To America’s fretful parents of teens obsessed with social media: Chill out, the kids are all right. That’s the message of “It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens,” by youth and technology researcher Danah Boyd.
What about cyberbullies and predators? An exaggerated problem dished out by the media, Boyd says. Are smartphones turning children into narcissists or making them socially stunted? Parents, take a look in the mirror, she says, or at least up from your own smartphone at the dinner table and stop sending mixed signals on the use of tech.
Boyd’s pro-technology message for youngsters goes against the grain of popular concerns about children being exposed to more media online than ever before. Child development experts have cautioned that a generation of “digital natives” may suffer from all the time they spend texting, Snapchatting and gaming on the multitude of devices at their fingertips. Maryland and other states have enacted cyberbullying laws; federal lawmakers are considering similar action.
But the Microsoft researcher and fellow of Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society says that time online can be healthy. Boyd’s research has been warmly received by parents tired of being told to be afraid for their kids.
She also has drawn criticism from some parents, educators and law enforcement officials who have seen the rapid-fire spread of cruelty online. The effects of the Internet on social development are still little understood, social scientists say, and it’s too early to say the kids are OK. Excerpts of the conversation:
There is a whole range of meanness and cruelty, but the media lumps it all into one category. And law enforcement has gotten much worse with overly broad laws that are very punitive.