Recently, I brought my tween daughter to meet Anastasia Goodstein, (at left) publisher of youth blog YPulse and author of the Totally Wired book and blog. Since we’re both Bay-area based, I thought I’d seize the local opportunity to hear what she had to say at one of her book talks on the press circuit.
I ended up bumping into some parents I already knew, educators I wanted to know, and online thought leaders in the youth arena who I’d e-mailed back and forth several times, but never met in person. (yes, that’s an experiential footnote of living in a ‘Totally Wired world’!)
As for tweens and teens? Nope, mine was the only one. But that makes sense because kids LIVE the pages of her book…Totally Wired is more for the parents who don’t…
Most of the interviews I’ve read with Anastasia (including this new one with VC/Apple guru Guy Kawasaki) are broad-based brushstrokes about wired teen media, OR they’re marketers mining hints on how to target kids better…or both.
Shaping Youth’s interview with the Totally Wired author probes the nitty gritty from a PARENT perspective for those of us already in the trenches with kidcentric digital culture, to get specific tips and insights for media literacy to keep dialogue open, awareness keen, and kids safely savvy. Feel free to ping me with more questions for Anastasia, and…ENJOY!
Shaping Youth: Anastasia, in your book you talk about the ‘virtual stage;’ which some adults perceive as exhibitionism and some kids see as peer validation and “self-controlled” identity promotion. (e.g. extreme sports/daredevil stunts, or “wow, I never knew he was into guitar” personal profile PR)
How do you think new live technology like Veodia (a “live TV studio in your browser”) will impact kid-culture?
Totally Wired: To me it seems like just another tool for all of us to create our own media — not so different than the issues raised by Webcam communities like Stickam. The more tools there are to “broadcast yourself,” the more education is needed to teach kids and tweens that whatever they put out there is public and potentially permanent.
Shaping Youth: Porn’s become quite a big deal, from pop-ups to search engine exposure. What do you think of the new GOOD magazine video citing the dominance of internet porn? It’s getting lots of viral ‘exposure’ (pardon the pun) opening dialogue about porn pervasiveness in Web 2.0.
Totally Wired: I think it’s a pretty clever way to deliver lots of statistics about porn. A little risqué but ultimately communicates how massive the internet porn industry is. Also their audience is not teen or tween but college and twenty/thirtysomethings.
Shaping Youth: How can parents avoid over-reaction to developmental curiosity while safeguarding kids’ sexuality from misogyny/damaging cues being virally circulated among peers?
Totally Wired: Parents need to be involved in their child’s online life and proactive in discussing their views and values about pornography and the objectification of women so that they can help kids develop a critical eye towards what they might encounter online or what they will encounter in pop culture, which has gotten increasingly sexual.
Kids and tweens still take most of their cues from their parents — you just have to be ready to tackle challenging or uncomfortable subjects. If you find a porn site in your 13-year-old son’s browser history or a photo of your 14-year-old girl in her bikini on MySpace, just take a deep breath, and make these incidents teachable moments. My gut says punishing teens for this stuff (at least the first time it happens) will leave them feeling more ashamed than enlightened.
Shaping Youth: Teens (and now many tweens) are using virtual worlds, building avatars (e.g. TSL, Gaia, Zwinky, WeeWorld etc.) and trying on different personalities and role playing personas to chat. (e.g. our Zwinktopia article here) Much of it is social, experiential fun…but…
How do you feel violence fits into this media mix of online virtual worlds & gaming? (e.g. murders, decapitations, more elaborate role play, aggression) Are kids venting angst or being desensitized? Can violence ever be “good?”
Totally Wired: The violence you describe happens more in video games and online in games like World of Warcraft. Popular virtual worlds like Gaia Online, Virtual Laguna Beach or Habbo are more about dressing your avatar, chatting and hanging out than decapitation.
They’ve done lots of studies linking violent video games to increased aggression and becoming desensitized to violence. I’m sure there is a degree of safe venting through these games that happens, too.
Video game ratings exist for a reason — 14-year-old boys shouldn’t be playing Grand Theft Auto, but unfortunately lots of parents buy these games for their kids. I also think parents have to set limits on the amount of time kids get to spend playing video games, especially online role playing games, which can suck you in for hours.
(S.Y. editorial footnote: On a recent middle school field trip the entire carload of boys named GTA as their ‘favorite’ game, yet when pushed to identify where they’d accessed it, it was always ‘a friend’s house,’ not a parent purchase, meaning there’s a contraband element at play in the‘access’ dynamic…hmn.)
Shaping Youth: What are your top 5 TWEEN (8-12) blogger sites/resources you use to understand tween demographics as a ‘non-parent?’
Shaping Youth: What are your findings on tween/teen multitasking and how does it compare with the KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation) research?
