Michael Eriksson
A Swede in Germany
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Teens and the Internet


On an older page, I discuss attitudes and misconceptions around teens and porn in an online newspaper. A somewhat similar article on Internet usee shows the same problems in a more generic context. Below, I quote from and comment on that article. Quotes beginning with a ’-sign appeared in this manner in the article, and signify that it, in turn, directly quoted Ellie Puddle, Marketing Director of CyberSentinel.

Quotes and comments

The research was conducted by CyberSentinel.co.uk, a computer software that enables parents to block websites and monitor use of the internet.

This company has a commercial interest in convincing the public that teens must be protected from the Internet—using its own products, obviously.

’The alarming thing about this research is that it shows that teenagers are obviously exploring all sorts of topics as a result of modern-day pressures.

It is not obvious that this alarming, nor that it is a result of modern-day pressures. That a teen explores all sorts of topics is something positive—even if some specific topics may be unsuitable.

The research has also found that they’re viewing information on contraceptives and pregnancy and sex as well as weight loss.

That teens strive to inform themselves about contraceptives and pregnancy is very, very positive—except for the possible indication that sex-ed in schools would be too uninformative... Weight loss could go either way: Are we talking anorectic bone-heaps or teens that actually can stand to lose fifty pounds? Without more context, a call cannot be made. (One danger is real, however: A teen in either category is likely to be misinformed and may fall victim to some weight-loss scam.)

’And for some reason they find it easier to go online to conduct their research than asking mum and dad for advice.

For one thing, the Internet contains much more information than the limited brains of any individual human—or average couple of parents. It is only natural to go where the most information is available in the easiest manner. For another, teens have always been reluctant to discuss such issues with their parents: The alternative would be that friends and “teeny magazines” are used for information—not parents.

One in four teenagers admit they regularly talk to strangers online, and think it is completely harmless.

The choice of the word “admit” is telling, because there is an immediate, rhetorical and unfounded, implication that the teens have been doing something wrong. Further, talking is harmless—being an idiot who, e.g., gives out a street address within five minutes is not. Focus on the true problems.

But 13 to 19 year-olds readily admit they are left alone with the computer for up to two hours a day, that’s 14 hours a week.

Again “admit”. I would possibly consider surveilling, to a limited degree, a 13 year-old, but certainly not an 18/19 year-old—they are legal adults and even the implication that they should not be allowed to use a computer alone is absurd. The same applies to many younger teens too. That the author sees the need to spell out that two hours a day amounts to fourteen hours a week is disturbing—indeed, he is dishonest to do so, because seven times “up to two hours a day” could be very considerably less than fourteen hours. (Assume e.g. that there are two hours on Saturday and Sunday, none on Friday, and just half-an-hour the remaining days. Sum: Six hours.)

It is further noteworthy that time with the computer does not equal time spent on the Internet: Consider e.g. time spent writing school essays or playing computer games.

But a third have also admitted to hiding some of the websites they have been visiting from their parents.

So what? Most teens hide parts of their lives from their parents, irrespective of whether it is on the Internet or not. Even feeling the need to make the above statement shows a lack of psychological insight. Certainly, it is perfectly natural for teenagers to hide, e.g., their porn habits from their parents: Even I (currently 34) would be highly uncomfortable with discussing porn with my parents, and I would definitely refuse an in-depth discussion. I dare say that the same applies to very many other non-teens. I would further wager that many parents would have similar feelings if their children brought the subject up...

While the use of “admit[ted]” is not quite as unjustified here as in the above examples, it is at least disputable: Not only are many of the teens legal adults, who have no obligation whatsoever to reveal their Internet habits to their parents, but even non-adult teens have a legitimate need and right to not disclose everything. (To define what falls within that right is far beyond the scope of this commentary. Comments specific to the text are unfortunately not possible, because no actual examples were given.)