After ten years of research, social media scholar and youth researcher, Danah Boyd published a book arguing against the perception that technology and social media is inherently bad for young people.
Much of our media focuses on the most negative aspects of social media. Cyberbullying, predators, sexualised content; yes it happens. But, that’s not all that happens and it shouldn’t cloud the overall view of new technologies.
Rather than perverting the lives and minds of today’s teenagers, Boyd’s research suggests, social media fills many of the needs associated with adolescence.
For instance, developing their own identity and independence and having a space to demonstrate this is a normal and necessary part of growing up. Building friendships is one way of doing this and Facebook or Snapchat etc. simply offer a new platform.
The freedom afforded many young people today is, Boyd says, severely limited. If true, it might be for good reason: maybe the streets aren’t as safe as they once were. But, like anyone, young people need social outlets and a means to blow-off steam.
Online presence can prevent loneliness and isolation, especially amongst people who are geographically separate, or who simply feel different to others around them.
A greater threat might be of an over-protective society hindering young people’s ability to become engaged, empathetic and civic-minded.
There is hope, however. From her research, Boyd suggests many young people are naturally reaching out and engaging with one another, but through social media.
While it’s normal to be concerned, it’s important to try and understand. Educating ourselves of the sociological needs of young people and their means of meeting it can help to make it all less ominous.
Encouraging young people to empathise and be aware when someone might need support could be more useful than fearing the medium young people are using to communicate.
There is a need to make young people aware of the dangers of putting out too much personal information online. We all need to learn how to become good digital citizens in this relatively new territory. But, maybe open communication would work better than trying to micro-manage a young person’s online life?