Samara O'Shea

Archive for the ‘Teenagers’ Category

Ill Cyber Intentions

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

“The world, that understandable and lawful world, was slipping away.”
~ William Golding, Lord of the Flies

The concern I mentioned yesterday was for the intellectual and long-term emotional effects that technology is having on the youth of today—in reaction to an article I read in Philadelphia magazine. If and how technology will change teenaged brains has yet to be seen. What I’d like to discuss today is Cyberbullying, which is an immediate concern. This is in reaction to a Times article called “As Bullies Go Digital, Parents Play Catch-Up”.

Unlike intellectual regression, I don’t wonder if cyber-mistreatment among teenagers is happening and if it’s horrible. I am certain that it is. Kids are mean. They were mean when I was in Jr. High and High School. They have always been mean. William Golding knew this when he wrote Lord of the Flies, and the evidence continues to mount.

The difference between then and now is, technology has taken away the safe haven—home. Once upon a time you could walk in your house and have a 12-hour break from the ridicule. And if not the ridicule, then the social anxiety that your friends might get mad at you for whatever unknown reason. Not anymore. The mean ones can text-torture at will, and mock you on Facebook all hours of the night.

Here are some points that struck me:

~ “This is a dark, vicious side of adolescence, enabled and magnified by technology. Yet because so many horrified parents are bewildered by the technology, they think they are helpless to address the problems.”

~ “‘I’m not seeing signs that parents are getting more savvy with technology,’ said Russell A. Sabella, former president of the American School Counselor Association. ‘They’re not taking the time and effort to educate themselves, and as a result, they’ve made it another responsibility for schools. But schools didn’t give the kids their cellphones.'”

~ “Dr. Englander reminded parents that while children may be nimble with technology, they lack the maturity to understand it.”

And this . . .

~ “Parents who present other parents with a printout of their child’s most repugnant moments should be prepared for minimization, even denial.”

~ “No matter how parents see their children, learning of the cruelties they may perpetrate is jarring and can feel like an indictment of their child-rearing.”

This has always been a problem with parents. I remember plenty of parents in my neighborhood who took the “Not my child. My child wouldn’t do that” attitude. Perhaps they are helping their pride by doing so but they are not helping their children—at all.

My heart was in my throat as I read most of this. The saving grace came at the end. It came in the form of two mothers: Judy and Christine. They have separate but equally cyber-destructive daughters. They first took the most important step: admitting what their daughters had done.

~ “Once Judy got over her shock, she said, ‘I had to accept that my daughter had really done this and it was so ugly.'”

Following the admittance, they took different but effective measures to deal with the situation. One can only hope more parents will do these very things.

Okay that’s all on teenagers for now. Tomorrow it’s back to Christmas cards and merriment.

And Furthermore . . .

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

With regards to what I wrote yesterday: I forgot to mention that I attended an extraordinary performance of the New York Youth Symphony on Sunday. The masters of the violin, cello, bass, harp, flute, clarinet, and plenty of other instruments I’m leaving out were all between the ages of 12 – 21. They were poised and talented beyond comprehension.

How I could have forgotten this in my fear-laden tirade about teenagers, I’m not sure. The memory of the music is soothing my trepidation. The youth of today still have a good chance of survival. Some of them will be alright and some of them won’t, but that’s always been the case.

A Fear Worth Fearing?

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

In the past two days, I’ve read back to back the most disturbing articles I’ve encountered to date concerning kids and their cyber ways. I’ll discuss the first today and the second tomorrow. The first is the cover story in the December issue of Philadelphia magazine called, “Is it Just Us, or are Kids Getting Really Stupid?”

The piece opens with the writer, Sandy Hingston, discovering that her son in high school is not reading any classic literature in English—just watching the movies. That sent my head spinning, but I calmed myself down because I don’t think that’s the norm—at least not yet.

I asked a woman I ride the train with if her son, a high school senior, is reading—you know books—in school. She says yes and he even reads on his own. The leisure books he reads are not Shakespeare or Chaucer, but he likes to read biographies of famed football players. I was relived to hear it because the article suggests that reading—the act itself—is becoming increasingly difficult for young people. How can black words on a white page compete with the cosmic colors and psychedelic graphics of the Internet?

