Kids need places to roam. Places for unstructured interaction. A recent New York Times article about Danah Boyd’s research gives fresh perspective on  teenagers, social media and their online lives.

Children today, she said, are reacting online largely to social changes that have taken place off line. “Children’s ability to roam has basically been destroyed,” Dr. Boyd said . “Letting your child out to bike around the neighborhood is seen as terrifying now”. Dr. Boyd, a  senior researcher at Microsoft, an assistant professor at New York University and a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard — is a widely respected figure in social media research.

The internet is a place where kids can hang out. For kids of all backgrounds and dispositions,  troubled teenagers and model youth alike, adolescent online behavior is a reflection of what teenagers’ social lives have always been: friendship, gossip, flirting, transgressing and keeping it all — good and bad — from parents. Research shows that what is taking place online is an extension of what is in their lives. There are bad things in kids lives, and the internet is not a shelter from those bad things – but it is not the cause of those bad things either. Dr. Boyd is an advocate of kids. Her research demonstrates that youth are using the internet in productive ways.  The world wide web is empowering them to take positive action in ways never available to their parents.

Allowing kids to be kids. To find support in a community, to make a difference in our world, to hang out with friends – maybe the internet is not such a threatening place after all, but rather a place where teenagers are behaving exactly as they always have behaved.

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