How do you control an “immature group of people using a technology they don’t really understand?”
“Before, you were afraid of having your children hang out in a bad neighborhood,” parent Cheryl Lincoln said. “Now, that bad neighborhood can be in your living room.”
Thursday night, Clark Lane Middle School presented “The Online Life of Your Middle School Child,” a 90-minute discussion focused on teenagers and their use of the Internet. To bring some first-hand knowledge to the subject, Sachs brought along his two teenage daughters, Marina and Milan.
“It is a different afterschool experience than what we had,” Sachs said. “While we were socialized in front of the television, this new generation is socialized through the computer screen, and they're interacting, while we were watching.”
Middle school and high school is the time when a person forms his or her identity, Sachs said. Before, people would form their identity from their parents and neighborhood. Now teenagers are forming that identity online, he said.
Part of that identity is rebellion, he said. Where before, a teenager might experiment by jumping off a roof into a swimming pool or throwing rocks on mini-bikes, today those rebellions are often done online, he said.
“I think in a weird way they think they are anonymous,” Sachs said, referring to Facebook specifically. “But it is totally public.”
Marina Sachs, a freshman at Connecticut College, gave some specific examples of common online and cell phone risks by teenagers. For example, some teenagers participate in “chat roulette.” People video chat with strangers, and then hit next, and they can get any new person to video chat with, some of whom aren’t wearing clothing, Marina Sachs said.
Also, sexting was very common in high school, Marina Sachs said. At least 20 or so girls in her class sent pictures of themselves to their boyfriends, she said.
There is always the chance of online predators, James Sachs said. But there are other problems that affect almost all kids, he said.
One problem is an already introverted teenager can become even more introverted by spending too much time online, Sachs said. Secondly, bullying can intensify online, with kids saying things they would never say in person, he said.
“Sometimes, we see the bullying happening only online, and never in school,” he said.
The best way to control some of this is to have a desktop, instead of a laptop, Sachs said. This forces children to have to sit at a desk, rather than relax comfortably anywhere in the house with a laptop, he said.
Also, monitoring the sites a child goes on is important, parents at the presentation said. That said, while online needs to be monitored, students need to learn how to be online, as it is the way of the future, Sachs said.
“It is a balancing act all of us parents face,” he said. “We need to learn how to deal with it.”
A small but passionate crowd watched the presentation, and asked questions and shared ideas throughout the talk.
“(The Internet) scares the life out of me,” said Lincoln, who has a 12-year-old and a 10-year-old.
Lincoln says her 12-year-old daughter does not yet have Facebook, even though other children in the 7th grade are getting it. Lincoln said she would not allow her child to have Facebook anyway.
Conversely, parent Zan Hoagland has a 15-year-old and a 12-year-old, both boys. The 15-year-old has Facebook, but Hoagland monitors his page, and there have not been many issues.
“I try to keep the line of communication open,” Hoagland said. “My sons actually talk to me. And it goes back to what you taught them when they were younger.”
The key too is afterschool programs, Hoagland said. If the district continues to cut , , the online problem will get worse, she said.
“Without the activities, that gives them more time after school,” Hoagland said. “They can’t cut things like that.”