The Internet is fascinated by teenagers. People are in awe of the things that teenagers do and say, online and offline.
Dr. danah boyd, a senior researcher at Microsoft, assistant professor at NYU and fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, thinks that perhaps adults are worrying too much about what teenagers are doing and saying online. What happens at lunchtime on the playground is now happening on the Internet, mostly on social media sites. Kids talk about stuff they can't discuss in class, they flirt with each other, they make crude jokes. They openly discuss what they'd never utter at the family dinner table.
"We need to give kids the freedom to explore and experience things online that might actually help them," boyd tells the New York Times. "What scares me is that we don't want to look at the things that make us uncomfortable. So rather than see what teenagers are showing us online about bullying and suicide and the problems they're dealing with and using that information to help them, we're making ourselves blind to it."
Teens are falling in love and sharing their passwords, potentially opening themselves up to identity theft, online reputation ruining... and a greater feeling of intimacy. Pew reports that 30% of all teen Internet users shared a password with a friend or significant other. In a blog post follow-up to that story, boyd suggests that teenagers learn about password sharing from adults. Learning starts at home.
These budding adolescents also don't give a crap about "liking" your company on Facebook. A study from Forrester shows that only 6% of online U.S. consumers ages 12-17 are interested in interacting with brands on Facebook.
Another study said that teenagers would likely leave Facebook for Google+ because they just weren't comfortable with things like the news ticker (read: stalker feed). They did, however, love Facebook Timeline. Teens take Facebook "likes" seriously: 57% felt that it was a reflection of their own personal brand, and 37% saw it as a "high-five"-like endorsement to their friends. And 56% of teens say they "liked" a brand after seeing a friend do the same thing via the news ticker. An Ericsson study that looked at how teenagers socialized through technology discovered that teens actually prefer meeting in real life to texting and liking one anothers' status updates.
A study from the University of Texas at Austin proved that peoples' Facebook personalities were the same as their real life personalities. Why do people use Facebook? Researchers at Boston University say it's to connect with others, and show their friends who they are. Teens' use of social media sites isn't so different from their adult counterparts.
This doesn't mean that parents and relatives should go stalk their teenagers on Facebook, or even comment on their status updates. Respect that the Internet is space where teenagers go to be themselves. Kk?
Image via U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Interested in learning more about Dr. boyd's research? Read about her teen sexting talk at the 2011 ReadWriteWeb 2Way Summit.