An article on CNN (“Teens seek MySpace to hang out“) hit the nail on the head in regards to MySpace‘s popularity with teens:
As the real world is perceived as more dangerous with child abductors lurking on every corner, kids flock online to hang out with friends, express their hopes and dreams and bare their souls with often painful honesty — mostly unbeknownst to their tech-clumsy parents.
“We have a complete culture of fear,” said Danah Boyd, 28, a Ph.D student and social media researcher at the University of California Berkeley. “Kids really have no place where they are not under constant surveillance.”
Driven to and from school, chaperoned at parties and often lacking public transport, today’s middle-class American kids are no longer free to hang out unsupervised at the park, the bowling alley or to bike around the neighborhood they way they did 20 years ago.
“A lot of that coming-of-age stuff in public is gone. So kids are creating social spaces within all this controlled space,” said Boyd.
It’s true. There’s just not a lot to do in modern suburbs, many of which don’t even have bus service.
I always felt that lack of trust amongst people in society is a serious social ill. Society tries to segregate teens from older people, even older teens it seems. In one case in Minnesota, prom officials turned away a girl who brought her 22-year-old husband to the dance (“Schools Set Age Limits For Prom Dates,” WCCO.com, May 7, 2006):
In northwestern Minnesota, Ada-Borup High School senior Rosalie Carnegie made local headlines recently when school officials ruled she couldn’t take her Iraq war veteran fiancÄe [sic], John Neset, to the prom. The couple have a year-old baby together, but couldn’t share prom memories because Neset, 22, is too old, according to the school’s prom date policy.
“It’s a black-and-white thing,” said Ada-Borup Superintendent Ollen Church. “We’re not playing the gray area. It’s not that we’re not patriotic, because we are. We appreciate what John did for our country, but we felt that couldn’t enter into the decision.”
According to The Wilmington Star in North Caronlina (“New twist for high school proms Some include corsage and background check,” May 19, 2006):
“Proms you always worried about, but there was an innocence to them. Now, kids these days have more brass, they’re more sophisticated,” said Paul Dakin, school superintendent in the Boston suburb of Revere. The school has an under-21-only rule for promgoers to try to stem the flow of alcohol to minors.
Background checks for dates who aren’t students are only one hurdle at West Salem High School in Oregon. All students also must pass by an administrator at the door who “gets pretty up-close and personal,” said principal Ed John. If a student appears to have been drinking, a police officer gives a sobriety test.
At Montclair High in New Jersey, parents and teens must sign pledges before youngsters can buy tickets to the prom. The teens must promise not to drink or use drugs. Parents must be reachable the whole night. Dates from outside Montclair High must send in photo IDs and sign the pledge, too. No one over 21 is admitted.
Stuff like this is just the tip of the iceberg for young people; the above article mentions background checks for some dates. Often in the name of preventing drinking or providing for their safety, the liberty of young people is seriously curtailed. Some schools create almost prison-esque environments complete with metal detectors.
At my high school, Loudoun Valley High School (it’s even in WikiPedia!) in Purcellville, Virginia, I suppose it was the county that had a policy of not allowing students to go get a pizza at nearby pizzeria during their lunch breaks; it once suspended two of my friends for walking maybe 2000 feet across the sports fields and a parking lot to get pizza over the unpleasant school lunches we had to eat (we weren’t allowed to order delivery either). Purcellville was a relatively small town/suburb hybrid. Most of us were 14 or over, didn’t have to cross any streets (much less busy ones) to get food in the shopping center where the pizzeria was located, and probably weren’t prime meat for child molester types. Essentially, we were locked indoors and herded like cattle until the state was no longer responsible for us at 3 P.M., after which the younger kids tended to board busses, and the older kids got in their cars and drove home. Today, the school seems to lock the doors during the day to keep outsiders out and has a police officer patrolling the corridors to keep away Dylan Klebolds and terrorists (I may not even be exaggerating).
Americans piled into suburbs en masse starting after World War II, often leaving behind desolate city centers replete with poverty and crime. Rather than becoming more safe, they appear to have become more paranoid about safety. An important, and counterproductive, instantiation of this paranoia is the “protect the children” cliche—a result of such ideas is that children are kept away from older people who might be role models, for better or for worse. In the long run, this tends to hurt children because the restrictions placed on them affects their maturation process. Adult behavior, including sexuality, drinking, voting, driving, and freedom of movement, ends up having an air of mystery around it.
Most adult behavior is learned. While deprieving children, particularly teens, of the opportunity to interact with older children and adults, we deprieve them of the ability to handle social situations that adults have to learn to handle. Some of these social situations are completely benign, but still have to be learned. Even having a casual conversation in a mature way requires that teenagers have the opportunity to converse with mature people.
MySpace isn’t a bad thing at all. If anything, it’s a dumb thing. However, that’s mainly because of the type of company you find on it—and it’s really not a surprise. Teens go to MySpace because it’s the one thing that offers them not only an outlet for expression, but also a place where they can kind of explore things—adult things, no less—with a degree of anonymity. The end result, of course, is they only interact with each other at their level, so very little maturation can possibly take place.