It's really difficult to remember how we communicated, what we considered "entertaining," and how we received information prior to the Internet. The Internet has become one of the most-used means of technology in history-after electricity, the telephone, cars, modern appliances, and computers, of course. As different generations deal with its effects and affects, youth today appear to be savvier than ever. I recently conducted an anonymous survey of twenty high school students from Monte Del Sol Charter School to gain insight on how safe they feel using the Internet, how much time they spend on it, and most importantly, what they use it for.
When asked, "How many days per week do you use the Internet to communicate (socialize) with your peers (i.e. MySpace, Facebook, email, AIM, etc.)?" half of the students surveyed said 4-7 days. Eight students said 1-3 days, and two students said 0 days are spent on the Internet to use some kind of social networking site or means of communication. The half that uses the Internet nearly every day suggests that the Internet has become the primary stage for socializing outside of school. Most students said a majority of their time used on the Internet is for homework purposes, such as researching topics. Surprisingly, when asked, "In regards to your time and use on the Internet, how much is spent, in hours, playing online games (i.e. video games, card games, etc.), all respondents answered 0. Other reasons for using the Internet aside from doing homework, socializing, or games, students said they watch movies, television shows, or download music. Other recreational activities included looking up horoscopes, online shopping (Ebay), and informational searches (Google, Yahoo). When asked how important the Internet is in comparison to other forms of entertainment (i.e. television, movies, etc.), most students said it was just as important; very few students said it was more important. Based on the surveys conducted, it appears many youths are using the Internet for every aspect of their lives: school, personal information and knowledge, socializing, and to gain access to other forms of entertainment, such as movies and television watching (i.e. YouTube) and downloading music. The Internet has clearly become a one-stop shop for all of youths' needs and wants.
Safety on the Internet is crucial, especially for young people under or around the age of eighteen. There have been so many national stories in recent years about young people being taken advantage of by adults on the Internet, young people meeting adults they've met on the Internet, and most drastically, young people being seriously hurt or killed by such contacts. To my surprise, when asked, "Assuming you have a MySpace and/or Facebook account, do you have your profile set to private so only those you confirm have access to your profile?" 17 of the respondents answered yes; two answered no; one said they "did not know how to set up those features." When explicitly asked whether or not they felt safe using the Internet (i.e. putting photos and personal information up about themselves), most students answered yes because they are very aware and protective about the information they post about themselves on their MySpace/Facebook accounts and who they allow to view their profiles.
When asked whether or not their parents have limitations on their use and time of the Internet, 17 students answered no; 3 said yes. I found this interesting because despite the national attention many stories receive regarding youth safety on the Internet, few parents have implemented rules. Very few students said a stranger over the age of eighteen had contacted them. Those who did answer yes said they typically responded by telling that individual to leave them alone, or blocked them from viewing their profile.
When reviewing the surveys, it was clear that most students are very aware of the risks of the Internet and are taking the necessary precautions to be safe when socializing. I also think that conclusion makes sense; as more youth spend more time on the Internet, safety measures such as private profiles and putting minimal personal information up becomes necessary. It was apparent that many students simply use the social networking sites to communicate with the people they do know from their school, other schools, summer camps and other recreational activities, and so on. Most youth surveyed simply were not interested in meeting or contacting people they did not know in "real" life.
I was pleasantly surprised and relieved to know the youth surveyed are being responsible and mature about their use and time spent on the Internet, especially considering that most of their parents have not set regulations for it. As MySpace and Facebook and other sites are being held responsible for the interactions between young people and adults, I think young people are considerably more aware of the consequences than their parents simply because they are involved first-hand. Also, similar to other trends among youth, once one person begins to limit the content on their profiles, others follow. Most importantly, however, the youth surveyed use the Internet for many other reasons aside from socializing which decreases the amount of time they are both willing to put information up about themselves and read about others; they already know the people they are socializing with from school and other places, so it isn't necessary for them to read about them in cyberspace. If anything, the survey conducted reflects that youth today do understand the complexity and risks of the Internet and are willing to take the steps necessary to ensure their safety.