How We've Created a Culture Where Kids Need Facebook.

Generation Y/Z needs Facebook.

You've read countless articles and press releases bemoaning the appeal of virtual networks to adolescent youth. We wonder why they communicate leaving Facebook messages instead of long conversations over campfires. We struggle to see the appeal of virtual networks over pickup baseball games in crackling autumn wheather. Our knee-jerk reaction is to revert back to the habits of every generation before us and vomit a phrase like "back when I was a kid," or launch into nostalgia saturated stories of running around the neighborhood, cliff jumping, and kissing girls under bleachers. 

photo by lunawhimsy

People are absolutely right when they say "back when I was a kid," but it isn't the kids that have changed. It's the world around them. Here are four reasons why "get out of the house and play" just doesn't work anymore. 

1. Kids don't have cars. This one isn't too revolutionary. In fact, there has never been a generation of Americans who had cars at 13 years old. So what's the difference? Most Americans don't live in tight-knit communities anymore. I grew up in suburbia, was voted "Most Personable" of my high school class, but was only within walking distance of a handful of my friends. "Best friends" aren't necessarily defined by locale anymore. Most teens can't see their friends without car rides, or long bike rides (but ....).
2. Parents don't trust the world. The last 50 years has seen an increase in one of the most terrible epidemics of American society - freakishly over-protective parents. Don't go anywhere far. Don't go anywhere alone. Don't go anywhere late. Don't go anywhere early. Don't go anywhere without phone numbers. Don't go anywhere without supervision. Don't go anywhere without knee-pads, a helmet, and protective entourage. Half of our American teenagers are practically under house-arrest. 
3. The world doesn't trust teenagers. Name a place where all the local teenagers hang out. Nope. Nope. Well, they used to go there. The reality is that many businesses have banned tribal packs of hormones from their premises. The mall used to be a popular gathering place, but apparently the collective whole of Generation Y is a lying, rude, shop-lifting punk. Oh, and those tattoos don't mesh well with other paying customers. By all measures, I was a good kid in high school, and I can still remember numerous "get out of here" chats with local police. 
4. Many teens are over-scheduled. What is high-school for? I'll tell you what it's for - leading 15 clubs, participating in 3 varsity sports, maintaining a 4.0 GPA, and serving the community for 20 hours a week. That way you can go to a good college and have a good life (affording college may be the real issue here). Teens are increasingly over-committed. It is near impossible to coordinate the chaos of 10 conflicting schedules. 

What does this all mean? 
So far, we've concluded that teenagers don't have a place to go, a way to get there, or even time to spend there. If by some minor miracle they have all three of those requirements, they may not be allowed to go. But one thing hasn't changed - teenagers still desire community. If I did an informal poll, I woudn't be surprised to see it fall somewhere between ending poverty and establishing world peace. 

So where can teens go to form some semblance of community that can be controlled, that isn't in a physical location, that is away from disapproving adults, and that can be done in short 10 minute packages?

Facebook. MySpace. Twitter. Social Media. 

I'm not saying it's good. I'm not saying it's bad. In fact, there are plenty of teenagers who can go anywhere and do anything, and still spend absurd amounts of time on Facebook. I'm just saying that our culture hasn't created messed up teenagers (at least not more messed up than any other generation), it has created a messed up environment that they live in. The teenagers are simply adapting in the only way they know how. 

[ Note: The reasons in this article are roughly based on a talk by danah boyd. The opinionated commentary is all my fault. Don't blame her. danah has fantastic things to say about Web2.0 and kids. Go read some of her stuff ] 


Matt said...

I am very much a product of all of this (that's why I use all the social networking stuff)... One question though; what about when the parents don't trust the internet either?

Great post.

Evan said...

Matt, thanks for the comment. You bring up a good point. But at the same time, it's becoming increasingly difficult to avoid the internet. I think that most parents recognize the necessity of an internet connection for education resources, or a form of communication with potential colleges (or Aunt Wanda). For those that monitor the internet, I think that many teens just find a way around it.

Wahyd Vannoni said...

Might I suggest my article titled "the Facebook Generation"?

In it I show how "millenials" and even students are "technologically savvy but not necessarily emotionally mature".

This leads them to fail to appreciate how the wrong picture on Facebook can sabotage their employment prospects.


Evan said...

Wahyd, I'm glad you responded.

I would love to read your article, but the link isn't working for me.