Teens understand online privacy: They might be speaking to you on purpose

I just read a great article on teens and online privacy from Jacqui Cheng, editor for Ars Technica. As I’ve mentioned before, I live with two teens. They have both been on Facebook for a number of years. (Yes, they were on before they turned 13 but mostly because when they were tweens we lived in Ireland and Facebook was a great way to keep in touch with friends there. Facebook is the best of times, worst of times.)

When they were tweens I got a lot of questions about Facebook.

  • What do you do when someone is mean online? And what if she has an older sister who knows how to be really mean online? (Ignore it is still pretty powerful in most cases.)
  • Can she see the messages I send to my friends? (Umm – yes if your friend forwards it. So no trash talk!)
  • How can I change my password? My best friend has it again and keeps posting as me! (Keep passwords private – wish I had a nickel each time I said that.)
  • Can I close out the account? (Yes and no – as Cheng’s article points out. Leaving the Hotel California is easier!)
  • Does grandma read everything I post? (Umm – yes, she has 15 friends she is retired and she loves you.)

Those questions stopped about they time they turned 13, which is about the time they probably wanted to hide stuff from me. I have a share-your-password-or lose-privileges policy so I still see much of what they do. Cheng has a really interesting perspective on why teens are OK with us seeing it.

I know which of my teenage students smokes weed in the park after class on Fridays, and which other students are with him. I know which ones are struggling with making friends in their first few weeks at college, and which ones aren’t. I know which of my students chafe against overly strict parents on a regular basis. I know which one spends every weekend in the hospital due to a chronic condition. I know which ones got arrested last night.

I know all these things because I follow them all on various social media services. And they know I know; this isn’t some kind of stolen glance into the online life of teenagers that no one is supposed to see. Contrary to popular belief among adults, these teenagers are not oblivious to privacy settings and do care a good amount about who can see what online. If anything, most of them have consciously chosen what they want to show to me and the rest of the world through social media. And what they’re telling us is who they are and what they need from us as mentors.

Something worth thinking about. As I look back at the questions I got from my kids back in the day, technology was sort of the conduit to the real topics. What do I do when people are mean? My friend betrays me? And what’s up with family?

It’s a strange opportunity brought about by social media and a wonderful inter-generational project. Get adults to talk to kids about privacy in the real world. Get kids to show adults how to set privacy options online. Encourage them to connect to each other and continue to listen and learn. After all…

Some researchers now argue that high schoolers with an adult mentor means a 50 percent greater likelihood of attending college—disadvantaged students are 100 percent more likely if they have an adult mentor. And that mentor doesn’t even have to do anything special: “Comments from study participants indicate that their mentors weren’t necessarily doing anything extraordinary, just being involved and treating the young person as an important human being,” Brigham Young University sociology professor Lance Erickson wrote of his study published in the journal Sociology of Education.

This entry was posted in Digital Divide, education, New Media by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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