Continuing with what seems to have become my theme this week – teenagers, technology, and education – I have something else to write on the subject. This week my own teenager and youngest child turned 18. Since we just can’t let an important milestone like that pass without a laudatory observance, we had a party. Parties require planning. So does applying to colleges. That probably makes an odd segue, but those two factors are related in that I felt like I needed to help my daughter at this important time in her life because as the song says, “We may never pass this way again.” Okay, that was corny. The point is there are only so many minutes in a day and my daughter needed my help with the application process to a college where she is going for an interview at 8:45 a.m. on Tuesday, November 20. She needs my help with other applications as well, but this one was urgent because she wants to be considered for early review. The college is three hours from our home. We will go down tomorrow evening and spend the night so she can wake up fresh and ready for the interview.
As for the party, she did most of the planning for that and I learned quite a bit. A couple of years ago, she came up with the idea to have a movie night outdoors with her friends. At that time, she wanted to hang up a white sheet somewhere outside and use a projector with our CPU to play DVDs. It was sort of like a drive-in theatre without the cars. Time passed and the opportunity never presented itself until she declared that showing movies outdoors was the way that she wanted to celebrate her 18th birthday. Someone provided a projector screen and friends started gathering at the designated site around 7:00 p.m. Yes, it was cold. The temperature was in the low 40s, but there was plenty of hot chocolate with marshmallows, hot dogs, chili, chips, and fruit pizza. My job was to provide food and other creature comforts. They built a fire, snuggled in sleeping bags, watched scary movies, and enjoyed themselves.
From inside the house, I had a good view of the scene. At one point, I looked outside and saw a keyboard up on the screen. This was intriguing to me because I knew that they had only the CPU and mouse. Finally, curiosity got the best of me and I wandered out to see what they were doing. I don’t know how many of you reading this blog have ever played a game with a roomful of people where one person says a word, the person next to him or her adds a word and so on until everyone gets a turn or until participants weary of the game and end it. The fun part is creating a story together. Well, that is what these kids were doing.
But, wait, I got ahead of myself. To get keyboard on the screen, they had gone to Accessories under Start and from there to Accessibility, followed by On-Screen Keyboard. This was new to me. It can be used with the mouse. This is how they were writing the story. And that is not all. A feature called Narrator is also under Accessibility. Not only were they writing the story, they were listening to it! It does say everything (including profanity) that is written. At first, I was astonished with the difference between their teenage world and mine. But then I thought about the fact that they are still playing a game that kids have played for ages, just in a different way. I think this is an example of the old saying, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”
Later in the evening, thinking about social networking as an educational tool, I talked to some of the teens about how they used MySpace and Facebook. Since I have a MySpace, this topic was broached easily enough. Most of what I learned was not so different from what I had already read and heard about in the news. The most disturbing part for me was that several admitted that they had added people that they didn’t really know. The most common reason given for doing so was because the person asking to be invited was “a friend of a friend”.
One girl told me that she was walking through the mall with her mother when a guy walking by suddenly called her by name and said “Hi.” The mother inquired about the identity of the young man and the girl did not know him. Sometime later, she was on MySpace and received a message from a guy who had been added because they had a common acquaintance. He indicated that it was nice to see her at the mall and talk to her in person. She said that it “creeped her out” to think that someone had looked at her picture long enough to recognize her in public.
There is a story in the news today about a 13-year-old girl hanging herself over being harassed on MySpace. It turns out the tormentor was the mother of a girl who was a former friend of the victim. The mother posed as a handsome young man to gain the girl’s attention and trust, and to find out whether the girl was saying anything about her daughter. The story can be found on the internet.
The point is that if we are going to use social networking sites as educational tools we need to be ever vigilant about dangers to the young people that we are teaching. The fact that the world is a dangerous place has not changed. The difference is that pitfalls and perils on the internet are presented in ways that we have not yet learned to easily detect. This is one more example of how the more things change, the more they remain the same.