The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance: News Stories Everywhere Claim Technology is Evil, Kids are Helpless

In today’s world of ubiquitous social media, it seems like every day you hear a news story about why social networks are bad for kids in some new way. While I was researching the topic, I came across an article titled ‘Are social networking sites turning teens into substance abusers?’ which seemed like the perfect starting spot for an analysis of media overreacting about kids’ online lives. The article cites a press release from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, which states that ‘Teens who use Facebook and other social networking sites on a daily basis are three times as likely to drink alcohol, twice as likely to use marijuana, and five times more likely to smoke tobacco than teens who don’t frequent the sites.’ While such statistics may sound like the standard ‘the internet is bad for your kids’ rant, this article actually did point out that rather than keep kids from the internet, perhaps something should be done by sites like Facebook to prevent teenagers from posting such pictures online. However unrealistic this may be, it is at least a different perspective than the norm. Another interesting point of differentiation from the standard discourse was that about 90 percent of parents interviewed in the survey believed that social networking had no effect on their kids drinking or drug use.

While this article does provide some interesting insight, the major issue that I find is that it directly relates social networking with drinking and drug use, completely ignoring all other factors. This type of technological determinism is criticized in Amy Adele Hasinoff’s article ‘Sexting as media production: Re-thinking dominant ideas about teen girls and sexuality online.’ In the article, Hasinoff points out a CBS news story which, in regard to teens and sexting, stated, ‘When people see these sexy pictures, they are more apt to have sexual relations which will lead to teen pregnancy .’ Again, such a point of view directly blames the technology for teenagers’ decisions and removes all agency from the teens themselves.  Just as Hasinoff provides the alternative view of sexting as a means of expression, perhaps the authors of the article that I came across should consider that in posting pictures on Facebook, these teenagers are simply expressing themselves, but that an issue worth tackling might be how and why the teens are drinking in the first place.

Another issue with how the information is presented in this article is that it mentions a broad generalization in saying that using a social networking site on a daily basis makes teens three times more likely to drink alcohol. Similar to the way in which the article is ignoring any outside context, such numbers should be looked at under a closer light, much like Kimberly Mitchell and her team do in their article  ‘Prevalence and Characteristics of Youth Sexting: A National Study.’ Just as Mitchell and her team find that past studies overrepresent the amount of sexting going on due to vague definitions and flawed research methods, perhaps a more in-depth study would be more informative than such quick correlational statements.

Articles like these clearly try to provoke some sense of panic in parents of teens, much like the video we watched in class about the ‘new ways kids are hiding sexting from their parents.’ News reports like these seem to say that the only way teens can be safe is either by not being on social networking sites at all, or by having heavy parental privacy invasion supervision. Rather than present these terrifying statistics in raw form, maybe these news stories should focus on talking with your kids and teaching them to make responsible decisions both online and offline, rather than simply saying that the internet is an evil place where your kids will be completely out of your (and their own) control.

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  1. First of all, I just need to say that I love the Wonka meme. If you don’t already follow @CondescendingWonka on Twitter, you need to. That being said, I thought the article you found was really interesting and highlights some fundamental problems of portraying youth and/in media. Like you mentioned, it seems as though the studies that are being conducted almost want to cause parents to fear the use of their kids health and safety on social media. For whatever reason, a lot of news and media sources like to approach the adolescent issues like substance abuse from a very narrow angle and often all of their eggs get put into one basket. Usually this basket is social media.

    I agree with what you said throughout your post – how the article was interesting because it did actually take a unique approach to analyzing the issue and controversial statement at hand (providing convincing statistical results). But I’d like to back-up your argument about the problems with this article even further. We learned a lot about racism online this week and while this does not bring up the issue of skin color or ethnicity, teens are definitely discriminated in a similar way.

    In Hargittai’s article “Open Doors, Closed Spaces,” the author mentions that the Internet and social media spheres are not free of other social dynamics. In fact, discourses in the broader public sphere often get reproduced in social media sites – participation in the site ends up being “raced” naturally. Teens are discriminated against in the public sphere as being disruptive and unwanted; they already have the stigma of causing trouble at a young age. It’s very possible that this stigma could be skewing the results of their study. Are the numbers that they’re presenting really that accurate? I think it would be a good idea to take a look at other factors like you had suggested (many teens were probably drinking/smoking before they put it online) to see just how skewed the results are.

    • lauraportwoodstacer

       /  April 1, 2012

      Nice post, and nice critical analysis of the methodology behind published studies. I think you’re absolutely right, Katherine, that the results may say more about the study designs themselves than actual causal relationships between technology and social phenomena.


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