Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Gated Communities

As though it weren't enough for the Internet to be the primary vehicle of child molesters and terrorists, apparently it is also the superhighway of evil drug traffickers, who are after our kids as well. Or so I learn from the new tutorials on "E-monitoring" from Parents. The Anti-Drug. The fact that parents are being encouraged to buy proprietary software programs and pursue parenting strategies analogous to the surveillance culture of authoritarian regimes, such as China and Iran should be concerning to those who want their children to grow up to be citizens who make the right choices freely. (You can see the research coming out of the OpenNet Initiative for more on why Internet censorship is both self-defeating and a sign of the total failure of a system of governance.)

My vote for the scariest sentence in this website was this one: "While technology offers many positive things, like connectedness and information, those same attributes, if misused, can also be quite harmful." What about those of us who don't accept the idea that informing the young is harmful? Apparently, we are sadly deluded about how "hooked" our kids are on these new technologies. Most bizarre, perhaps, on the E-monitoring site was the link to current "street lingo" from the White House Office of National Drug Policy.

Then again, perhaps communication technology needs to be demonized now that public service announcements like "Pete's Couch" have abandoned scare tactics with regard to actual recreational drug use. Of course, there are already several video send-ups of the "Pete's Couch" spot on YouTube.

When it comes to technology tutorials for parents like this one, it is worth keeping in mind that research by danah boyd on teen computing seems to suggest that something more is at work in the use of instant messaging, mobile communications, and social networking sites by the young than the fastest way to the creepy dealer down the street. She suggests that this behavior is also a logical reaction to parental authority from over-scheduled kids whose sociality has been radically constrained by a society based fundamentally on stranger danger. With playdates and even home schooling, young people searching for social contact that isn't an extension of family relationships go to the Internet to seek out less homogeneous and more diverse forms of community.

One of the statistics that is supposed to be most alarming to parents is this one: 14% of teens have a live face-t0-face meeting with someone they've met online. "Gulp. Scary," we are supposed to say. But I have a teen. He's used the global reach of the Internet to learn about interests that might otherwise be too esoteric for kids in his immediate social circle. For example, he found a teen rugby club with an international group of adults -- including some articulate feminists -- promoting participation in the sport. He also located a DJ academy where he could learn about scratch and mix techniques in a multicultural and multigenerational environment of collaboration around the craft. So -- yes -- he's even met adults through the Internet . . . people otherwise known as coaches and teachers. You can see some of the suspect characters my kid has met in the photo above, where he's spinning vinyl for winning one of the three top mix prizes.

Here's what I hear about the surveillance alternative. A neighbor dad tells me about another dad who is carefully monitoring and cataloguing all the porn that his son watches. Does he use it as an opportunity for dialogue? No. Does he use the technology to further parent-child communication? No. Poor pathetic guy. I learned more about my kid's attitudes about video sex and violence from watching nine minutes of the hilarious "My Trip to Liberty City" and talking about it afterwards.

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