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Teen techno-savvy is outpacing their moral, ethical, and intellectual maturity. The kids are online with friends, but they don’t understand what it means to simultaneously be accessible to a worldwide web of strangers.

Chat rooms, social network sites like MySpace and Facebook, blogging sites like Xanga and LiveJournal, and their own websites all give teenagers affordable access. No problem—unless there is a problem.

Teenager online social networking is the topic of the lead article in today’s USA Today, entitled “What You Say Online Could Haunt You.” This article is a good overview of a newly and rapidly emerging cyber phenomenon, the amount to time, the type of content being shared, and the relationships being developed by teenagers online. Much of this article, though, focuses upon how what one posts online might someday threaten one’s professional prospects. That’s a real issue, but to me it’s less important than how teens can become entangled in downward moral spirals.

Just in the past month in West Michigan where I live, a local high school has been embroiled in a blogging and drinking controversy that has pitted parents, students, and school officials against each other. It all started when the teens posted their activities online. From another local high school a young man now faces criminal charges for having taken digital pictures of teen friends having sex and then posting these pictures online. This young man potentially faces years in prison.

Organizations like WiredSafety are dedicated to educating parents and teens about safe practices online. This is a good start but not enough. The real key to teen protection is increased parental online responsibility and sophistication. It’s past time for some parents to learn how to access the Internet, how to surf the net, and what’s harmless, helpful, or harmful within it.

Universities know the problem of college age youth “cocooning” in their rooms, locked away from relationships with professors and peers only to focus on escapist relationships with unkowns in cyberspace. Some of these late teens are playing computer games for unwise and unhealthy amounts of time, some fall into pornography, and some develop human connections over the wire that are not generally productive, spiritually or otherwise. Everyone needs a little space sometimes, but cocooning is not typically something we want to encourage.

Pornography is a major and growing problem among teenagers. So much of it is free online that lack of credit card funds is no obstacle, and pornography—always a male problem—is now a female problem too. Perverts, predators, pedophiles, pornographers, thieves, con men, rapists, all of this evil is online, available to and at times seeking teenagers.

Parents need to talk with their teens about online use, not only what websites they visit but how much time they spend online. Schools can help, but they’re typically limited by legal boundaries protecting individuals’ privacy. Parents rightly enjoy greater entrée to their children’s lives and should employ it.

Parents must educate themselves technologically and educate their teens spiritually. This is a challenge of our age.


© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

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