Why You Shouldn’t Stalk Your Kid Online

What's to come?
Feb. 19 2014 11:05 AM

Don’t Stalk Your Kid Online

An interview with danah boyd, author of It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens.

(Continued from Page 1)

Slate: Do you just talk to your kid about how to act online, or do you follow them onto the sites where they’re going?

boyd: Different stages have different training wheels. You pay much more attention at 13 than at 17. But even at 13, you have lots more conversations than you do surveillance. Then if you have concerns, you can amp it up. One way I encourage parents to deal with passwords is to think about it this way: You don’t demand your kids’ passwords to stalk everything they do. That violates trust, and you want to build a relationship of trust that lasts long after your child leaves home. On the other hand, sometimes you might need a password for access in case of emergency. So how about you buy a piggy bank for the whole family, the kind you have to break to get into it? Everyone in the house puts their passwords in. Parents, too. If the piggy bank gets broken, everyone knows. And the agreement is that it’s available in case of emergencies.

Slate: So most of the time, you don’t read what your kids write?

Advertisement

boyd: Right. I don’t think it helps kids. It’s more about being present in the room, looking over their shoulders, having a sense of what’s going on, and then releasing over time.

Slate: What grade do you give the social media companies for how they deal with teenagers? I’m skeptical that they’re doing enough myself.

boyd: The funny thing to me about Twitter is that it doesn’t treat teenagers separately from adults. Twitter tries to deal holistically with abusive content. I’m relatively grateful for that. Young people are more likely to have protected accounts than adults, and the boundaries of a locked account on Twitter, for anyone, is more obvious than it is on Facebook. The difficulties for these sites is the double-edged sword of getting involved in all the dramas of teen life. Without knowing the context, when Facebook jumps in, it’s not necessarily in the best position to make the best decisions. Just like the principal at school. It’s very difficult for me to figure out exactly what the right approach is. What I really want from the system is less for them to be parental and more for them to be a community, so the issues that come up get dealt with in the community where the kids reside. It’s frustrating to me that doesn’t happen more, and it goes back to why I want teachers to be on the sites.

Slate: Hmm. Isn’t that kind of a cop-out in terms of not demanding much from these companies—which have lots of resources—and putting the burden back on teachers, who often don’t? Isn’t it asking a lot of them to follow kids online and deal with their problems there, as well as what comes up in school?

boyd: But the dramas online flow into school. When teachers see conflict on Facebook, they have a context for it from the classroom. The point of intervention is much more viable at school, where kids are together, than when they’re in their separate homes. In my dream world, which I know doesn’t exist, teachers would be highly paid and have the time to engage holistically. It kills me that we don’t live in that world.

Slate: Tell me more about your dream world—what do you most wish for young people?

boyd: Teens so want freedom. We talk about how important freedom is all the time, but we don’t give it to them. We see their tech use and we don’t recognize that they’re trying to carve out their place in what we usually look at as the American narrative of freedom.

Slate: You’re not only pushing technology as the single avenue of freedom for kids, right?

boyd: Right. I’d love for young people to have more opportunities to interact in casual and unstructured ways. The reason technology plays such a powerful role for them is that it’s how they can just get together. Other ways to do that have so eroded in the last two decades. We’re talking about systemic changes: fewer part-time youth jobs. Less access for them to cars and gas. Kids are more likely to be in schools where their friends don’t live within biking distance. So I talk about technology not because I think it’s the end-all, be-all but because it has become the primary place where young people can hang out with their peers. Kids want to be on these sites because that’s where their friends are. That’s the whole thing.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.

This article is part of Future Tense, a collaboration among Arizona State University, the New America Foundation, and SlateFuture Tense explores the ways emerging technologies affect society, policy, and culture. To read more, visit the Future Tense blog and the Future Tense home page. You can also follow us on Twitter.

Emily Bazelon is a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine and the author of Sticks and Stones

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

The Ludicrous Claims You’ll Hear at This Company’s “Egg Freezing Parties”

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM Going Private To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 1 2014 10:49 AM James Meredith, Determined to Enroll at Ole Miss, Declares His Purpose in a 1961 Letter
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 10:54 AM “I Need a Pair of Pants That Won’t Bore Me to Death” Troy Patterson talks about looking sharp, flat-top fades, and being Slate’s Gentleman Scholar.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 10:44 AM Everyone’s Favorite Bob’s Burgers Character Gets a Remix You Can Dance to
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 10:27 AM 3,000 French Scientists Are Marching to Demand More Research Funding
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 1 2014 7:30 AM Say Hello to Our Quasi-Moon, 2014 OL339
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.