Are the Kids Alright?

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A few weeks back, I caught a fascinating interview on “Science Friday” with Danah Boyd, a social It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. I highly recommend you check it out.

For her book, Boyd interviewed hundreds of teens across the country over an eight-year period and came to a couple of important conclusions about kids and social media.

The first is that social media are today’s equivalent of the mall, the malt shop, the front stoop, and other teen hangouts of the past–a space whose relative privacy allows teens to explore who they are and what they believe about themselves and the world. When parents and other well-meaning adults are overly intrusive in an online forum like Facebook, kids either move on or engage in steganography, which means sending coded messages in plain sight. (Boyd cited the example of a girl who communicated her depression to those in the know–which didn’t include her prying mother–by posting song lyrics that were apparently upbeat but held a darker meaning.)

The second important conclusion is that the kids are, in general, alright. That’s not to say they don’t need caring adults looking out for them. In fact, she recommended that aunts and uncles and even Grandma can fill the gap when kids unfriend their parents or hide posts from them.

I would add Scout leaders to the caring adult category. I think it’s incumbent upon us to friend our Scouts on Facebook (assuming they accept our friend requests) and then keep an eye on what they’re saying online. This does not mean spying on them or finding dirt to bring up at a board of review; it simply means being alert to problems that ought to be discussed back in the real world.

Note: Before you interact with Scouts online, you should review the BSA’s social media guidelines. Youth Protection policies like two-deep leadership apply online, just as they apply at meetings and activities

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