According to a new study, young people spend a lot of their online conversation talking about sex and drugs:

A new study by Caron Treatment Centers finds 1 in 10 messages analyzed involved teens seeking advice from their peers on how to take illicit drugs “safely” and without getting caught. {…}

In the messages, teens confessed to destructive behavior while they were under the influence.

“It’s very, very frightening,” said Dr. Harris Stratyner of the Caron Treatment Center.

In the messages, while few teens expressed any regret, many chalked it up to having a good time.

The basic premise behind the article is that online talking is potentially unhealthy and dangerous.

You want to know what’s potentially unhealthy and dangerous? Doing ecstacy and cocaine, and engaging in indiscriminate sex. That’s what’s dangerous, not chatting via instant messenger. The worst that can be said of instant messaging is that it is enabling anti-social behavior. But it does that the same way that a phone does and a car does. By the time the kid is online trolling for cocaine, you’re no longer in prevention mode, you’re in damage control mode. Their unmonitored access to IM is the least of your problems.

I could go on and on about the media’s portrayal that all sorts of problematic behavior also exist online and treat it as a threatening new discovery, but I’ve been doing that for over ten years now. It’s gotten kind of old.

More broadly, I’m tired of parenting culture simultaneously abdicating the uncool portion of their parenting responsibilities and then complaining about what a dangerous world it is out there. If your kid is using cocaine and you don’t realize that something is wrong, that’s not the Internet’s fault. If you realize that something is wrong (even if you don’t know that it’s cocaine) and you do nothing to reign your kid in, that’s not the Internet’s fault.

It seems that the easiest course of action for parents is to give their kids ulimited leeway and then complain about what they do with it while never actually trying to get a handle on the situation. Baby boomer parents have an almost pathalogical aversion to being considered uncool by their kids and a faction of Generation X parents have apparently fallen into that trap. So instead of tightening the screws of a loose, rattling young adult, they complain. Society is forcing them to be the bad guy (to say “no”) and they don’t wanna.

This is all remarkably easy for me to say seeing as how I don’t have any kids and may not ever have them. To be honest, I really can see the other side of the story. I know that if my wife and I did have kids I would almost certainly be the permissive one. I am on the “cool parent” side of every disagreement we’ve had thus far, excluding daughters and nail polish and dating. (a subject for another time)

But my sense of what freedoms a kid should have requires more rather than less monitoring. It means letting them do things that I don’t like, but making sure that they’re still on top of their lives. It means watching them fall even when I can prevent it from happening, but making sure that they’re nowhere near the cliff. Instead, parents seem to want to prevent them from falling when within sight and then giving them unlimited freedom out of sight. A desire to prevent them from hurt but not at the expense of preventing them from getting into situations where they can really hurt themselves.

I’m definitely not saying that it’s the parents fault whenever something bad happens to the kids. That actually represents another cultural problem, in that parents consider themselves absolutely responsible but then render themselves helpless with permissiveness, which creates insanity-inducing anxiety, making them irritating as all heck to backseat driving non-parents such as myself.

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4 Responses to Shooting the Instant Messenger

  1. Abel says:

    Oh, the evils of the Internet!!! Of course before IMing came along teens never talked about sex or how to take illegal drugs safely. I can’t believe how technology has currupted our youth. It would have been so much easier to become a dad before the Internet came along. My parents had it really easy.

  2. Bob V says:

    “We’re facing essentially the same problems we always have” dosen’t sell as much copy as “IM is the new threat that will turn your kids into drug addicts.”

  3. Spungen says:

    If you realize that something is wrong (even if you don’t know that it’s cocaine) and you do nothing to reign your kid in, that’s not the Internet’s fault.

    You know what scares me? I have no fucking idea how to rein kids in once something like that starts. I’ve seen a lot of parents try many different things, and I’ve never seen anything work. It seems like one somehow needs to prevent whatever situations give rise to it in the first place.

  4. trumwill says:

    It’s certainly a scary prospect and to some degree I guess you need to try to prevent it from getting there in the first place. But whatever you do, monitoring who they talk or spend time with (on the Internet or otherwise) to would be a part of that

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