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David Baxter

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Online Socializing: Safer Than You Think?
November 8, 2007
New York Times

To many parents, Web sites like My Space and Facebook are a threat, a door open to the outside world that lets strangers into homes. But the benefits of online interaction may far outweigh the risks.

A commentary in this month?s Journal of Adolescent Research notes that networking sites provide teens with opportunities to develop social and communication skills and to bridge racial and ethnic divides. These benefits often are overlooked by parents worried that adult predators are lurking online.

?We may do adolescents a disservice when we curtail their participation in these spaces, because the educational and psychosocial benefits of this type of communication can far outweigh the potential dangers,'? writes Brandesha Tynes, an educational psychologist at the University of Illinois who authored the commentary.

In her article Internet Safety Gone Wild?, Dr. Tynes suggests some parents may be going overboard. While teens need to be warned about ?digital dangers? like adult predators, parents also need to consider the benefits of spending time in online settings, she argues. These sites provide a chance to augment critical thinking and argumentation skills, she says. Online, kids find support from peer groups, get help with homework and talk about sensitive issues they might be too embarrassed or afraid to discuss face-to-face.

Discussions of race and ethnicity are common online, Dr. Tynes adds. In one study of open-topic chat rooms, race was mentioned in 38 of 39 discussions. At a time when schools are increasingly segregated, Dr. Tynes says educators may want to encourage online interactions as a substitute for racial interactions that no longer occur in classrooms or hallways.

Tech-savvy teens already are aware that online socializing can generate unwelcome advances in cyberspace, she says. Parents should talk to kids about privacy settings and how to deal with unwanted attention online.

While online social groups shouldn?t replace real-world socializing, Dr. Tynes claims that parents need to rethink its value. The Internet may sometimes be a better way for teens to prepare for the adult social world, because they can do it ?in the safety of their own homes.'?
 

David Baxter

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Benefits of online interaction for teens outweigh danger

Benefits of online interaction for teens outweigh danger, professor says
by Craig Chamberlain
11/6/07

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. ? Is there such a thing as being too safe on the Internet? One University of Illinois education researcher believes there is, at least when teenagers are concerned.

Media reports warn of online predators, hate groups and other ?digital dangers? lurking in online social spaces, and those dangers are not to be taken lightly, says Brendesha Tynes, a professor of educational psychology and of African American studies at Illinois.

?But we may do adolescents a disservice when we curtail their participation in these spaces, because the educational and psychosocial benefits of this type of communication can far outweigh the potential dangers,? Tynes wrote in an essay titled Internet Safety Gone Wild? appearing in this month?s issue of the Journal of Adolescent Research.

In online discussions, teenagers have the opportunity to develop critical thinking and argumentation skills, Tynes said. They can find support from online peer groups, explore questions of identity, get help with homework, and ask questions about sensitive issues they might be afraid to ask face to face, she said. They can develop their skills in understanding issues from the perspective of others.

In many circumstances, the same anonymity that parents and educators often find so threatening about certain online sites and spaces is actually a benefit, she said.

In particular that can be true with issues of race and ethnicity, which Tynes has found in her research to be ?very much a common theme? in adolescents? online discussions. In one of her studies, focused on open-topic chat rooms, she found that race was mentioned in 38 of 39 discussions.

Tynes knows from her research and that of others that hate groups are online and proliferating. Added to that is the racial or ethnic insensitivity to be found routinely in many online conversations, Tynes said.

?That being said, I also think that there are myriad positive outcomes that are related to interracial interaction online,? she said.

Some teenagers who believe racism no longer exists may readily find it in online discussions, Tynes said. Some may go online and spread false information or make insensitive remarks, but find themselves challenged, she said. Others may find the online environment a place to ask serious questions about race or ethnicity they would be afraid to ask in person, for fear of offending or causing a conflict, Tynes said.

In all of these cases, there is an opportunity to learn or gain a new perspective, she said. ?It?s sort of like having training wheels for engaging in interracial discussions (offline),? Tynes said.

Given the increasing segregation of U.S. schools along racial lines, Tynes thinks schools may even want to encourage online discussion as a substitute for what is missing in hallways and classrooms. ?I think the Internet would be a perfect place to engage the racial issues that may not come up because of this re-segregation,? she said.

Instead of trying to close down or closely monitor teenagers? access to social networking, chat rooms and discussion boards online, Tynes suggested in her Safety Gone Wild? essay that ?the first line of defense should be teens themselves. Increasingly, tech-savvy adolescents are aware of the risks in online socializing and are developing their own strategies for staying safe in cyberspace.?

To build on that awareness and sophistication, she suggested that parents and educators maintain an open and honest dialogue with teens about the dangers and potential benefits of the Internet. They can also actively encourage and assist teens to learn about and implement privacy settings in social networking spaces such as MySpace and Facebook.

Tynes also suggested that adults can help teens ?develop an exit strategy? for use, when necessary, in certain online spaces. ?Teens should know how to warn or block persons who make them feel threatened and how to extract themselves from uncomfortable situations,? she wrote.

Rather than seeing online social environments so often as a threat, Tynes suggested that parents and educators see them as a place ?allowing young people to practice interaction with others in the safety of their homes,? and as a training ground for teens preparing to enter the adult social world.
 

stargazer

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I find these articles very refreshing. It is a welcome change to hear someone discuss the benefits of online socialization, rather than only the concerns and precautions. It helps to bring it into a balanced perspective.
 

Retired

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My view is the degree of potential danger depends on the nature of the online venue.

Sites that focus on general interest topics are probably safer to form a solid and safe relationship than unmonitored sites which focus on getting people together solely for the purpose of forming a relationship.

However I do wonder about the commercial dating sites that advertise on TV. Have you ever used one of the online dating services and what was your experience?

I would exclude, from that question the obvious sleazy online escort services that portray themselves as dating services.
 

stargazer

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My view is the degree of potential danger depends on the nature of the online venue. Sites that focus on general interest topics are probably safer to form a solid and safe relationship than unmonitored sites which focus on getting people together solely for the purpose of forming a relationship.

Yes, I would agree with that, Steve.

However I do wonder about the commercial dating sites that advertise on TV. Have you ever used one of the online dating services and what was your experience?

I used Yahoo! Personals once a long time ago -- I believe it was in 2002. It led to three dates with the same person. After the first two dates, I started to sense that we were probably never going to get along in the long run. Shortly after the third night, she sent me a scathing e-mail essay that printed out three pages long and analyzed point-by-point all the reasons why I wasn't very good company. It wasn't a good experience, and I never tried online dating after that.

I'm not opposed to online dating -- it just seems to me that I meet so many people in my "real life," that it would be a lot easier to guess whether or not there would be the potential for happiness in a relationship from someone I meet "on the real" than from someone I meet online. Also, the only venues where I hang out on the Internet are PsychLinks and one other site (a blog service where I keep a private blog).

I'm going on a date soon, but let's talk about that at another time. :inlove:

I would exclude, from that question the obvious sleazy online escort services that portray themselves as dating services.

They're all out to make money, but the "obvious sleazy escort services" are probably out to make even more money.
 

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