Sherry Turkle Says Younger Kids Can't Handle Facebook Because Teens Fret About Looking Cool Online

from the oh-the-unprecedented-horror! dept

There have been many different definitions of "childhood" in history. Often, it meant "a series of fevered illnesses preceding a constant fight for survival," or if you were lucky, "a brief period of unpaid labor in preparation for a life of poorly-paid labor." The nominal modern notion of an extended formative stage of life, and the fact that it's actually possible for some people, seems like quite the accomplishment in that light—but it's noteworthy that, on the whole, every generation of children has managed to muddle through somehow, adjusting society's norms and standards as it goes. And the culmination of all that change is modern humanity: still far from perfect, but no more or less fundamentally flawed or fundamentally gifted than we ever were.

So how likely is it that Facebook is going to be the thing that finally ruins children forever? Well, according to Sherry Turkle in a recent interview with TechCrunch's Greg Ferenstein, it's a very serious concern—so serious, in fact, that she can talk about it for almost fifteen minutes without really saying anything (watch the full video below).

Now, I wouldn't wish her non-specific wrath on anyone, but Mark Zuckerberg must have known he'd be getting a dose of Turkle-talk when the news broke that Facebook is considering new access systems for kids under 13, who are currently technically banned by the rules. Never mind that nearly 40% of 10- to 12-year-olds are already on Facebook, often with the knowledge and support of their parents—in fact, apparently Facebook should be working to correct that errant behavior, not recognize and accommodate it. Why? As Turkle so eloquently puts it, "what Facebook does is it forces you to have a Facebook profile."

Indeed. And according to her, kids just can't handle that. This is apparently based on her conversations with kids over 13, who report getting stressed out about the identity they present online:

This is something that's difficult enough for high school kids. Should I say I like Harry Potter because that'll show that I'm cool, does that show like I have a childlike side and that's cool, or is that too nerdy, or...? Just agonizing over decisions like this.

Yes, you read that right: teenagers are worrying about how to look cool. It's shocking, I know. Turkle thinks that this pressure is now greater than ever because kids have a central online identity, which makes them less able to experiment with different ways of defining themselves—and that they will later be haunted by digital records of their past. There's some truth to that notion, but it's hard to see it as much of a problem—we're talking about broad, shifting trends in the way people communicate, and such trends are the progenitors of societal norms, not slaves to them. If, in 20 years, there is no such thing as a political candidate without an embarrassing photo lurking online, then we can fairly assume society will not be so excitable about such photos; if, when today's nine-year-olds enter the workforce, they all have to 'fess up to that [insert silly subculture] phase they went through in high-school, it's not going to cripple them all emotionally—it's going to foster an environment where people are less embarrassed and judgmental about such things.

As for having this start a few years earlier, it's still hard to see the problem—especially when so many kids are already doing it. Obviously nine-year-olds shouldn't be completely unsupervised on Facebook, nor should they use it without some guidance and advice from their parents—but there aren't really many things that nine-year-olds should do completely independently anyway. Plus, part of Facebook's whole plan for new children's access is to provide better parental controls and simpler, more emphasized privacy settings—so all those young kids who are already using Facebook can hopefully do so more responsibly. Will there, as Turkle fears, be some parents who are overactive in defining their child's online identity, making personal decisions for them and living through them? Probably—and that might be concerning if it was a new issue, and not one of the oldest and best-known tropes in the parenting-mistake canon.

But then there's Turkle's corollary fear, which is that kids aren't learning human interaction:

At that age anything that takes time away from what you learn face-to-face, the skills of negotiation and being attentive to tone and the delicate kinds of things that you learn when you're with kids and you're with your friends and horsing around and really learning how to be a friend face-to-face and the messiness and complexity of human relationships, that's not good. This is a time when kids need to be encouraged in every way to spend that time face to face, and even suggesting that Facebook is something they might want to do just presents the wrong signals.

