Yesterday I was on MSNBC’s “The Cycle” talking about my latest Wired column, in which I argued that teens today have taken to social media so avidly not because they think it’s so awesome — but because they have no other option.
Back when I was a teen in the 80s, you could hang out with your friends for hours while wandering around the neighborhood. But as the social media scholar danah boyd points out in her upcoming book It’s Complicated, that sort of autonomy isn’t possible any more: Parents have been so freaked out by two decades of “crime crime crime” daily news coverage that they’re afraid to give their teenagers the same level of freedom. Plus, educational pressure (for the middle classes, anyway) have produced the rise of the overscheduled teen, shuttled from one sport to another enrichment class all afternoon and weekend. On top of that, there are simply less places for teenagers to hang out: New subdivisions are routinely built without any public gathering-spaces like parks, and many malls have enacted no-loitering laws.
The upshot is that kids pass the week with surprisingly little time to simply hang out with their friends, face-to-face, without any authority figures nearby (like parents or teachers). The reason they’ve flocked to social media is that it’s one of the few places they have relative autonomy to hang out with one another.
So if parents really think their kids spend too much time socializing on screens, there’s one way to tackle it: Let them spend more time socializing in person — out there in the world, away from adults, precisely the way we parents did ourselves.
Anyway, that’s the column! Which you can read here online if you want. We had a great conversation about it yesterday on “The Cycle”, which you can see here!