Juvenoia: The kids are all right, even on the Internet(Read article summary)
Juvenoia is an exaggerated fear of the effects of social change on youth. Even in an Internet age, the kids are going to be fine. They may even turn out better than us.
Over the 15-or-so years I‚Äôve been covering family technology, I‚Äôve noticed a kind of siege mentality developed among parents about kids‚Äô use of digital media.
Then, a few years ago, when sociology professor David Finkelhor at the University of New Hampshire gave his milestone talk, ‚ÄúThe Internet, Youth Deviance & the Problem of Juvenoia,‚ÄĚ I heard him offer the most plausible reason I‚Äôd heard or seen yet for what he called this ‚Äújuvenoia‚ÄĚ ‚Äď ‚Äúthe exaggerated fear about the influence of social change on youth‚ÄĚ ‚Äď that had developed around children‚Äôs seemingly unprecedented and uncontrollable exposure to a diversity of values and influences not our own.
Not helping was awareness of our children‚Äôs delight in and comfort level with the media and technologies enabling that exposure (here‚Äės where I wrote about that), a comfort level many of us had not ourselves reached.
24/7 exposure to somebody else‚Äôs values
‚ÄúVirtually every parent from every station in life,‚ÄĚ Dr. Finkelhor said, ‚Äúsees him or herself as raising children in opposition to the common culture. Parents feel undermined by it ‚Äď pitted, depending on their point of view, against consumerism, secularism, sexual licentiousness, government regulation, violence, junk food, public schools, religious and racial bigotry‚Ä¶. 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‚ÄĚ to their family‚Äôs values.
The professor hypothesized that this siege mentality has grown over the millennia as we‚Äôve gotten further and further away from tribal society, where the tribe reinforced the values parents taught their children.
I‚Äôve 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 ‚Äď much more important ‚Äď playing and talking with their kids in the media they love.
I felt that, by focusing on the kids, the tools they love, and the facts (the research about the kid-media nexus), other parents might see what I‚Äôve seen with my own kids: that their experiences in and with digital media are about 99% positive or neutral but, when not, can be worked through because mostly about people and parenting (I‚Äôd come to see that the context of those experiences in media was mostly home and school and the rest of offline life and sociality, not so much the media).
‚ÄėMyself, my family, our story‚Äô
Now, however, I think I‚Äôve stumbled upon a missing piece to the equation ‚Äď and it has even less to do with technology than my own antidote.
In a great commentary in The New York Times by parent and author Bruce Feiler about his own family and research, I read that ‚Äúthe last few years have seen stunning breakthroughs [from a number of fields] in knowledge about how to make families, along with other groups, work more effectively,‚ÄĚ and it‚Äôs not just unplugging (see¬†this).
‚ÄúDevelop[ing] a strong family narrative,‚ÄĚ Feiler discovered ‚Äď helping our kids know who and where they came from with those family-history stories and little rituals (some of the best are the hokiest) clans develop together ‚Äď helping our children have a sense of family history, is one of the best things parents can do to help them develop self-esteem, resilience, identity, and all the other good things that sustain safety, mental health, and good relationships online and offline.
‚ÄúThe more children knew about their family‚Äôs history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned,‚ÄĚ Feiler says psychologists have found. Think about the safety that ensures.
More focus needed on internal protections
Probably because the online safety field believed risk and safety were somehow all about technology, its messaging has always been weighted way too much on the side of¬†external¬†tools for kids‚Äô well being ‚Äď filtering and monitoring software, parental control, abuse reporting, school rules, laws. What about the resilience, confidence, empathy, moral compass ‚Äď the¬†internal¬†protections ‚Äď that help them deal with challenges and connect with others successfully for the rest of their lives, the ‚Äútools‚ÄĚ more important than ever in a networked world?
Way back in 2008 a¬†national task force on Internet safety¬†found that a child‚Äôs psychosocial makeup and home and school environments were better predictors of online risk than any technology a child uses.
So there‚Äôs something really substantial, now, for concerned parents to go on: Know that neither your child‚Äôs inner strength nor your influence can be swamped by technology and that, even if you believe they can be, there‚Äôs something you can do about it ‚Äď as well as something you can do to reinforce healthy child development.
You can help your children know themselves better by knowing ‚Äúthey belong to something bigger than themselves ‚Ä¶ the best single predictor of children‚Äôs emotional health and happiness,‚ÄĚ Feiler wrote.
When you think about it, we haven‚Äôt actually lost that ancient tribal support David Finkelhor referred to in his 2010 talk. We‚Äôre building on it as we work toward a better balance between internal and external protection for children and families.
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Anne Collier blogs at¬†Net Family News.