Frontline Documentary: Growing Up Online

If you missed the PBS Frontline documentary “Growing Up Online,” you can watch the entire show on the Frontline website. I think it was very well done.

The reaction to the documentary ranges from accusing the producers of creating another alarmist piece of journalism about the internet age, to complimenting them for embracing the reality that the internet and all that is scary about it is here to stay, and parents and educators need to figure out how to live in that world alongside their kids.

They do a good job of segmenting the various issues of teenagers and the internet:

  • Educating the internet generation
  • Online sexual predators
  • Kids spending too much time online
  • Internet anonymity: trying on new identities
  • Cyberbullying – A very interesting look at a new arena for abuse

“Growing Up Online” argues that the gap between generations (parents and their teenage children) has never been wider. This probably scared me more than anything else. The show features a white suburban family who, by all appearances, have everything going for them. But the relationship between the mother and her teenage son has been strained to a near breaking point. It’s a classic struggle between the parent who wants to protect her kid, and the kid who feels that he’s old enough to have a part of his life be completely private from his parents. After an incident where the mother (head of the school’s Parent Teacher Organization) sends an email to other parents regarding the happenings at a rock concert, the son cuts off all possible interaction (within his control) with his family.

This would kill me. I want to have a relationship with my daughter even when she’s a teenager. I don’t want to have to wait out those years until she grows out of a stage and realizes that I set certain boundaries because I loved her and wanted to protect her.

One of the best things that my mother ever did for me when I was in high school was to tell me (more than once) that if I was ever in a place or a situation that I wanted out of, I could call her; she would come and get me with no questions asked. I didn’t have to tell her a thing. She just wanted to help me get out of there.

Parenting scares me. This documentary points to evidence that it’s not getting any easier from one generation to the next.

The Frontline website has a number of resources, an ongoing discussion, and more information than one can possibly take in.

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5 Responses to “Frontline Documentary: Growing Up Online”

  1. I don’t think a lot of parents realize that they have a responsibility to protect their children until their children are old enough to make really bad choices. I think if kids have it explained to them from the get-go why rules are made and why they need to be followed, then something like what that mom did won’t come as such a shock to the teen and result in the cutting off of communication.

    I think the most important thing is honesty. If parents are honest (and realistic) with their children about things (drugs, sex, rock and roll, expectations, disappointments) then their kids will be honest back. Most of the time, that is. But when I think about the things I DIDN’T tell my parents growing up … hoo boy! A certain amount of rebellion is to be expected. I’d argue that something might be wrong with a teenager if he or she doesn’t rebel a little from their parents (and yes, like you, I dread this eventuality).

    My gut reaction is to say that while parenting isn’t getting easier, it’s not getting harder either. Aspects of it are changing, some for the better, some for the worse. I think (and hope) it all works out in the wash.

    Anyway, we’ll have to watch it online. Thanks for the link.

    Oh, and a great book about how modern media is actually making kids smarter, I suggest reading “Everything Bad is Good For You”. You may not agree with the argument completely, but I guarantee it’ll make you view the internet, TV and video games in a new light.

  2. surfsafekids Says:

    The internet is a tool like any other. It can be sorely abused and used for the wrong reasons. I think the thing we as parents have to realize however is having your children online exposes them to some potential serious threats. Essentially you’re bringing into your home communities, cultures, philosophies etc, as fast as they can be clicked. And, let’s face it, we can’t be sure that all of those things are on par with the ideals that we’re trying to teach our young ones. I think our responsibility is two-fold: we need to use correct parenting to educate our children on what’s right and wrong and protect them while they’re on the internet by using whatever resources we have available to us.

  3. I think the most important thing is honesty. If parents are honest (and realistic) with their children about things (drugs, sex, rock and roll, expectations, disappointments) then their kids will be honest back.

    I think this is education, and I agree with you that it’s better for parents to be conscious and courageous about educating their kids about what the world is like. First, kids need to know what’s out there. The next important step is to teach them to think critically about what’s out there to determine what has true value in their lives. I’ve always felt that too many well-intentioned parents shelter their kids from the ugly side of life.

    We’ll see if I can walk the walk over the next couple of decades. I am encouraged, Al to hear your view that being a good isn’t getting harder over time.

  4. […] PBS recently ran a documentary called Growing Up Online that featured a number of parents struggling to get a grip on their children’s internet use. The show described a variety of internet abuses including cheating on homework, spending every waking moment online, and even one middle school boy who committed suicide after the bullying that he got at school carried over into online social media outlets at home and overwhelmed him. (Join the discussion on my Next Generation blog.) […]

  5. […] This response was written by a woman who someday wants to be a parent, and was frightened by the facts that the gap between children and their parents has “never been wider.” […]

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