Teens coming of age in context of Internet

Messaging: Youths are developing social circles online in increasing numbers.

May 21, 2001|By Jennifer Hill | Jennifer Hill,COX NEWS SERVICE

"Do I have a screen name?" my younger son asked, as we were driving home from school one day.

"Yes," I answered somewhat warily, wondering what prompted the question and where it was leading. I knew the day was coming when the boys would no longer be content to roam the Internet using their mother's handle.

Still it was disconcerting, similar to the way I felt when each boy told me I was no longer needed to walk them to class, a gentle but firm loosening of the apron strings.

"What is it?" he asked. When I told him the screen name, he looked at me, one eyebrow rising incredulously, and said, "You're kidding right?"

"No," I said somewhat miffed. After all, the name was that of a character from a Disney movie that we all found hilarious, but who clearly now, was passe. "Well, I set up the name two years ago," I added defensively.

The impetus behind his sudden interest in screen names puts him squarely in the midst of the trend of 'tweens and teens and their use of the Internet.

About two-thirds - 65 percent - of youths online have a contact list or buddy list, according to an America Online cyberstudy of youths ages 9 to 17.

Seventy-eight percent of older teens, the group that communicates online the most, have contact lists.

The computer rivals the phone as a primary tool of teen communication. Lately, it seems that every time I'm in a gathering of two or more parents, the topic of "Does your child do Instant Messaging?" arises.

The inquirer is usually somewhat gratified to learn his or her child is not the only one who has been suddenly infested by an instant messaging body snatcher.

But the parent is still clearly perplexed at how quickly their child's use of messaging went from 0 to 60 mph.

One family I know disconnected their son's computer from the Internet to cut down online chatting while he was supposed to be doing his homework.

The AOL cyberstudy shows that the parents of 68 percent of the youth online had rules governing online use.

While many parents feel computer and Internet use is generally positive, many are justifiably concerned about safety.

You can get more information and tips about child safety at sites like www.kidshield.com that compile software reviews and other information.

AOL, the largest Internet provider, offers parental controls through keyword "parental controls," which allows parents to limit time and content access.

The best advice is to view your children's online friends through the same parental lens you view all their friends.

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