Totally Wired: I found that teens are actually struggling with the amount of media they are using. It’s too much — information overload. Many of them will reluctantly admit it’s hard to concentrate, but they need help (i.e. parents) to set limits and turn some of it off. You won’t get this out of them right away though, they like to think of themselves as being supreme multi-taskers and want to keep the TV on and the IM and MySpace up while studying — so they don’t miss anything. Unfortunately, what they miss is being able to really focus and retain what they’re trying to learn.
Shaping Youth: In your book, you mention about 83% of teens use IM and ¼ of them have mobile phones…Now that the 8-12 demographic is “totally wired” too, what media literacy is reasonable/necessary for younger tweens?
Totally Wired: With tweens and IM, it’s all about parents knowing who’s on your tween’s buddy list, just as you’d want to know who their offline friends are. Tweens may want to create ‘naughty’ IM screen names or use inappropriate avatars so it’s good to keep an eye on this, too. I encourage parents to set limits on any digital media use, including IM, so telling them when to log out, especially when they’re studying, is important.
Tell your tween not to share IM passwords — your tween’s BFF may not be her friend in a month, and can use your daughter’s password to wreak havoc.
With texting, if you let your tween have unlimited text messages, you need to be clear that the phone is off when he or she goes to bed. Kids are texting more and more in the middle of the night, but if they know YOU know (and there’s a consequence for getting caught) they may power down and go to sleep.
Shaping Youth: Any specific links/sites/tips on IM etiquette and safety for tweens? How can we help to “teach kids to drive the internet”?
Totally Wired: Wired Safety has some decent tips on IMing. I also think parents should be teaching cell phone etiquette — when to put the phone on silent, that it’s not ok to take someone’s photo or video without their knowledge, etc.
Also talk to your tween about what costs money to put on cell phones — wall paper, ringtones, etc. so they don’t “unknowingly” start purchasing extras you get stuck paying for (or contesting) on your bill. Basically it’s all about teaching tweens responsible and ethical use of these new digital tools.
Totally Wired: I think marketers always have a HUGE responsibility when marketing anything to kids or tweens (under 13) via digital media to get parental consent. I also think parents have a huge responsibility to educate their kids and tweens about marketing — how to identify it (when it’s an advergame), how to understand the marketer’s agenda, and teach their kids about the negative effects of junk food and energy drinks.
Shaping Youth: How effective has COPPA been or will it be in the next wave of third screen mobile marketing?
Totally Wired: I think that most of the food/soda/candy companies know they’re inches away from being regulated if they don’t tread very carefully. My impression of COPPA is that’s worked for the sites that implement it correctly — but lots of companies aren’t even aware they can implement it at all, thinking they can’t do anything with kids under 13. I think there will ALWAYS be parental backlash when a company steps over the line. That’s what’s happening with mobile companies, marketing ringtones, and other extras kids have to pay for in nefarious ways. Parents got the bill and many have sued.
Shaping Youth: In your opinion, is there a difference in accountability by product category or age regarding ethical targeting of tweens/teens?(e.g. kids exposed to ambient ads for alcohol, tobacco, ‘hottie-hookup’ online/mobile ads vs. outdoor billboards?)
Totally Wired: Obviously none of these companies should be marketing on or around sites that are obviously tween or teen oriented. The problem with huge sites like MySpace is that there are millions of teens on the service, but there are also millions of adults. It’s funny to hear teens talk about the gross ads on MySpace — they obviously get that some of these ads are “adult” and tend to make fun of them or ignore them. But they also see Viagra ads on CNN. The internet is a virtual public space with all of the same evils and pitfalls available in the offline world (just magnified or amplified). Parents have to educate their children that this stuff is out there and explain why it may be bad, exploitative/objectifying or unhealthy and guide them in their technology use.
Shaping Youth: Socioeconomically, is the digital divide widening or narrowing? It seems kids are either wired or not, with lots of absolutism. (either tons of interest or none)
Totally Wired: There’s still a digital divide between low income families without computers at home and middle and upper middle class kids who may have more than one. Go to any public library with a computer lounge after school, and you’ll see the teens who most likely don’t have it at home checking their MySpace pages. That’s why it’s so important to fight legislation that attempts to block social media from schools, libraries and other federally funded after school programs.
I think the percentage of unplugged rebels is very small. Most teens are online — even if they don’t use social networking sites. I think what’s more common are teens taking self imposed breaks. Like, it just got to be too much, so I took down my profile or don’t play that game any more.
Totally Wired: I like Cyberbully411 for specific information; I’m a fan of Net Family News and their Blog Safety Forum as a great resource for parents to really engage in kids’ digital lives to discuss issues, ask questions and find out more information.
As for media literacy, hmn…there are so many youth media organizations doing great work — I list tons of these sites and programs on the right hand side of Ypulse.com. As for internet safety resources, they’re all on the right hand side of Totallywiredbook.com.
