The Pew Research Center and Elon University have released a survey of Internet experts that found just over half of them believe that the connectivity of teens today will ultimately benefit them. The optimists think kids can now access human knowledge at a greater speed and to a greater extent than ever before, according to the survey.
But at the same time, the downsides of this connectivity are on display across the country, including a courtroom in New Jersey, a playground in Massachusetts, and recent cases in this region.
Last week, I wrote about a fight between girls at Montgomery County’s Churchill High that was briefly posted on YouTube. The Post’s Donna St. George recently wrote about a boy in Calvert County who was so humiliated by the broadcasting of a fight he was involved in that he’s left school altogether.
Meanwhile, the trial of Dharun Ravi in New Jersey is currently fusing “parental anxieties about the hidden worlds of teen-age computing, teen-age sex, and teen-age unkindness,” the New Yorker’s Ian Parker writes in a recent piece that details the high-profile trial.
Ravi is on trial for intimidating and invading the privacy of his Rutgers roommate Tyler Clementi. He faces ten years in prison.
The case stems from a night when Ravi rigged his webcam so that he could remotely spy on his roommate, who was gay, and another man. Ravi shared what he saw with a friend, tweeted about it and later planned to hold an online party to spy on the roommate again.
Clementi discovered the spying. He then killed himself by jumping off the George Washington Bridge.
The Ravi case is a legally complicated one and it remains unclear how closely Clementi’s suicide can be tied to the cyber-spying. Neither it nor the other incidents discount what the experts polled by Pew had to say about the potential of technology in kids’ lives.
What the incidents do suggest is that technology is also amplifying the hardest parts of adolescence — the cruelty, the betrayals, the embarrassments. It’s hard to feel worldly when the entire universe you occupy has witnessed your humiliation.
The issue for parents is how to help kids use technology for its benefits and avoid its more nefarious temptations. Is the answer to engage kids in more conversations about technology? Is it to monitor them more? Is it to shoot their laptops?
We are supposed to be the helicopter-parent generation, no? Where are we on this?