Internet Safety Gone Wild?

That’s the title of a new essay published in the Journal of Adolescent Research by Brendesha Tynes, a professor of educational psychology and of African American studies at Illinois. In a time where most of the headlines scream “danger!”, It’s nice to hear an academic voice articulating some of the educational benefits of teens spending time online. According to this summary of her essay from Science Daily, Professor Tynes says:

“We may do adolescents a disservice when we curtail their participation in these spaces, because the educational and psychosocial benefits of this type of communication can far outweigh the potential dangers.”

Here are just some of the positives Tynes calls attention to:

– critical thinking and argumentation skills developed in online discussions
– finding support from online peer groups
– exploring questions of identity
– getting help with homework
– asking questions about sensitive issues they might be afraid to ask face to face
– developing their skills in understanding issues from the perspective of others

She also sees the internet as a forum for teens to discuss race or “the training wheels” for discussing these issues in person:

Some teenagers who believe racism no longer exists may readily find it in online discussions, Tynes said. Some may go online and spread false information or make insensitive remarks, but find themselves challenged, she said. Others may find the online environment a place to ask serious questions about race or ethnicity they would be afraid to ask in person, for fear of offending or causing a conflict, Tynes said.In all of these cases, there is an opportunity to learn or gain a new perspective, she said. “It’s sort of like having training wheels for engaging in interracial discussions (offline),” Tynes said.

Given the increasing segregation of U.S. schools along racial lines, Tynes thinks schools may even want to encourage online discussion as a substitute for what is missing in hallways and classrooms. “I think the Internet would be a perfect place to engage the racial issues that may not come up because of this re-segregation,” she said.

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