Part 3: Voyeurs and Exhibitionists: How culture promotes deviant behavior.
As of Tuesday, September 15, 2009, Facebook.com serves 300 million people globally (Zuckerburg). Myspace.com boasts 263, 920,012 members (Alexa), and 84% of teens own a cell phone and use it daily (C&R Researcher). Social networks and the proliferation of cell phones have changed the way our children interact. These "private" spaces have created a virtual gallery for our kids to parade themselves in front of their peers. While not all teens misuse their photo galleries, you owe it to yourself, and your kids, to check the photo galleries of their Myspace.com profile (and that of their friends). You may be surprised to see a menagerie of titillating pictures with suggestive comments including innuendo and some very brazen sexual dialogue. These social networks have created a venue for a new era of exhibitionists and a ready made voyeur audience of their peers.
Youthbeat.com, a site created by C & R Researcher, published a report that claims that 60% of tweens (preteen children) and 84% of teens surveyed owned their own cell phone. In the past parents added an extra phone line to make sure that the main line wasn't tied up by their kids, now teens have cell phones that they use as much at home as away. "Cell phones are the 'kid's line' of the 21st century." (C&R Researcher)
Here is the quantum leap when it comes to your kid's voyeur generation, the entrance of the cell phone as an integral part of their social life. In 33 Million People In The Room, Juliette Powell defines the term social network as an online platform where people can connect with each other. We used to send letters, and then we waited on phone calls, from there it shifted to emails which were substituted by text messages, now we connect through our online profiles, and become "friends" with each other on Facebook.com, Myspace.com or we follow each other on Twitter.com. The advent of the smart phone, a cell phone that is basically a portable web enabled computer, now gives teens the opportunity to be connected to the internet and their social network twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
The first thing people with smart phones do when they sit down together is take out their phones and set them on the table. "There may be two people at the table, but there are 33 million people in the room." (Powell) Conversations become fodder for status updates on their social networks, in real time, right from their phone. A "private" conversation is broadcast to their whole network, instantaneously. Every party or get together is a photo-op with pictures taken and uploaded to their online magazines, in almost the same breath. Every conversation is a press release to the hordes of other people who are first level connections (direct friend connections), and like the studies done in the past about promiscuous sexual relationships, everyone that their connections are connected to (friends' friend connections).
There is nothing inherently insidious about technology. In some things we can find balance, from others we abstain. The technology and its use or misuse is not the disease, but a symptom of something else. The question we have to ask after "What are they doing?" is "Why are they doing it?" and then help them find balance or show them where to abstain.
"Think sugar, say Splenda." The little yellow packet may be the key to this whole dilemma. The artificial sweetener business is a $1 billion dollar industry and Splenda has captured 50% of those dollars, edging out other giants including Equal and Nutra-sweet. (Gogoi) What does this have to do with your teen being sexy? One word: substitution.
Splenda is touted as an artificial substitute for sugar, made from sugar, which tastes like sugar. The one thing that Splenda is not is a "cheap" substitute; in fact it costs considerably more than natural sugar. In the same way, the current sexually charged, hyper-connectivity within our kids' culture is a substitute for the true intimacy that should occur within a strong family.
"Youthneed media for guidance and nurture in a society where other social institutions such as the family and the school, do not shape the youth culture as powerfully as they once did." (Rainer)
What is being substituted? Guidance, nurture, affirmation, acceptance, love, intimate relationships, all crucial elements needed to shape and develop a strong, healthy identity are substituted by instant messenger/multiple-person, multi-line cell phone calls/status updates and comment discussions, all happening simultaneously* (guidance), photo comments (affirmation), top friends lists (acceptance), sexual dialogue and comments/online relationships (love), public dialogue about shallow and even profound topics (intimate relationships), these are not "cheap" substitutes, either. They are the investment of your kids' entire lives. The reality is that the word "artificial" is a nice way of saying "fake."
You've probably gathered by now that in order to be a positive balance in your child's life, you are going to have to know what is actually going on. That may mean that you become more than "dumb ole' Dad." I wouldn't suggest that you go and buy a pair of black sunglasses and an ear piece, but you may need to look at your job as a parent somewhat like a CIA agent, and begin gathering intelligence.
*If you have never been in the room when an instant messenger/multiple-person, multi-line cell phone calls/status updates and comment discussions, all happening simultaneously event is taking place, you are missing out on an amazing routine. The next time your son or daughter is on the phone, with the computer on, take some time to hang around.
Part 4: Adults Make Children's Clothing.
From mouse ears to miniskirts, the law of diminishing return.
2009. Armando Heredia
Armando serves as co-pastor of Tapestry in Granite City, IL and is an artist and author.
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