The Internet is a huge, hulking thing with so many nooks and crannies it can be hard to know where you are, much less know where your children are.  I have heard many horror stories about the Internet, and just as many stories of supportive networks and friends who use online media as a way to communicate and emotionally provide for each other.  The Internet can educate, expand, and give depth and texture to our world.  It can also detract in painful and life-changing ways.

Let’s take YouTube as an example.  YouTube is fabulous.  It has enhanced my teaching in so many ways because I have access to almost every song and interesting clip from TV or movies at my fingertips in all of my classes.  I use these images, lyrics, and videos to pose questions, ethical/moral dilemmas, and start conversations with my students.  I regularly post videos here in the same way.  YouTube offers insights into different people’s lives, well wrought diagrams of difficult-to-imagine anatomy, and nuts-and-bolts information about important things like how to put on and remove a condom.

Plus, let’s be honest, aside from all potential educational content, YouTube is just fun.  There are interesting, funny, and engaging videos of all sorts on YouTube, and most people with Internet access at least occasionally use YouTube as a resource in this way at some point or another.

But YouTube can feel less like an interesting resource and more like a scary unknown when a parent realizes that their 12-year-old has put a video on YouTube without the parent’s knowledge or consent.

The Internet – and all social media generally – can be seen as either providing high levels of good – or scary levels of danger.  I have found a distressing percentage of conversation about media has taken either the perspective that it is inherently good or that it is inherently bad rather than living in the ambiguity.  Social media is neither good nor bad – it just is.  There are potentials for good use or bad use, of course, but the media itself cannot be so easily put into a category.

Given the complicated issue of social media, I was delighted to find an expansive conversation on the issue from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  Called Young People, Ethics, and the New Digital Media (that link will download the entire report), this report provides a comparatively balanced and judgment-free look at social media.  I find the authors to be slightly in favor of social media as a whole, but not biased in their review of the topic and potential benefits and drawbacks.  Young People, Ethics, and the New Digital Media was published in 2008, marking it as old in social media time (for example, the report references Second Life with abandon), but the conversations and issues it raises are still vitally relevant now.

The authors of this report break down the intersection of youth, ethics, and social media into five key topics:

  1. identity
  2. privacy
  3. ownership and authorship
  4. credibility
  5. participation

This report is substantial, and offers a theoretical basis for speaking about media issues in an in-depth way that we haven’t had access to before.  It is also heavily academic in nature (which is not surprising, given its source) and refers to academic and theoretical ways of looking at adolescent development.  Over the course of this week, I’ll be taking sections of the report and talking about what they mean in more layman’s terms, and about what it all means for parents who are thinking about individual children and teenagers rather than all children and teenagers.

I hope you’ll come back and take part in the conversation about the report!  For now, though, post your favorite – or least favorite – YouTube video in the comments section, and tell us why you like or dislike it!  (For pure hilarious inanity, I am particularly fond of this YouTube video.  I don’t know why, I just think it’s funny.  Some cursing is included, but it’s otherwise SFW.)