Our friend Anastasia Goodstein of Ypulse.com has a new book out: Totally Wired! In the book, she bridges the generational and digital divide by letting adults know what's up with tweens and teens online--and that they don't have to view the Net as something that's going to negatively snare their kids. Girls For A Change will be hosting one of Anastasia's book signings--details:
Totally Wired: Meet the Author
Monday, April 16
1375 Burlingame Avenue
Please come out to meet the author of this well-researched guide for parents (and teens alike)! Check out more about the book here. Also, download the discussion guide for schools, librarians and teachers! PLUS read a Q&A with Anastasia here:
How did you become so interested in this topic?
Blogging about teen media and marketing day in and day out means blogging about teens and technology. Since this generation has grown up “totally wired” with the Internet and cell phones, it has not only transformed the way that teens interact media and marketers, but also with each other, their parents and teachers. When MySpace hit its tipping point and the media began to pay attention to this story, I felt like a lot of coverage was helping to create a moral panic amongst parents around what teens and tweens were doing online. I wanted to be “a voice of reason” for parents and give them a balanced view of what teens are really doing – the good (of which there is lots) and the not so good. My hope is that this book can inspire conversations between parents and teens and bridge the growing gap between teens’ actual online lives and their parents’ perception of what teens are doing online.
What was it like interviewing teenagers for the book? And how did you get them to be so honest and open with you?
I have always loved working with teens from my days working with C.I.T.s (counselors in training) at a summer camp to mentoring inner city girls in Boston to the teens I work with locally each week in San Francisco. I also went through some tough teenage years myself, which is why I’m so drawn to this work and this population. I have a lot of empathy for teens and am a good listener. I think if you treat teens as young adults, respect them and validate that what they have to say is important, you will be surprised at how much they open up to you. I actually really enjoyed hearing about how technology has become integrated into their everyday lives and interactions.
Do boys and girls have different tendencies when it comes to online socializing? Are there different things that parents should be concerned about for each?
Girls tend to be more social and communication oriented both online and off. Growing up totally wired gives them more ways to keep these conversations going. They can now text, IM or comment on each other’s blogs or MySpace pages in addition to talking in the halls, at lunch, after school or at home on the phone. All of the research shows girls are more active on social networking sites than boys (although they’re there, too). Boys tend to be more interest driven – listening to music, talking about technology, playing video games or uploading videos. There is also a striking difference in how girls and boys represent themselves with avatars (virtual representations of themselves online). Girls tend to create avatars that look more like them, albeit somewhat enhanced, and spend lots of time and energy dressing them. Boys tend to create avatars more like video game characters and are interested in having do fantastical things or have cool weapons. Parents should talk to both girls and boys about being safe, not giving out too much info online, not talking to virtual strangers, never meeting someone in person unless accompanied by a parent, and treating other teens ethically and respectfully online and off.
What advice do you have for parents who worry that their children are spending too much time on the internet and not enough time developing the social skills that result from in-person interactions?
Parents need to set boundaries with children and teens – even if they protest at the time, I believe they actually want you to do this. Too much of anything is never good – I suggest parents help teens set boundaries around their own internet use. For example, teens may appear to be masters at multi-tasking, but the reality is that having IM windows popping up and the cell phone buzzing while trying to write a research paper or study, is distracting. Making homework time just about homework and having them log out of IM and turn the phone off, may feel painful, but they’ll actually retain more and get their work done faster – especially if they can socialize afterwards. There are tons of creative and educational activities teens can and should be doing online like writing blogs or uploading their art or creating a podcast or just researching whatever interests them. But I also think it’s important for teens to go outside, be in nature, go to the mall and hang out with their friends in person. Parents and teens need to work together to find the balance between time spent living life online and off. Parents should insist on teens turning off their phones (and leaving them outside the bedroom) after they go to bed. Believe it or not, this is when a lot of teen communication is happening.
Many parents are very fearful of the internet when it comes to their children – are these fears warranted?
All of the crime statistics I’ve read make it clear that children have more to fear from people they know than from strangers. That said, the internet is a virtual public space where adults and children can interact and where children can easily access objectionable content. Parents just need to be actively involved in what their kids are doing online. I interviewed parents who use filtering software for younger children and keep the computer in a central location in the house they can easily check in on to see where their children are surfing. But beyond filters, looking through their browser history or standing over them while they’re online, nothing can replace having a relationship with children and teens. Asking them to show you what sites they love and why, playing a game with them online, and most importantly teaching them values – talk about how it’s easier to say mean things to people online when you can’t see the person’s reaction, teach them what’s appropriate and inappropriate to post online. All the technology in the world can’t replace good parenting. What are some common mistakes that parents make when trying to curb their children’s internet usage? The most common mistakes would be relying too heavily on filtering technology – it’s often imperfect and blocks sites parents would be ok with, plus most internet savvy teens can get around it. Mostly, it doesn’t replace talking about sites they might stumble upon. I would also advise not overreacting if you discover your child has done something inappropriate online or posted something inappropriate. Use the opportunity as a teachable moment. It’s fine to restrict access for a time in response to an incident, but attempting to permanently cut it off will only deny teens the opportunity to experience all of the cool stuff that is online.
What is the most important lesson that you hope parents will learn from reading TOTALLY WIRED?
The most important lesson is that the internet is not the “big bad wolf.” It’s a virtual public space where teens are mostly doing what teens do offline – communicating, listening to music, doing homework, etc. But because it is a virtual space with the opportunity to be anonymous, and because of the viral nature of the web, it requires a different set of ground rules. In order to set these ground rules, parents need to become internet literate. They don’t have to learn HTML, but they do need to understand the basic features of a MySpace profile and how it works. There’s probably a teen in his or her bedroom with the door locked who would make a great teacher!