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Juvenoia: The kids are all right, even on the Internet

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Over the 15-or-so years I’ve been covering family technology, I’ve noticed a kind of siege mentality developed among parents about kids’ use of digital media.

Then, a few years ago, when sociology professor David Finkelhor at the University of New Hampshire gave his milestone talk, “The Internet, Youth Deviance & the Problem of Juvenoia,” I heard him offer the most plausible reason I’d heard or seen yet for what he called this “juvenoia” – “the exaggerated fear about the influence of social change on youth” – that had developed around children’s seemingly unprecedented and uncontrollable exposure to a diversity of values and influences not our own.

Not helping was awareness of our children’s delight in and comfort level with the media and technologies enabling that exposure (here‘s where I wrote about that), a comfort level many of us had not ourselves reached.

24/7 exposure to somebody else’s values

“Virtually every parent from every station in life,” Dr. Finkelhor said, “sees him or herself as raising children in opposition to the common culture. Parents feel undermined by it – pitted, depending on their point of view, against consumerism, secularism, sexual licentiousness, government regulation, violence, junk food, public schools, religious and racial bigotry…. Of course the Internet is one of the institutions that increased the diversity of that exposure, and this leads to a constant anxiety about [children's exposure to] external threats” to their family’s values.

The professor hypothesized that this siege mentality has grown over the millennia as we’ve gotten further and further away from tribal society, where the tribe reinforced the values parents taught their children.

I’ve been working this problem for a long time, and up until now, about all I could think of to suggest to fellow parents besides getting informed about digital media and – much more important – playing and talking with their kids in the media they love.

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