The claims that the internet is destroying quality face-to-face communication and that kids these days just aren’t as social as they used to be because of the internet have become very common. Today, there is no shortage of articles, blogposts, or websites claiming that kids these days are too wrapped up in technology and that things were better twenty or thirty years ago. Jeannette Kaplun, a writer for Disney affiliated blog Babble writes, “I’m all for embracing change and modern technology…but I’m worried. As the mom of 9 and 12-years-olds, not a day goes by in which I don’t notice how much quieter my kids are than I was at their age.” Kaplun represents a multitude of concerned parents who are worried that their children won’t grow up prepared for the outside world. Other less familial sources such as College USA Today claim, “Too often at events or parties, guests are attached to their smartphones, tweeting or texting, but no one is truly engaging or interacting with people around them.” Evidence and claims such as these catalyze many into believing that the internet is harming youth, and that it is harming the way that society functions. But these clams are not based in fact, they arise from the fear that new technology will change the way society functions. The young generations of today have been raised alongside the internet and social media, and as a result have developed ways of interacting and communication via the internet to suit their needs. These ways should not be discounted by the older generations, but they are. If social media and digital communication are to seen as the innovative tools they are and given a fair chance at improving society, then the claims that the internet is a danger must be challenged.
When conversations turn to the topic of the internet being a detriment to young adults and to society in general, many claim the internet just isn’t safe for children and young adults. This view has valid points. On the internet, children and young adults can be exposed to explicit content, sexual predators, and ideas that are not in line with what their elders would approve of. However, my personal experience as an adolescent internet user causes me to disagree with these views. I learned quickly what and what not to do on the internet and how to protect myself from unwanted attention or individuals. Most of my coevals, those who are roughly the same age as I am, would agree with my opinion that the internet isn’t a scary place, unless you’re trying to scare yourself. David Finkelhor of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, supports the view that the internet is not as dangerous a place as many have made it out to be. In his 2011 paper, “The Internet, Youth Safety, and the Problem of Juvenoia”. he coined the term Juvenoia, defining it as “an exaggerated fear about the influence of social change on children and youth”(13). His research challenges the claims of those who criticize the internet and those who claim that it is dangerous. In his study, he examines many sets of statistical data, including the number of children/young adults who commit suicide, the amount of students who are bullied in school, the number of teen pregnancies, and the amount of delinquent behavior observed in young adults. Many of the older generations blame exposure to the internet for increasing the rate of bullying, suicide, teen pregnancy, and delinquency. However, the results of Finkelhor’s study showed that “the arrest rate for juveniles is down 33% from 1996 to 2008…the number of teens committing suicide is down 38% from 1990 to 2007…fewer young people are reporting sexual intercourse before 9th grade, down 19% 2001-2009…hate comments reported by school children is down 27% from 1999 to 2007”(6). To me it would seem that since the internet became a part of everyday life, the quality of life for children is improving, but Finkelhor is not convinced that the internet had anything to do with it. He states, “It is very possible that things got better for young people in spite of the Internet or irrespective of the Internet. Or it may be that the Internet both increased risks in some way and buffered them in others”(12). Finkelhor does not devalue the danger that is there, moreover he calls for the need to educate children and parents about these dangers so that they do not exaggerate them. Although I agree with Finkelhor that Juvenoia is a very real thing and believe that many claims that the internet is dangerous are baseless, I do not believe Finkelhor takes his analysis far enough. Responding to why parents make claims about the internet and social media is just as important as responding to the claims themselves, but Finkelhor only examines Juvenoia in the context of one generation. Juvenoia has existed for the entirety of human history, and in order to fully analyze why the internet and social media comes under so much scrutiny this issue must be given the context of all human history.
In 1871, the Sunday Times, ran an article in which the author lamented about the state of communication, “The art of letter-writing is fast dying out…We fire off a multitude of rapid and short notes, instead of sitting down to have a good talk over a real sheet of paper”(Munroe). This complaint could have been easily modified to critique the use of the phone in the 1960s and 1970s, to critique the use of e-mail in the 1990’s and 2000’s, or even to critique the texting and instant messaging of the internet era. The author here reminisces about a time when communication was more near and dear to the heart. Similarly, Forrest Crissey, author of the Handbook of Modern Business Correspondence, testifies “We write millions more letters than did our Grandfathers, but the increase in volume has brought with it an automatic machine-like ring”(11). Crissy wrote his book in 1908. He laments that communication isn’t as good as it was “back then.” But no matter how far into the past one delves, there will always be evidence of adults wishing that things were different, and lamenting about kids these days. In 1973, Walter Alvarez M.D., a columnist for The Evening Independent wrote an article titled “The Generation Gap in Ancient History.” The article examines many sources, Egyptian papyrus scrolls, an ancient Sumerian clay tablet, the works of Aristotle, the Bible, and Shakespeare. In every source he finds some example of parents griping about how their children do not have respect for them, or how children of their day and age just don’t act like they aught to. Regarding the Sumerian tablet, he writes “An angry father asked his teenage son, ‘Where did you go?’ The boy, trying to sneak home late at night, answered, ‘Nowhere.’ ‘Grow up,’ the father chided him. ‘Stop hanging around the public square, and wandering up and down the street. Go to school. Night and day you torture me. Night and day you waste your time having fun’”(Alvarez). The public square in ancient Sumerian can be equated to the internet in this sense. While the worries, anger, and apprehension of parents alive four-thousand years ago are not exactly the same as the worries of parents in the internet age, I would argue that adults will always find a way to complain about kids these days.
Jeannette Kaplun and college.usatoday.com claim that kids these days don’t truly interact with one another or with society. These observations are nothing new, parents have made such claims literally for thousands of years. Regardless of the ancientness of these observations, they overlook the complicatedness and sophistication of internet-based communication. Never before in human history has a communication medium given people the ability to communicate instantly with the entire world. Digital communication is highly complex, it requires the ability to balance many complex relationships, to accurately navigate between the rules political correctness, and follow complex trains of thought over varying spans of time. Just because children are quieter due to their phones, that does not mean they are not interacting with people. Social media connects people in a non-face-to-face setting that is just as valuable as face to face communication. In my own experience, I have taken classes for school through the internet, I have thoroughly debated meaningful topics, and I have been exposed to new ideas that have challenged my views on the world. The social interactions that I have over social media and the internet are just as valuable to me as the face-to-face interactions I have with people in the real world. The specific nuances of face-to-face communication and digital communication differ by varying degrees but the end result it the same. Whether you chat with friends or strangers in a message board or at a party, there is an information exchange. Even though kids these days may not be physically interacting like they were, they are socially interacting in ways that have developed for themselves.
Parents will always critique the ways of their children, just as their parents critiqued their ways. New technology that changes the way things are done makes people nervous, and rightly so. Technology carries children away from the safety of the tried-and-true ways of their parents and into the unknown where they are forced to adapt to changing times. I am not suggesting that humanity should make moves to get rid of Juvenoia; apprehension and doubt are often necessary and good things. But what I am suggesting is that those who would claim that the internet is a danger to young people, reevaluate their stance and examine whether it is their children they are worried about, or if they are worried about the world changing too fast beneath their feet. Each generation adapts to the new circumstances around it, and because each generation faces new challenges, they must develop new ways to do things. Just because new ways are different, that does not mean they are worth less than the old ways. The internet and social media allowed people to instantly communicate with the entire world for the first time in human history, it is the greatest unknown we have yet to face. The Internet Generation should be allowed to face their unknowns, just like their parents faced their unknowns.