Shaping Youth: If you were hiking in the Himalayas and heard a cellphone ring, would diff. generations respond differently?
Totally Wired: I think parents have to tell wired kids when to unplug — and being in nature is one place to do that. But if the parents are checking their Blackberries on the hike, why should teens unplug? At the same time, I think kids’ museums have done a nice job using technology in their exhibits to teach kids about science and nature and to make these exhibits even more interactive. There’s a time and a place for everything, it’s parents’ jobs to say, we’re going camping — we’re bringing one family cell phone for emergencies, that’s it.
Shaping Youth: What are some tips for closing the gap between generations and opening digital dialogue universally?
Totally Wired: Asking for a ‘virtual tour’ is a great way to open a dialogue at ANY age. In the process, you can have kids help you set up a profile, create an avatar, play their favorite game with them, talk about whether their profile is public or private, what kinds of content they post, the fact that what they post can be found and shared, sharing passwords, evaluating a website’s credibility, being critical of online marketing and other issues where you can really step in as a parent and share your wisdom/expertise/guidance.
Shaping Youth: Are there any preventive cues to watch out for regarding self-harm social networks like the anorexia/bulimia/cutting subculture? (where some kids share tips in perpetuating diseases rather than recovery?)
How should parents handle media literacy without calling attention to those sites, which might flag troubled teens to their existence?
Totally Wired: The teens involved in these subcultures are sick before they seek these sites out. I think it’s pretty rare that a healthy teen would stumble upon one of these blogs and be inspired to starve or cut themselves. If you have open communication with your kids and are paying close attention, you should be able to spot red flags for these disorders in your children. I think talking to them about eating disorders or self harm and the existence of these sites can be positive — they may have friends who are in trouble or notice something on their friend’s blog or MySpace and can then tell someone about it and try to get them help. It’s all about dialogue, keeping the lines of communication open, and letting your kids know they won’t get in trouble (or lose internet privileges) for telling you about stuff like this.
I also think making them aware of hotlines or other resources where they can anonymously report stuff can be useful as well. Or having another trusted adult friend who your kids are comfortable talking to if they just don’t feel like they can tell you everything.
(S.Y. editorial note: This scares the socks off of me as a parent. Anastasia is able to note that some therapists and recovery experts are able to learn how to treat kids in their care by getting inside the mindset deeper, and says that while sites like Yahoo have removed these ‘blog rings’ due to their content, others like Xanga have kept them based on ‘free speech’ issues…So there are different ways of looking at this.
See what I mean by her objectivity? The first time my daughter’s book club started picking media like “Perfect” and “The Uglies” and “Fix” as an exploratory exercise in body image, I started over-thinking behavioral cues and adolescent angst & keeping a sharper eye on ALL media, not just digital sites)
Shaping Youth: How/where can parents “look to see if their child has a blog” considering most kids use screen names and alternative profile personas? (I’m talking about parents trying to ‘sort out’ warning signs and stay engaged vs. ‘policing’ kids’ activities doing the parental ‘helicopter hovering’ routine.)
Totally Wired: The best thing for parents to do is to begin this dialogue EARLY with kids or tweens. You can let them have an online profile as long as you get to see it periodically. Then you build trust with them along with ongoing communication, so when they’re 15 or 16, hopefully you’ll be comfortable enough to give them some more privacy. If your teen is older already, and you have a decent relationship, it can’t hurt to ask them to let you see their profile(s) or blog(s) or at least find out if it’s public or private (by asking them)…Then you can ask them about what they post.
If you’re determined to take a stealthier route, you can always try searching on MySpace (you’d be surprised at how many teens use some version of their real names) and register on Facebook to see if they’re there. They have to accept you as a friend on Facebook for you to see their profile, but at least you will know they have one.
If you’re permitted to see your teen’s online profiles or blogs or can find them on your own, you will learn a lot (some stuff you might wish you didn’t know). Just remember teens have always done stuff without you knowing about it — at school, after school, on the weekends. In some ways you will learn more about them through their online lives than you might have known from their offline lives.
Shaping Youth: Who are your top 5 fave teen bloggers? (Specifically, 13-17 year olds that you feel represent insightful youth voices)
Totally Wired: I have three sites I check in on periodically, as well as teens I read when they were in high school who have now moved on to college. Here are a few for your readers in no particular order: Bluebird Escape and Jeweled Platypus and Girl Headquarters (teen girl political bloggers) and Random Shapes (teen tech bloggers) and Neek Talk (girl tech bloggers).
We ALL know becoming engaged in kids’ lives is a ‘must’ for staying on the same frequency, and I’d fine tune that distinction even further in the digital arena.
You’ve given us a lot to work with here.
In teen speak, I’m thrilled to do a ‘shout out’ to parents that Totally Wired “rocks!”