When PBS's Frontline reported on "Growing Up Online" this week, it called the gulf between kids who grew up with technology and their parents "the greatest generation gap since rock 'n' roll." That's a bitter pill to swallow for adults in their '30s and '40s who have been involved in computers for 20-plus years, but I have to say I agree with their assessment. Maybe we kicked it old school with Pong and the Atari 2600. Or we had a Commodore 64 or a Macintosh with a whopping 512K of memory. We may have even written code since we were teens ourselves, but that's nothing compared to growing up with ubiquitous access to cell phones, media, and social networking.
Producer Caitlin McNally describes this shift in thinking that exists even between her, as a twentysomething, and the teens she interviewed:
Despite the research we did, I don't think I was prepared when we started talking to kids for the extent to which the Internet and other electronic communication has permeated all aspects of being a teenager. Almost every kid expressed the utter importance of being connected with friends all the time and how unthinkable a life without that connection would be. I think a lot of kids were bemused by our list of questions about 'life online,' because they don't sit around thinking about the Internet in their lives. It's just there, always, another tool for them to use or place for them to go.
Growing Up Online covers a wide range of issues including online safety, with an emphasis on cyberbulling, but for me the most mindblowing concept is thinking about teens living their lives so publicly. Teenagers have always tried on new identities, and had secrets, but now they can continuously share their secrets with everyone in the world but their parents if they wish. (Listen to producer Rachel Dretzin discuss kids trying out new identities online with Erin Martin Kane on her Manic Mommies podcast.)
The hour-long Frontline program is must-see TV for parents, and also very valuable for those younger "digital natives" who wonder what we are so concerned about. There are no easy answers provided but plenty of meaty and even heart-wrenching issues brought up. If you are a parent, I can just about guarantee that your head will be spinning after watching the program, no matter how much you already know about these issues. The Frontline Web site provides a great deal of additional material and resources to help propel the discussion forward on an ongoing basis.