Cyberspace for Psychologists:  Parenting the MySpace Generation

Larry D. Rosen, Ph.D.

The National Psychologist

July - August 2007


 National research studies have found that children and teenagers spend six hours and 21 minutes per day, nearly 45 hours per week, using digital media including television, the Internet, music and video games. A nationwide Kaiser Family Foundation study discovered that if you take into consideration that most kids multitask, the actual media diet is an astounding eight hours and 33 minutes per day or 60 hours per week.  With children and adolescents spending more hours using media than they spend sleeping, eating or going to school, parents are becoming increasingly concerned.

 Several recent books have explored various aspects of this massive media consumption.  Anastasia Goodstein, author of Totally Wired: What Teens and Tweens are Really Doing Online (St. Martins Griffin, 2007), is a journalist who created and hosts YPulse.com, a website devoted to keeping in touch with the habits and trends among children, teens and young adults born after 1985.  Anastasia writes a daily blog where she highlights a variety of issues ranging from clothing choices to technology.  I picked a random day and Anastasia covered why kids are not going to movies, teens addicted to iced coffees, children on antidepressants, wired teachers, and branding products to appeal to adolescents.

 As the parent of a 16- and a 19-year-old, I found Totally Wired to be a fascinating read.  Through interviews with teens and media professionals the book covers such topics as blogging, social networking and cyberbullying and concludes with chapters aimed at helping parents and teachers better relate to their wired children.  Totally Wired explains why kids prefer to multitask and how they are qualitatively different from Generation X (born between 1965 and 1984) who preceded them.  I highly recommend that you read Totally Wired and visit YPulse.com often to keep up on rapidly changing teen trends.

Nancy Willard, an educator, lawyer and expert on cyberbullying has written an equally fascinating book entitled Cyber-Safe Kids, Cyber-Savvy Teens:  Helping Young People Learn to Use the Internet Safely and Responsibly (Jossey-Bass, 2007).  Nancy’s approach is to provide parents and educators valuable information about online risks and how to keep children and teens safe in cyberspace.  Covering such issues as cyberbullying, violent video games, online pornography, gambling, Internet addiction, privacy and social networking, this book is a comprehensive overview of the darker side of technology.  However, unlike television shows like To Catch a Predator, it does not simply accentuate the negatives, but gives parents an array of strategies for helping their children avoid pitfalls or deal with problems when they arise.  Nancy’s work can also be found at the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use (www.csriu.org).

 Larry Magid and Anne Collier, directors of BlogSafety.com have written a book for parents aptly titled MySpace Unraveled: A Parent’s Guide to Teen Social Networking (Peachpit Press, 2007).  According to a recent national study, 55 percent of teens currently have a social network profile, nearly all on MySpace.  The fastest growing website in history, MySpace now features 200 million distinct web pages created by teens and adults. My latest studies of more than 2,000 MySpacers revealed that if you are a teenager and you are not on MySpace, you are not part of the social scene.

 MySpace Unraveled takes parents through the nuts and bolts of MySpace, teaching them how to navigate this social network and create and use their own MySpace page. I was impressed by two aspects of this valuable book.  First, its screen shots, which depict exactly what parents should expect to see on MySpace, are exceedingly helpful.  Being able to compare a picture with a screen image is invaluable for developing online skills.  Second, each chapter highlights straightforward “Key Parenting Points” to solidify how parents can deal with any online issue.  These suggestions are extremely valuable, well thought out and helpful.

 Based on data from studies of more than 1.3 million Americans, Professor Jean Twenge of San Diego State University, wrote Generation Me:  Why Today’s Young Americans are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled and More Miserable Than Ever (Free Press, 2006).  This book groups all people born after 1970 into a “Me” Generation focusing attention on how and why young adults feel confident of their own talents and deserving of special treatment, while struggling with a reality that leaves them unhappy with their station in life.  I am impressed with the breadth in which this book provides baby boomer parents – including me – an understanding of why our young adult children may be unhappy and disappointed with their world.

 The only shortcoming I can see in Generation Me is that it has taken two generations and attempted to make generalizations about them as though they represent a single group.  From my research and that of others, the newest generation – most often termed the Net Generation or Generation Y – is radically different in its approach to life. This difference comes, I believe, from their different relationship with computers compared to that of young adults.
 
 While Gen Xers are certainly immersed in technology and the Internet, Net Geners were born into a world where everything is computerized.  To children or adolescents, technology is not a tool to use.  Rather, it is a defining feature of their lives.  Everything they do has some relationship to technology.  This makes parenting Net Geners more difficult task for those of us who may “use” technology but not live and breathe it.

I am pleased to announce that my newest book, Me, MySpace and I: Parenting the Net Generation, will be published later this year by Palgrave Macmillan.  Many of the ideas and psychological constructs in my book come from 12 years and 58 columns I have written in The National Psychologist.  I am honored that I have been allowed to use this newspaper as a forum for my perspectives on technology.
 
 As you can probably tell, my approach is that technology is inherently a positive force in our lives and how it is used or misused determines its impact.  Me, MySpace and I approaches the Net Generation’s love affair with MySpace, instant messaging, cell phones, text messaging, iPods, video games and everything computerized by helping parents develop strategies for allowing their children to participate and benefit from technology while staying safe and healthy in their family and real-world activities.  I invite your comments at my e-mail address: LROSEN@CSUDH.EDU


Copyright, 2007, The National Psychologist. Reprinted with permission. The National Psychologist is a privately-owned bimonthly newspaper which may be purchased for $35 a year. Write or call: TNP, 6100 Channingway Blvd., Suite 303, Columbus, OH 43232; telephone: 614.861.1999 or fax with Visa or MC to 614.861.1996.