Maybe Turkle is unaware, but for most of us, online social skills are now really, really important too. There are unwritten rules and codes of etiquette, and hard-to-define skills of empathy and intuition, in the digital world as well—and online etiquette is only going to be more nuanced and complex when today's kids are all grown up. Facebook and other online communication is now a pretty big part of the "messiness and complexity of human relationships", and keeping kids away from it is definitely not going to alleviate social confusion. It also seems likely to create an immediate sense of exclusion from both their peers and society in general—but Turkle doesn't think so:

First of all, the notion of ten-year-olds and nine-year-olds being ostracized for not being on Facebook - I think that's a pretty quick jump.

...

The argument for why kids need it is: that's where the social events are posted, that's where kids are sharing where the parties are, where the events are. I'm saying that at ten, it's better that those things happen in person. Parents should be encouraging children, as much as they can throw their weight behind it, for those things to still be happening in person at that age.

I'm not sure how it's any kind of stretch to say that kids will feel ostracized for not being allowed to do what their friends are doing—and we're not talking about jumping off a cliff here. And apparently it's not enough that kids are still going to each others' birthday parties—as in, events where they spend all day engaging in face-to-face socialization—Turkle thinks they need to be told about them in person too. I guess that way they'll be prepared for the adult world, where we all hand-deliver our invitations.

The simple reality is that, yes, Facebook presents new and different social challenges to kids. Every generation has faced unique challenges, because the social landscape is always changing. Every change also presents new opportunities, and while Turkle is worrying about kids getting less face-to-face interaction, those same kids are building whole new kinds of communities that cross traditional borders. Some things will be lost, of course, and to sometimes pine for a "simpler time" is a natural thing in moderation, but Turkle actually wants to talk about the "cost-benefit analysis" of broad social change. How is that even possible with something that can't be quantified? As a psychologist, Turkle should spend her time looking at ways to maximize the good aspects of social media, instead of fearmongering about the supposedly bad ones.




Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    teapot, Jun 21st, 2012 @ 3:12am

    yay! Iam the first to comment~!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jun 21st, 2012 @ 4:22am

      Re:

      You didn't even try to add anything useful or funny in your post so getting the first post is meaningless.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Jun 21st, 2012 @ 3:18am

    Wow Facebook forces you to have a Facebook profile.
    Ummm how does this work exactly because they seem to be doing a very shitty job of forcing me to sign up with them.

    I have a couple really valid question...
    Does Sherry Turkle have a Facebook profile?
    Does she have more than 5 friends? (not counting bands and other filler crap).

    I think her campaign of won't you think of the children is born out of her inability to deal with her own failure to be liked.
    She isn't getting invited to things and is blaming it on the technology making people forgetting to invite her, rather than accepting she is a killjoy no one wants to be around.
    Maybe she posted about how much she liked Twilight and got mocked, so she wants to ruin it for everyone.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    hfbs (profile), Jun 21st, 2012 @ 3:19am

    Oh Leigh.. *shakes head* when will you understand?

    We've had these problems for ages, but because they're happening on the internet, which is new, scary and full of pedophiles and people who steal (yes, steal) films, they must be stopped.

    These are issues.. on the internet. By default, they are now bad and new.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 21st, 2012 @ 3:22am

    Another brain fart from a woman with no understanding of the Internet or technology

    Wake me up when something new happens.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    Josef Anvil (profile), Jun 21st, 2012 @ 3:25am

    Did anyone notice?????

    A professor at MIT???? Does she even know what the IT in MIT stand for?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Sherry Turkle, Jun 21st, 2012 @ 3:50am

      Re: Did anyone notice?????

      Well, I hear a lot of teaching goes on there, so I'd assume it means Institute of Teaching.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        icon
        Josef Anvil (profile), Jun 21st, 2012 @ 4:02am

        Re: Re: Did anyone notice?????

        LMAO I may not agree with her opinion, but I have to say with a reply like that, she definitely has a great sense of humor and is welcome on my interwebs.

        IF that is actually her reply.

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Jun 21st, 2012 @ 3:29am

    From her glowing profile...
    "Professor Turkle writes on the "subjective side" of people's relationships with technology, especially computers."

