June 19, 2006
Studies of Teens on the 'Net

A new study released by Cornel University surmises that "teens take to the Internet like ants to a summer picnic."

This quote, from Science News Online's newest issue, is a sobering reminder that cyberspace provides unheralded communication opportunities (and marketing opportunities), but the effects of this communication can contain both an expanding world view and corresponding dangers. While Internet utopian fluff pieces celebrate the medium without fault, and watchdog attack groups go after the medium incessantly, this study emphasizes the neutrality of the medium and its capacity for both good and evil.

Those of us who study or are involved in the entertainment industry know that any medium--whether it be the written word, television, radio, or film--contains both the capacity for good as well as exploitative and lowest common denominator content. The Internet is much more complicated when you are talking about message boards and chat rooms, because you can't compare television shows and message boards, which is many-to-many communication.

Bruce Bower, who wrote the Science News piece, goes on to examine a Michigan State University study about the ways in which the Internet improves the reading skills of middle schoolers, and a Northwestern University study on leadership skill building among teens who form global Internet communities.

When we discuss teen audiences and the importance of using the Internet as a storytelling tool, it is important to realize how Internet has changed the lives of America's youth. And, while I blast pundits like L. Brent Bozell of the Parents Television Council for always leading the censorship march under the premise of "negative effects on children," we can't forget that there are always dangers involved when people are allowed to communicate, especially children. As parents, as educators, as content providers, and as citizens, we have some duty to take responsibility. While I don't think those restrictions should be imposed through censorship, it doesn't mean that we don't all have an ethical obligation as well. And, when we talk about expanding transmedia into participatory culture online, especially involving young people, we can't hide from some of the issues this brings up.

Again, the study is a fairly lengthy read for an online article but provides a lot of interesting context for online communities involving teens.

Thanks to Kestrell for passing this along.