Subscribe to Christianity Today
It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens
Yale University Press, 2014
296 pp., $25.00
Naomi Schaefer Riley
A friend recently relayed to me a story about a pastor he knew who decided to print the Facebook pages of some of the teens in his congregation, supersizing them on enormous posterboard, and putting them up around the sanctuary. When the kids walked in, they were outraged that the pastor would put up their private thoughts for the whole world to see. Which was exactly the point.
As adults we often wonder what adolescents (and even some other adults, ahem) are thinking when they post personal details of their lives on social networking websites. Don't they know that college admissions officers, potential bosses, and even a few tech-savvy parents can read all that information? The short answer, according to Danah Boyd, is yes. Kids realize that others can read it. It's just that they assume no one besides the intended audience will do so.
In It's Complicated:The Social Lives of Networked Teens, Boyd first explains how kids see social networking sites. "Unlike me and the other early adopters who avoided our local community by hanging out in chatrooms and bulletin boards, most teenagers now go online to connect to the people in their community." Most parents probably realize that their teens are not using Facebook or Twitter or Foursquare to escape social interaction. But Boyd takes it a step further and suggests that adults have left teens with few outlets for other kinds of social interaction.
Our helicopter parenting, compulsion to overschedule our children's lives, and deepest fears about "stranger danger" have meant that teens (at least middle- and upper-class ones) do a lot less hanging out than they used to. If they can't go to the mall, they go online. As Heather, one 16-year-old in Iowa, told Boyd, "I can't really see people in person. I can barely hang out with my friends on the weekend, let alone people I don't talk to as often. I'm so busy. I've got lots of homework. I'm busy with track, ...