This article from The New York Times website purports that adolescents may be engaging in more reckless behavior than ever. The cause? Not video games this time. It’s that other destroyer of youth: The Internet.
According to Tara Parker-Pope, the article’s author, kids are facing “virtual peer pressure” to engage in increasingly risky stunts and post videos of their exploits online. Parker-Pope is generous enough to point out in her second paragraph that there is actually no empirical evidence to support, or even suggest, this is true, but that doesn’t stop her from pursuing the shock-value story for another half-dozen paragraphs.
Now that I have satisfied myself with discrediting the premise of the article, I would like to explore its suggestion. Let’s just assume it is true. Wouldn’t there also be increased pressure from those same kids to post sexual content? Apparently over a third of the internet is pornography, and that is a lot of cyber pressure to post that kind of video. On a more positive note, though, wouldn’t this same principle mean that kids are also being pressured (by the internet in general, I guess) to engage in discussion and to blog? I hope more kids are voicing their opinions about topics that concern them, now that the internet has provided a public forum where they are easily heard by those that know them and potentially by the whole of the internet-public.
What upsets me about this article is that it is exploiting a fear where there is just as much potential to foster hope. Yes, the internet is a scary place to consider letting a child run loose. But, if you don’t let the child run loose, if you guide them and show them the power of the internet and how it can give them a voice, it can actually make them far stronger. I think this is a better, more likely, possibility than the internet is all-corrupting and we are helpless to stop it.
In closing, read the news–even The New York Times, apparently–skeptically.