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Facebook and other computer-based leisure

MySpace; my; space; social; network; computer; internet;

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Teens often spend a lot more time on their computer and on the Internet than parents think is good for them. They may be playing games, emailing or using sites on the Internet such as Facebook.

For most teens, it is simply a part of everyday life - they are there because their friends are there and they are there to hang out with those friends.

Worrying about Facebook?

Much of the talk about Facebook has focused on potential predators and bullying.

  • There is no doubt that the potential is there, but there are more articles on predators on Facebook than there have been reported predators online.
  • Bullying can occur in any medium.

While the dangers do exist, some people suggest they have been exaggerated, and young people can simply block any communication that is unwanted, or report anything dodgy if they are worried.

However there are dangers with sharing online - read the topic Cyber-safety to get some ideas about how to keep safe.

Teens on the computer all the time?

Adults often worry about the amount of time that yung people spend online, arguing that the digital world does not replace the physical world. Most teens would agree - they would prefer to be where other kids are, but they may not be able to get to places where they can be private with their friends, perhaps because they have to rely on others to drive them or there are a lot of limits to public spaces where teens can 'hang out' uninterrupted. Adults can be quite frightened when groups of kids hang out.

Most of the space that teens have is controlled space.

  • Adults control the home, the school, and most activity spaces.
  • Teens are told where to be, what to do and how to do it.

Because teens feel a lack of control at home, many don't see their home as their private space. Bedrooms with closed doors may be their only private space.

Their public space is where peers gather – and it is really peers that matter to teens, not adults, even if they are family.

  • Teens have increasingly less access to public space. Hang out locations that adults once had are disappearing while some 'safe' places like shopping centres may ban teens unless they are accompanied by parents.
  • Hanging out around the neighbourhood or at the beach can be thought of by parents as unsafe for fear of predators, drug dealers and abductors.
  • Teens who go home after school while their parents are still working are usually expected to stay home and teens may be allowed to only gather at friends' homes when somebody's parents are present.

Additionally, structured activities in controlled spaces are on the rise.

  • After-school activities, sports, and jobs may mean teens are in controlled spaces from dawn till dusk.
  • They are running ragged without any time to simply chill amongst friends.

By going on the net, young people can create private and public youth space while physically being in controlled spaces. Online, youth can build the environments that support youth socialization.

But what about their health?

Teens are less physically active than their parents were, but this is largely because adults have limited where they can 'safely' go, rather than because they want to sit in front of the computer all the time.

  • Even playing in the street with neighbourhood kids can be seen by parents as unsafe.
  • Back yards are getting much smaller, so being outside may not be much fun.

Parents do not choose to put these limits on just because they are 'mean'. Parents live in a culture where they bombarded by messages about how unsafe the world is. They put these limits on like other parents in their community do – they are limits that people in their community believe are right.

Do teens have alternatives that they think are interesting which are not controlled by adults?

  • Are they allowed to do things that adults might think are dangerous, such as riding bikes in ways that may lead to injuries?
  • Can they go to the beach on the bus with friends?

Playing games on the computer is physically safe – while still being a form of interacting with other kids which is not controlled by adults.

There is more in the topic Computer related injuries on the Better Health Channel (Victoria)  

What you could do

If you are worried by your teen staying on the computer all the time,

  • Think carefully about what other uncontrolled space they have.
  • Are you able, in face of all the community scare-mongering, to accept that they will be safe if they go into uncontrolled spaces?
  • Statistics show that teens almost always come home without having been harmed in any way. If they are harmed, it will almost always be due to an accident like falling off a skateboard. Being the victim of a predator is really rare.
  • In reality it is very safe for example for a few young adolescents to go together to the beach in Australia!
  • If you are worried about what sites they are visiting then make sure you have a Family Safety program installed.

Still worried? Then ask your teen to show you the sites they use. You might find all sorts of interesting stuff and even start using them yourself! Playing games on the computer with your teens can be fun too.

References

Better Health Channel (Victoria) 
http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/ 

Boyd, D. Identity Production in a Networked Culture: Why Youth Heart MySpace. American Association for the Advancement of Science, St. Louis, MO. February 19 2006.
http://www.danah.org/papers/AAAS2006.html

Lenhart, A., Madden, M. Social Networking Websites and Teens: An Overview. PEW Internet and American Life Project, 2007.
http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2007/Social-Networking-Websites-and-Teens.aspx 

Ybarra ML, Mitchell KJ ‘How Risky Are Social Networking Sites? A Comparison of Places Online Where Youth Sexual Solicitation and Harassment Occurs’ Pediatrics 2008; 121: e350-e357
http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/121/2/e350

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

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