I also take comfort in the lovely existence of my cousin Julia. She graduated from college last spring. She is bright, ambitious, and working as an actress with a small theater company. Naturally, she knows how to text and has 847 friends on Facebook, but she keeps her cell phone far away from the Thanksgiving feast and she can engage anyone in stimulating conversation–on Shakespeare or Chaucer. Whew!

Julia stands in opposition to my cousin Kimi, who is also lovely and notably stylish, but who has a much more difficult time keeping her hands off of her cell phone. She is so subtle about it, too. I didn’t even notice she was texting under the table when her mom came over and insisted she put her phone away. Kimi is a senior in high school.

I understand when one writes an article, generalizations must be made, and sometimes it’s difficult as a reader not to think “Oh my God this is happening to everyone, everywhere!” Granted it must be happening to someone, somewhere otherwise there wouldn’t be an article about it. One of the main points the article makes is, because kids can look up anything at any time, they aren’t bothering to learn basic facts like times tables and how to use a ruler (yes, that’s an actual example).

Emotional Repercussions

Academics aside, the article also zeros in on the emotional imprint of technology on young minds. This change I absolutely believe is taking place, because I see it happening with adults who didn’t grow up with cell phones in their hands. Some good points Hingston makes:

~ “Technology was supposed to set us free, to liberate us from mundane, time-consuming tasks so we could do great things, think great thoughts, solve humanity’s most pressing problems. Instead, our kids have been liberated to perform even more mundane, time-consuming tasks (including the average 3,339 test messages they send and receive each month—or more than a hundred per day)”.

~ “So the tech stuff isn’t benign, though kids think it is. And it’s been deliberately developed to make it hard for them to turn away. ‘The nature of addiction,’ says Chatterjee, ‘is little rewards doled out in unpredictable fashion. The information kids are getting from texting or tweeting has that unpredictable quality. They don’t know what they’re going to get, and what they do get, they really like. It’s a set-up for addictive behavior.’

Learning Curve

The thing about texting, tweeting, and using Facebook is it’s pretty easy to learn. I lived without all of it for twenty-five years and picked it up when I had to. So why do we feel the need to give cell phones to teenagers anyway? Part of it may be wanting to give our kids what they want–not that that’s always bad. And there’s also the safety factor. We want them to be able to call in case of an emergency. How do we strike a balance? Here’s one idea:

My cousin Alicia has three kids under the age of seven. She’s starting to think about what she’ll do when they start begging for cell phones. She decided that she’ll mimic the approach of her neighbor who has three teenagers. He has a “no cell phones in the house” rule. When the kids come in, they have to plug their cell phones into the cell-phone station. The alleviates aimless texting all hours of the day and it ensures that their friends have to call the landline—so the parents have a better idea of who their kids are hanging out with. It also instills the notion into the developing mind that there is a time and a place for cell phone use.

I’ll admit, part of me is nervous about the way this is going, and part of me is completely open minded. Maybe this is the 21-st Century version of losing the oral tradition and gaining the written word. We’ll see . . .

Tomorrow’s article is “As Bullies Go Digital, Parents Play Catch-Up” – in case you’d like to read ahead. Class dismissed!

Boys Will be Boys

Monday, November 15th, 2010


The weather in the Greater Philadelphia area this weekend was divine. It required me to wear my favorite clothing combination—jeans and a sweater. The air was crisp and the foliage put its best foot forward. The leaves on the Japanese Maple tree in my front yard turned such a rich red they looked velvet from a distance.

This was the first weekend in two weeks that I wasn’t traveling, thus I enjoyed simple things—walking around and sitting on my front step with a cup of tea by my side. As I walked I saw something that surprised me: boys playing basketball in the park. Not a strange site I realize, but with all the talk of teenagers spending too much time on the computer, I was happy to see it. I also saw three boys on skateboards and three more on bikes. This gave me renewed hope for the Facebook generation. They do breath fresh air and get exercise. Carry on youngins!