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Monitoring ‘Generation M2’

Posted: May 1, 2013 4:21 p.m.
Updated: May 3, 2013 5:00 a.m.

“You’ve got mail!” Ah, the words so many of us associate with our first email accounts, our AOL email accounts. Hearing that proverbial voice almost produced an air of excitement in an otherwise monotonous day behind our desks, a welcomed distraction in the daily grind. Of course, a great deal has changed since the late ’90s. My son was quick to tell me recently our AOL account was a dinosaur and we should really update as soon as possible. He belongs to what some call “Generation M2,” highly tech-savvy children ages 8 to 18, whose lives are immersed in electronic media.

Most children in this plugged-in generation grew up with their chubby hands on a mouse. Today these “digital natives” have almost constant access to the web. Our children are engulfed in a culture that revolves around this digital world. What used to be pen pals are now Facebook “friends” and Twitter “followers.” I wonder at times how we will write the “rule book” as all this technology and social media evolve right before us. I mean, how could it not be difficult for my generation? My kids laugh when I tell them, as a teenager, our (not my) “cell” phone came in the form of a black bag we only used on family trips, my high school had one computer, and my “social media” was best defined as writing a paragraph in my best friend’s yearbook. I connected with my friends at the mall, at their homes, or at a party and not over the Internet. Today, “social media” denotes a variety of methods used to connect people via the Internet. Some modes are familiar like Facebook and Twitter. For the moment, Facebook seems to be the platform of choice for most adolescents, with 80 percent of teens on Facebook. Here one accumulates “friends” with whom he/she shares status updates containing text, links, pictures or videos. Twitter, the second most common stage, is not as popular as Facebook among teens but is growing in status.

As I embark upon an honest deliberation in all this, I do consider the impact it has on children of all ages. With more than 300 million uncontrolled “tweets” being sent daily and with 250 million photographs posted every day on Facebook, how could I not? Though it’s an area where there are no existing rules or guidelines. Suffice it to say, and like it or not, my generation is writing the rules as best we can and as we go and as we experience all of this for the first time. Complicating the issue is the variety of sites available, each with different niches. And the field continues to grow. Beyond Facebook and Twitter, there’s Instagram, Snapchat, Kik, Vine, 4chan, Wanelo, among a few popular with teens.

Any person with a computer or smartphone and “followers” or “friends” on a social network can easily spread his/her ideas -- both good and bad, beneficial and detrimental -- to an audience of thousands. There are both positives and negatives. Teens have an average of 265 “friends” on Facebook. Can a young person vouch for the integrity of all those 265 claimed “friends?” And what about the “likes” and “comments?” Research has shown some kids will base their self-worth on how many “likes” they’re getting on their pictures or what “comments” they’re getting or not getting from friends. More, teens have to understand the repercussions of posting something online that they can never take back or erase and anything inappropriate can spread like wildfire.

On the flip side, there are many attractions of social media. Social networking can encourage participation for our kids in community service activities, collaboration with classmates on group projects, and communication with coaches and teammates and that’s just the beginning. It allows ordinary people or children to connect with others to accomplish good on a large scale.

Recently, I was having dinner with a fairly diverse group, most parents of teens. The conversations were all over the board, ranging from topics of dentistry, our military and music. Then one parent mentioned trouble he was having monitoring his daughter’s time on Facebook and Instagram. At that moment, every conversation came to a halt and instantly, it was like we were all participating in a round table discussion at a NATO conference. We all wanted to hear what the next had to say and we all wanted to add our own experiences. We all agreed that technology and social media are here to stay. And we agreed that, as parents, we will make mistakes as we write the rules. But like most aspects of parenting, we have to create a balance, and our openness and interest will undoubtedly aid us as we navigate this new environment.

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