    "Subjectivity refers to the subject and his or her perspective, feelings, beliefs, and desires. In philosophy, the term is usually contrasted with objectivity."
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subjectivity

    So because she has problems with it, it is a problem?
    Why would anyone talk to someone who is openly inserting her own beliefs into the process.
    This is a disturbing idea, that her own experience must trump anything one else's experiences.
    Wouldn't someone who could be objective be better as they would look at all the facts rather than their own limited viewpoint filling in the gaps as "fact"?

    Leads me to still believe she is being bullied on Facebook and is lashing out.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 21st, 2012 @ 3:54am

    maybe she should just stop being a complete idiot? since when have kids needed someone like her to decide what they're gonna do?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      That Anonymous Coward (profile), Jun 21st, 2012 @ 4:03am

      Re:

      kids don't need her, but shes an "expert" so parents need her to tell them how they are screwing their kids up by letting them be kids.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Jun 21st, 2012 @ 10:45am

        Re: Re:

        so parents need her to tell them how they are screwing their kids up by letting them be kids.

        Oh, come on. How are these kids going to think like Turkle if they don't grow up like Turkle?

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    Torg (profile), Jun 21st, 2012 @ 4:07am

    "If, in 20 years, there is no such thing as a political candidate without an embarrassing photo lurking online, then we can fairly assume society will not be so excitable about such photos"

    I don't trust anyone who doesn't have embarrassing photos somewhere. They're hiding something. And any halfway savvy politician should be able to spin them similarly: having pictures of your alcohol-induced antics makes you a Man of the People.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      John Fenderson (profile), Jun 21st, 2012 @ 8:28am

      Re:

      I don't trust anyone who doesn't have embarrassing photos somewhere. They're hiding something.


      This, a thousand times.

      Every single one of us has done wrong. We all have something we're ashamed of, and probably a whole collection of things that we're embarrassed by. People who pretend they don't are liars.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    relghuar, Jun 21st, 2012 @ 4:43am

    "instead of fearmongering"...

    Oh, please. Really?
    Since when is talking about positive side of things more appealing than fearmongering about - well, anything?
    I must have missed that point, possibly amongst all the fearmongering about cyberwar, drug war, war on terrorism, internet-swamping pedophiles, the end of the world, ...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 21st, 2012 @ 5:53am

    This just in. Sherry Turkle says Younger Kids Can't Handle School Because Teens Fret About Looking Cool In Person

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jun 21st, 2012 @ 6:44am

      Re:

      Damn I came to say this. Young kids should be taken out of school, look at the social anxiety experience by teens in high school!

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 21st, 2012 @ 7:14am

    Humbug, I grew up pre-internet, was only introduced to it in 1994 when going to college. I had the same excuciating choices when choosing which clothes to wear, which haircut to get, which music to listen to, which people to associate with, whether I was going to play marbles, soccer or join the latest gadget-fad on the playground, ... by the age 13 I reached the tipping point into the rebellion phase and I didn't care about any of these factors anymore.

    Exposing them to these issues early is a GOOD thing, the sooner they understand the inherent stupidity of herd mentality, the sooner they develop their own personality.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    Forest_GS (profile), Jun 21st, 2012 @ 7:26am

    It's hard to argue with the opening fact. More people viewing your "information" may make a youngster nervous, resulting in them trying to do "cool" things.

    Unfortunately, those "cool" things can range from smoking to riding a bike off a cliff...

    I personally would've like to of known about the wonders of the internet when I was five, but I didn't truly learn of it's awesomeness until 15.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Lord Binky, Jun 21st, 2012 @ 7:58am

      Re:

      Unfortunately I didn't have the internet to SAY I did cool things that 1)My parents could have read.... 2)May or may not have actually done (i.e. Lie to be cool). Damn parents have it too easy...

