jobs? This was all in middle-class suburban Maine with both kids on the honor-roll and two loving and attentive parents in a normal, stable, and functional family.

Producers: feel free to contact

Holden, ME

Dear FRONTLINE,

I am a librarian and am interested in the subject of the Internet and its impact in culture. I recently viewed your program "Growing up Online" and am writing to thank you for not sensationalizing the content of the program. I was very impressed with your analysis of social network trends in the schools. I enjoyed hearing from all three segments missing from most media coverage: the children, their parents, and the teachers of the children. Bravo, and well done. It was useful because I got to hear from experts who have studied the trends, and fascinating to hear from educators. To make something appear hopeless is not reporting a story; it is only selling a story. You went far beyond that substandard so prevalent in professional journalism. Thank you for raising, and not lowering standards.

David W. Henson
Chicago, IL

Dear FRONTLINE,

First of all let me say that I do not have teenagers of my own but I have nieces and nephews and friends with teenagers. I watched this program tonight and was amazed at how little 'control' parents have over their children. And, yes, these are still children. It just seems to me that there's something wrong with not knowing what your children are doing on the Internet. I believe in checking cell phones, contents of rooms and, yes, whatever is on a computer that would be in my home. This is certainly a new day, but I still believe the parents must be in control of what goes on in their households.My view is that when you are old enough to work and pay the bills, then you can control what goes on in your own household because as long as you live under my roof, I still have the control.

valarie fane
southfield, mi

Dear FRONTLINE,

The views presented on the television program is biased from some the adults shown, we did grow up without computers but to deny our children an outlet to understand the world is a criminal injustice that we can't put on our children. The Mother shown who emailed the other parents regarding the OAR concert was completely out of line, and there is a line. Which we as parents must respect as we once wanted to be respected to.

So many thoughts are going through my head right now, and it would be way too offensive to write them down, but PBS i as a devoted watcher of your program am disapointed in promoting such a show. Please take my thought s in consideration, and stop airing shows like this to plant ideas in the minds of weary parents to cut into there childrens life with such ignorance.

James Marshall
Dallas, Texas

Dear FRONTLINE,

I have been a teacher for 23 years and, after seeing tonight's show, I felt validated. My sixth grade students are having great difficulty dealing with the crushing consequences of sharing life online. Because they cannot truly conceive of the expanse of the internet's reach, they tell their most intimate and fleeting thoughts and feelings. Some choose to print them up and share them at school the next day. I, as their teacher, must take time from academic pursuits to tend to the devastating damage that such exchanges can generate. My students are too young and fragile to realize that the internet provides NO privacy. They cannot fathom that the what they are sharing can be read worldwide. As many times as I have warned them, shown them, advised them, they are driven to continue to be accepted. Just as you say in the show, they cannot be "out of the loop" for more than a few minutes. I sympathized with the English teacher who is still attempting to promote reading and critical analysis. With China and India looming on the horizon, hungry for growth and intellectual rewards, can we afford to allow our children to abandon reading, critical thinking, and merely "cut and paste" their futures? Our academic standing worldwide is a reflection of our lack of rigidity in academic expectations and our cultural "laissez faire" attitude when it comes to overseeing what is going on with our children. Does this internet connection foster problem solving, critical analysis, and political and global awareness?I don't think so . . . not when life can be learned through Spark Notes.

Eighty Four, PA

Dear FRONTLINE,

I just finished watching this special and found it to be an important piece. I wanted to comment on this because I am 25 and want people to know that not only do parents feel a huge generation gap with their children, my generation had a very different lifestyle as well. My family did not have a computer until I was in high school, therefore I did not grow up online. I don't remember cell phones being an issue in high school either until maybe Junior or Senior year (around 2000). It's amazing to me that I am only 10 years older than current high school kids and their lives are so much more involved with the internet than I remember my generation to be. MySpace and Facebook may not have even been invented when I was in high school now that I think about it. If it had been I'm sure that my classmates and I would have acted the same way that these high school students had, and I could tell you that I would not have wanted my parents involved in my internet use at all. I wanted to post this just to show how quickly society can change and how accelerated our society is now when a ten year gap now means that you are out of touch. I also want to comment that I do have Facebook and MySpace accounts, but I do not think that my generation is as involved with the internet as children are now. I think it is important not to totally shield children from the internet, because it is part of our culture now, but to try to be involved enough in your child's life that you know what they are up to, which could mean for some computer illiterate parents today that they are going to need to learn how to use the internet in order to be on top of things. (Easy enough for a non-parent to tout!)

Liz Callan
Baltimore, Maryland

Dear FRONTLINE,

This program was very interesting to me... I am an Engineer and design information systems for corporations, in some cases with parallels to myspace and youtube. Two points beg to be addressed...

1) Are parents to some degree not enablers here? Don't setup Internet at home (or only on a passworded work computer). Granted, they will find access other places, but it would most likely not be hours of endless unsupervised access. Also, why do today's kids more than myself need a cell phone?

2) Facebook, Myspace... these are all businesses built on ad revenue. Just like any other corporation marketing to minors, why are they not required to be a part of the solution? Rather than try and pry a password from their child, I picture that parents would have the ability to create accounts that give access to view the activities of their children.

In the end these are minors and parents are still responsible for their actions. Our children are unaware of how their profiles will affect the opportunities available to them as adults. And nothing ever is gone on the Internet...

Peter Brunnengraeber
Rochester, NY

Dear FRONTLINE,

I feel this was a very informative documentary. I've been on both sides of the aisle. Starting in middle school i was bullied constantly for the way I dress and there was a huge rumor about me being gay. Overtime this faded and it was soon I who was making fun of a kid who's fat. It's only now at the ripe old age of 16 that I've come to terms with how to deal with the same problems Ryan faced. Going to school still with the same kids who have bullied me has made it difficult, but I feel it has created me a resource that my friends can lean on in their times of trouble. I believe a good use of the internet could be a site that allows teen to get help from other teens. Since in the end I do believe the internet is an amazing tool that can do great things.

Raleigh, North Carolina

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posted january 22, 2008

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