This weekend, a very popular student at my school and her mother were tragically killed in a car accident. It’s been a difficult few days for many in our community. The reason I mention it is that the student and many of her friends had sites at MySpace, and while hers has since been closed to public view, many of the other kids have been posting pictures and thoughts on their own sites in her memory. What’s been striking to me is the scope of the outpouring online among these kids who are obviously making use of these sites to support each other and to grieve her passing. No doubt, as you scroll through many of these pages, you’ll see troubling pictures and comments and links. But you’ll also see a deeply connected community of kids, kids who are turning to these spaces to help each other cope and express their genuine feelings of sadness and confusion to one another. And it’s a community that I think most adults simply don’t “get” yet, myself included to a some extent. It’s more than MySpace that we need to understand, however. It’s the power of the connections that kids are making online, connections that we never had the opportunity to explore in those murky, gangly, confused years of our own adolescence. We’re totally missing the point if we think we can wave the spectre of danger in front of them (danger of pedophiles, danger of future embarrassment, danger of _________) and expect them just to stop. Whether we like it or not, these are important and meaningful places to a large number of our kids. It’s not our role to control them because the reality is we can’t do that. It’s our role to educate them. And to do that, we have to be willing to learn from them first.
Dan McDowell says
A few months ago we also lost a student and the same thing happened. Students set up memorials, posted pictures, and wrote about their memories of the student. It is amazing how connected and how natural this for students. I don’t think that the nature of teenagers has changed, they have always been like this (including the disturbing content), they just now have tools that connects in a way never seen before.
David Warlick says
I agree with your point, that these students have used the space that technology has given them to enrich their relationships. When I watch my children with their friends, I see a level of friendship that I think would have been impossible when I was growing up (40 years ago). With their close friends, the relation is more like brothers and sisters. They are together at school, at the ball game, at band practice, at the mall, and just knocking around town — and their together at home, through IM and other interactive spaces.
I’m especially amazed how well the teenaged girls and boys get along. It seemed that the whole romance thing got in the way of our having close friends of the opposite sex when I was young. My kids have very close opposite-gender friends, no sexual presure apparent — at least to my notice.
It’s an understandable observation made by many older adults that these kids aren’t learning the interact with each other in real life. But I think they’re wrong.
Dana Huff says
I think what you said here is very valuable and very true. I have been trying to talk other faculty members into using time at a Town Meeting (we have entire-school meetings) to discuss this, and this is a point well worth bringing up. But as you say, we do need to educate them about online safety.
I’ve also seen this type of connectedness with a hospital “care page.” In my town, two years ago, an eighth grade student had a brain hemorrhage and was in the hospital for a month. The kids in his school were devasted but were able to stay updated through the hospital care page. His friends were also able to write to him. The student had over 1000 messages that were out there for all to read. There was an incredible outpouring of support for him and his family. This is the natural way for our kids. They don’t know any other way.
Art Wolinsky says
In less than 2 hours, I will be conducting an online class on blogging. Much of what you say is already contained in the course as are links to weblogg-ed, and now this specific entry. It not only points to the digital divide between adults and students, it underscores the changing nature of education. Unlike a text book that is outdated before it is published, online education or education that utilzes today’s technology is ever changing in real time. This one-hour class has been given twice in the past week an has changed in each presentation to reflect happenings that took place since it was created only two weeks earlier.