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3 Trouble Spots for Teens on Twitter

According to a July 2011 report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 18% of teenagers in America are using Twitter. That percentage of usage doubled over a two year period representing a major shift.

But teenagers aren’t using Twitter in the same way adults do.

Teens tout the ease of use and the ability to send the equivalent of a text message to a circle of friends, often a smaller one than they have on crowded Facebook accounts. They can have multiple accounts and don’t have to use their real names. They also can follow their favorite celebrities and, for those interested in doing so, use Twitter as a soapbox.

Source

In no way do I want to sound alarmist. But I do want to point out a couple of things adults who minister to teenagers should be on the lookout for when it comes to teen use of Twitter. These aren’t hypothetical things, these are issues I’ve dealt with in the recent past or am dealing with now.

  1. Anonymity will lead to trouble – Unlike Facebook, where people are who they say they are for the most part, on Twitter you can pretend to be whomever you want. As long as you have a valid email address you can create an account… or many accounts. Many of us remember the problem of anonymity with Myspace or even the short-lived fad with Formspring.me. For a student, anonymity seems great because only their friends know who is who. But the flip side is that when you get into a situation 1 or 2 layers outside of the original circle, you aren’t sure who anyone is. And teenagers are especially vicious online when they think they are acting anonymously. More often than not, they are just being silly or sarcastic or aren’t thinking anyone will take their words seriously. All too often that anonymity leads to feelings getting hurt because the recipient can’t tell if someone is being silly, all they know is that someone thinks they are ugly or promiscuous or unlikeable.
  2. Private circles – Teenagers aren’t using Twitter like adults. They will create an account for a small circle of friends, essentially using it as a group texting service. They almost always keep the circle all private users with accounts they only use for that circle. Because they can have several accounts, one for each circle, you might be confused to see that they have a public account that follows you. Just don’t assume that because a student follows you it means you are seeing everything they do.
  3. A digital fingerprint is a digital fingerprint – This is where texting & Twitter are different. While the data may flow through their text messaging service, it isn’t protected to the same extent as using Twitter. As with any social media site… you don’t own your usage and you can’t ultimately control who sees what. Students need to be taught to have an assumption that everything they do online leaves a digital fingerprint that may last their entire lifetime.

Like I said at the beginning. There is no reason to be alarmed that more of your students are using Twitter. But it might be a good idea to help them understand the ramifications of how they are using the service.

Are you seeing students use Twitter in your ministry? 

Photo credit: Garry Wilmore via Flickr (Creative Commons)

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Does Same-Sex Education Reinforce Gender Stereotypes?

“The bottom line is that there is not good scientific evidence for the academic advantages of single-sex schooling. But there is strong evidence for negative consequences of segregating by sex — the collateral damage of segregating by sex.”

Read the rest

Are boys and girls neurologically different? Do they learn differently? Are their mental capacities the same? What are the positives and negatives of separating students by gender?

These are all legitimate questions for the academic world to wrestle with. But they certainly have important implications to youth ministry, as well. Like so many other things in youth ministry many of us segment small groups and even Sunday school across gender lines. Chances are good that you either have your own theory as to why that is done or it has just always been done and that’s the way it is.

The quote I pulled above takes the question to a different level– one that may even be applied beyond gender boundaries and into other contemporary issues. “Does segmentation by gender foster the creation of positive/negative stereotypes?” (Of course, the philosophical question to explore as well, could be “Are gender stereotypes inherently positive/negative or are they simply a natural occurring phenomenon in social structures?)

What are your thoughts? When it comes to your ministry when/why do you segment your group by gender? 

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New Study Reveals That Teenage Boys Masturbate More Often Than Girls

A new nationwide look at data on masturbation among U.S. adolescents finds that boys do it much more often than girls, and they also tend to start earlier.

With parental permission, the NSSHB survey asked both male and female adolescents (as well as their adult guardians) to recall how often they had masturbated over the prior three months, over the past year, and over the course of their lifetime. Those polled were also asked how often they masturbated alone versus with a sexual partner. Condom use was also noted.

The results: boys were found to masturbate more often than girls, both overall and across all measured time frames. 

U.S. News & World Report, August 1st 2011

Of all the important questions facing adolescents today our federal government approved a research grant to discover that?

That’s a poll I’d expect to see in Teen People and not in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

What other “important research questions” might we tackle next?

  • What percentage of middle school boys want to dance with middle school girls at the school dance but are too afraid to make the first move?
  • Do 15 year old high school students want to see the driving age raised to 18 years old?
  • Do students like dress codes?

All joking aside, the trivial nature of these studies only acts as a reinforcement of the overarching stereotype. While there is plenty of wonderful research taking place around the country these headlines unintentionally communicate a message that adolescents aren’t important in our society, that they aren’t worthy of serious research, that they aren’t to be taken seriously, and that the people who invest their lives into educating, mentoring, and ministering to them aren’t to be taken seriously either.

Question: If you had the opportunity to sit on a grant approving board what would be some research questions in the field of adolescence that you’d fund?