do you speak teen…?

Jeanette Paule’s* article “Decoding Your Teen’s Social Media Language” provides parents with their  ‘little black book of translation’. Paule suggests that teens are now creating new short hands and codes to communicate potentially harmful subjects to one another – despite being right under their parents watchful eye. Paule draws upon the findings of Social Shield, a social network monitoring service for parents that recently released a list of ‘the top terms parents need to know’.

Social Shield says, “These little-known codes are part of a new lexicon being formed by children—and those who might prey on children—to communicate with each other in ways that most adults wouldn’t understand”. Taken from terms flagged in their search engine, Social Shield divided terms into six categories: Warning (Parents Are Around), Meet up Requests, Sexual, Cyberbullying, Depression, and Drugs/Drinking terms.

Paule asserts that while friending your child on social networks is to monitor them, it may have the opposite result, being part of the problem. As boyd and Marwick discuss in their paper, privacy means two very different things for parents and for their kids. boyd and Marwick refer to privacy as being a social construct, a fraught idea difficult to define universally. Parents want to monitor, protect and ensure their child is safe from the outside world, while their child’s idea of privacy is in regards to their parents being unable to view or understand their SNS’s. In boyd and Marwick’s article teens suggest that their parents attempt to keep them safe through monitoring and hovering they in fact invade their child’s privacy. This article and the Social Shield service definitely cater to the adult/parental notion of privacy, as does a lot of discourse in the media surrounding teen use of the internet.

I feel this sense of urgency to protect their young SNS user’s privacy and to monitor their activity stems from the moral panic surrounding kids and social networks. Any minutely negative story about a child on a social networking site is headline news, often blaming the social network, while in reality it may not be because of that. boyd and Marwick discuss this idea, citing Gill Valentine (speaking in reference to parks no longer being safe for children): “by reproducing a misleading message about the geography of danger, stranger-danger educational campaigns contribute towards producing public space as ‘naturally’or ‘formally’an adult space where children are at risk from ‘deviant’others” (25). boyd and Marwick assert that the same tactic has been used to justify why teens should not be on social network sites.

Amy Hasinoff addresses this idea in her paper , suggesting that the way issues are framed correlate to the public’s reactions and notions surrounding them. Kids interacting online has long been framed as a problem in media discourse, hence we have tools such as Social Shield (complete with an English – Teen dictionary). Social Shield did not create the notion that parents need to monitor their children, need a flagging service and need these terms, but it is a growing industry, with many similar services such as Eye Gaurdian.

Social Shield's Term List - Click image to enlarge for reading

boyd and Marwick address the kid’s definition of privacy, and call the phenomenon addressed in the Social Shield image steganography, the hiding of messages in plain sight. These messages are not necessarily hidden but are cryptic or unreadable for those not in the know. As more and more concerned parents insist on having access to their son or daughter’s accounts the kids use to their advantage that they have a different set of meanings to tap into that will be irrelevant to parents. For boyd and Marwick “every teenager wants privacy”; once their parents demand to friend them, demand their password, etc, the teen (or pre-teen) is left with no choice but to divert to code. Every group has their own language, and new short forms of language are continually being created to keep up with new technology, so this should not be surprising. boyd and Marwick say “by using different strategies to achieve privacy in networked publics…they want to be visible but only to certain people” (24). 

This seemingly contradicory notion of privacy in a public realm is something that all people navigate as they use the internet, with their notions of nightmare readers and ideal audiences guiding what they post and refrain from posting. What young people who use SNS’s are dealing with is actually something adults do constantly. Why are youngsters subject to so much more criticism and arguably a higher standard than their adult counterparts? What magical transformation occurs on their 18th birthday that makes them more capable to navigate the underworld that is the net? From personal experience, I can say not much. Maturity, common sense and such all vary by person and have very little to do with age. Why then is so much in our  society – think alcohol, tobacco, sex, driving and now SNS use-  linked with age?

*Note: no biographical info available on Jeanette Paule. Paule is a writer for Kiwi Commons.

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1 Comment

  1. lauraportwoodstacer

     /  April 1, 2012

    Nice connections across the readings, and good question at the end!


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