A few weeks ago I spent the evening at a panel discussion on teens and social networking. The program was held for library directors and library trustees. Included in the evening were presentations by teens who talked about how they use social networking positively, safely, and successfully. The teens, were fantastic. They were powerful speakers, related well to the adults, and demonstrated exactly why social networking makes a difference in their lives in a positive way.
One teen talked about how he uses community building photography websites to learn how to be a better photographer, to get his work out into the world, to have his work critiqued, and to talk with other photography enthusiasts about the work they do. He told about having a publisher in England contact him about his photos. Two of his photos were used by the publisher as book covers. Wow! He also talked about organizing a meet-up of people in the area in which he lives to get together and talk photography face-to-face. He mentioned that his grandfather accompanied him on the excursion and his mother insisted that an adult family member be involved. That’s exactly how we want things to work.
The unfortunate thing was that after this teen’s presentation an Assistant District Attorney spoke to the audience about all of the horrors of social networking. Instead of taking what the teens said about keeping their MySpace spaces private, getting adults involved to help them make decisions about use of social networking, and what they know about staying safe online – she went the fear factor route. She never applauded the mother who helped her teen be safe in organizing a meet-up. She never gave the teen who is now a published photographer kudos for his social networking work. She only focused on the horrors.
I left the meeting frustrated and to some extent angry at the way this adult treated the teens. She basically invalidated everything they said, and since she spoke last in the program the fear was what many people will remember.
It’s so unfortunate that the ADA couldn’t send a message to the adults in the room about helping teens be smart and safe online while at the same time applauding the teens for their ability to be smart and safe online. While I realize this woman probably sees the worst of the worst, was it necessary to ignore all of the positive aspects of teen social networking behavior.
It shows once again how important it is for librarians working with teens to advocate for them. We need to stand-up and tell others that teens are thinking human beings who need adults to help guide and support. We need to applaud those teens who are doing great things and help those that are struggling so that they too can do great things. We need to make sure not to blame the tool (in this case social networking) but instead find ways to help teens use the tools successfully.