Teen frustrated that parents restrict access to social-networking sites

Dear Wes & Kelly: I’m 15, and my parents still restrict me from using the Internet without filters. I might be OK with that if they were filtering out porn or something bad, but they don’t let me access Facebook, MySpace or anything else that everybody uses. Don’t you think this is pretty extreme? It’s making it so I don’t even want anything to do with them anymore. Maybe they’ll listen to you.

Wes: Ah, the Internet — modern purveyor of everything good and evil. I can’t recall another medium in the history of mankind that places in parallel so much good next to so much bad. In the old days, you had to go to the bad neighborhood or dial the bad telephone number to see or hear bad things. You had to put forth effort to travel into the big, bad city to involve yourself in big, bad happenings. You had to know bad people with bad ideas to be really, really bad. With the Internet, one has to exert about .5 calories worth of energy to click from reruns of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” to pretty much anything you can imagine and a great deal you could not.

It sounds like your parents are quite aware of this and have decided to increase the level of effort it takes to go to the bad neighborhoods of the Internet, which is about the best they can hope for. The problem for you is that their view of what’s negative on the Internet exceeds yours and includes social networking sites. What you didn’t tell us is exactly what they are concerned about. I can think of a whole list of reasons: cyberbullying, posting of inappropriate content, general unethical behavior online, addiction to massive multiplayer games. But I don’t really know what they are concerned about, and perhaps you don’t either. My favorite one right now is the fact that the Internet has a MEMORY like a metaphorical elephant. You may decide after a few weeks that those cool pictures of you and your buds acting up in your boxers aren’t as great an idea as you thought. So you take those pages down. Too late. The images still live out there, on servers, on other people’s hard drives. You’re caught in that one moment in time … forever. Just try out the Wayback Machine some time to see how everything is archived online. In fact, clever employers are now searching the blogs and Web pages of prospective employees to get to know them better than they might like. Not quite what you were expecting when you signed up.

If your parents are concerned that you’re not going to be responsible with your online life, I think you should sit down and propose some rules that you think will manage their anxiety. The whole issue of how much privacy is too much privacy is pushed to the forefront when parents want your passwords. You really have to try to walk a mile or two in their shoes and understand what they are afraid of before proceeding. That doesn’t mean all their fears are justified in your case. It just means that in order to resolve a problem or disagreement with someone, you have to first understand them, and then work to meet them where they’re at.

Kelly: Parents, whether you like it or not, your kids are constantly keeping up with the latest fads. Whether it’s the latest version of the iPod, the newest cellular device or the fastest-growing social network, kids will become caught up in keeping up with the big trends. It’s only natural that you want to provide the best for your children. But some things may be enabling your child to live for the latest craze rather than showing and teaching them responsibility.

Many teenagers tend to overlook the fact that Facebook is highly overrated. Yes it may be an easy, effective way to keep in touch with your friends, but too many kids have become obsessed with the popular social-networking site. Too often I see my peers rushing to the next available computer to either check or update their Facebook or MySpace. It’s become such a habit that even the school district has blocked these sites from their computers.

I fear that kids have begun to use social-networking sites as a substitute for face-to face communication. Words are open to interpretation, and their meaning may be misleading if only read through a computer. In contrast, when someone is communicating face-to-face, not only do you get their words but you get their body language and facial expression in order to convey both content and emotion.

On the other hand, yes, there are many dangers lurking on the Web, and those same dangers may carry on into the real world. As much as your parents would like to shelter you from all the pitfalls of society, you will still face them one day.

I know at 15 it seems to be unfair. But not being allowed a Facebook or MySpace account isn’t going to make much of a difference in your life. With or without an online account, you will still live a typical teenage life. Your parents are just trying to do what they feel is best for you.

— Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. Kelly Kelin is a senior at Free State High School. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues (limited to 200 words) to doubletake@ljworld.com. All correspondence is strictly confidential.