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Lord Binky, Jun 21st, 2012 @ 7:52am

    I think the larger problem is we have an adult who is this significantly troubled over everyone else’s children's thought process that is...well, fundamentally a child's natural thought process that is likely quite essential. I don't know if it's the fact that she never had to have those decisions made herself that she finds children incapable of handling them, but I don't get how this could be beneficial at all telling a person early in their life, you are completely incapable of handling personal decisions such as what books or anything you are interested in, much less what you would like your peers to know you are interested in...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 21st, 2012 @ 8:13am

    As a teenager faced with the pressures of trying to be cool I made some terrible choices, like smoking at age 14, and wearing jeans so tight I ran the risk self sterilization.

    Fortunately I was able to quit smoking by my late 30s, and father a couple of kids, so no harm done I guess. But imagine the terrible consequences that might befall me if I was a teenager now - I'd probably be walking around with my jeans down around my arse... God forbid!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    PolyPusher (profile), Jun 21st, 2012 @ 9:50am

    Wow

    She refers to "research" she's done multiple times. However, at no point do she offer any substantive facts. Why didn't her research result in any statistics on this topic? What I hear is someone who is desperately trying to support their existing views and not evaluate both the positive and negative consequences. She contradicts herself regarding the role of the parent vs. the role of facebook and is unwilling to consider any possible negative consequences to her suggestions.

    Another thing worth noting; She is very nervous and her body language suggests she is unsure of her own position. Anyone feel like suffering through that video again to count the "Um's?"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jun 21st, 2012 @ 10:56pm

      Re: Wow

      Well spotted. What is actually going on is that she is beating up an imaginary threat. That is a standard technique used by incompetent bureaucrats. She was nervous because she feared she might get denounced for it.

      There you go, the denunciation happened. She has suffered a hit to her credibility.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    PolyPusher (profile), Jun 21st, 2012 @ 10:05am

    "pretty quick jump?"

    I just have to comment on one more aspect that Mike touched on in his commentary. She said she thinks "that's a pretty quick jump" to assume that kids will feel ostracized if their peers are allowed on Facebook and they are not.

    Does she remember being a kid or listen to anything they say when she studies them? When I was in sixth grade "In Living Color" was the new cool show on TV. Sunday night you had to watch it so that Monday morning you could talk about it in school. There was a kid in my class who's Father was a Pastor and that child was not allowed to watch the show. On Monday morning he couldn't interact with everyone else. When he tried to he would be shot down and made fun of for not being allowed to watch the show. He was ostracized for something far less socially relevant than Facebook is today.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    AC Cobra, Jun 21st, 2012 @ 11:22am

    Learn from history

    Crisis like this have happened before. Way back when, society was ruined by the written word, then later ruined again by the telegraph, then again by the horror that is the telephone. We needn't worry now because obviously there is nothing left to save.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Rekrul, Jun 21st, 2012 @ 12:10pm

    There's something wrong with that video player. Using Firefox 12 and the latest version of Flash 11, the video instantly starts playing the moment it appears on the screen (loading this page, scrolling down to it on the main page). You don't have to click it or even move the mouse over it, and there's no way to pause it. Clicking the Pause button does nothing, neither does clicking on the image itself.

    In fact, once you click the Pause button, all the controls become non-functional and grayed out, so you can't even mute the sound!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      Leigh Beadon (profile), Jun 21st, 2012 @ 1:11pm

      Re:

      I've heard this from one other person... still not sure what's causing it. Do you have scripts blocked by any chance? Not sure what the deal with this particular player is...

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      Leigh Beadon (profile), Jun 21st, 2012 @ 1:15pm

      Re:

      don't have a full solution yet but i've moved the video into the "read more" on the post so it won't keep happening on the homepage

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        identicon
        Rob, Jun 21st, 2012 @ 2:40pm

        Re: Re:

        Seeing the same behavior using Safari. Doesn't seem to matter whether javascript is on or off. Really annoying. Thank you for moving it off the home page. I was really afraid this was the new TechDirt.

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 21st, 2012 @ 1:20pm

    Could lead to dancing!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 21st, 2012 @ 2:56pm

    Um, I'm 53 and I'm worried about looking cool online too! In fact, that's why I read TechDirt!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This