Friday, September 16, 2011

Supporting Youth Engagement

By providing just a taste of how social technologies have altered the architecture of public
life, my goal is to whet the reader's appetite. It is critical for educators to understand how
mediated publics are shifting the lives of youth. There are very good reasons why youth
use them and encouraging them to return to traditional socialisation structures is simply
not feasible (boyd, in press). Rather than diving deeper into these shifts, I want to offer
some concrete advice to educators about how to think about the new media and how to
engage with youth directly.

1. Recognise that youth want to hang out with their friends in youth space.

Although most adults wish that formal education was the number one priority of youth, this
is rarely the case. Most youth are far more concerned with connecting with friends. Their
activities are very much driven by their friend group and there is immense informal
learning taking place outside of school. Learning social norms, status structures, and how
to negotiate relationships of all types is crucial to teens. While most adults take these
skills for granted, they are heavily developed during the teen years. In contemporary
society, this process primarily takes place amongst peer groups.
Right now, the primary public space that allows teens to gather is online. Not surprisingly,
teens are gathering online to hang out with their friends. Much of what they're doing
resembles what you did when you hung out with your friends.

2. The Internet mirrors and magnifies all aspects of social life.

When a teen is engaged in risky behaviour online, that is typically a sign that they're
engaged in risky behaviour offline. Troubled teens reveal their troubles online both
explicitly and implicitly. It is not the online world that is making them troubled, but it is a
fantastic opportunity for intervention. What would it mean to have digital street outreach
where people started reaching out to troubled teens, not to punish them, but to be able to
help. We already do street outreach in cities - why not treat the networked world as one
large city? Imagine having college students troll the profiles of teens in their area in order
to help troubled kids, just as they wander the physical streets. Too often we blame
technology for what it reveals, but destroying or regulating the technology will not solve
the underlying problems that are made visible through mediated publics like social
network sites.
It's also important to realise that the technology makes it easier to find those who are
seeking attention than those who are not. The vast majority of teens using these sites are
engaged in relatively mundane activities, but the ‘at risk’ ones are made visible through
mainstream media. In this way, both the technology and the press coverage magnify the
most troublesome aspects of everyday life because they are inherently more interesting.

3. Questions abound. There are no truths, only conversations.

Over the last year, dozens of parenting guides have emerged to provide black and white
rules about how youth should interact with social network sites. Over and over, I watch as
these rules fail to protect youth. Rules motivate submissive youth, but they do little to get
youth to think through the major issues. Conversation (not lecturing) is key and it needs to
be clear that there is no correct answer; it's all a matter of choices and pros and cons.

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