Privacy, what’s that?

In the second chapter of Danah Boyd’s It’s Complicated, there are many things discussed revolving around the privacy of teens when participating in social media. She speaks of two things that seem to go hand in hand in many cases: social steganography and the surveillance of parents. As she mentions, it has always been common that teens want privacy from their parents in certain aspects of their lives. The parents of teens today did not grow up with technology the same way that our generation has, usually causing them to want to be ever-present and all-knowing in their child’s life. Teens on the other hand don’t always want their judging, rule-implementing, and lecture-ready parents tracking their every move regarding social interactions. To combat this Boyd mentions, “many of the privacy strategies that teens implement are intended to counter the power dynamic that emerges when parents and other adults feel as though they have the right to watch and listen” (70). From this stems steganography where teens tend to code their messages by posting lyrics, sub-tweeting, etc. This made me think about when I was younger and in middle school or early high school and how my mom would look me up on social media to see what I was doing. I remember feeling frustrated not only because it was my page that I didn’t ask her to view but because there was no reason for her not to trust what I was doing. I was always safe, didn’t talk to strangers, or post things that could be deemed as unacceptable or inappropriate.

Parents seem to think that we don’t care about our privacy to the outside world or understand the dangers, but at what point can they trust that the way they raised us is enough and we will share what we want when we want? I found an interesting video in which Kelly Wallace from CNN discusses that her biggest fear is her children becoming involved with social media. This video was striking because she says at one point, “how will I possibly keep tabs on everything they’re doing?” as if in order to be a good parent she must know every single detail of her child’s life. She goes on to say that in reality parents might not even have a clue because of the ways teens have chosen to encrypt their messages. She gives an example about how someone might post a group photo but intentionally not tag someone as an act of aggression, something that would easily slip by parents viewing the picture. Her solution is to sign up for the social networks that the teens are on and befriend them. However, if teens go through such lengths to keep their parents from knowing what is happening on their social networks, where is the line to be drawn for privacy between teen and parent?

Are Parents Going Too Far To Check In On Their Kids?

So far, It’s Complicated by Deborah Boyd is very interesting to me because I have never read a piece of text like it before, especially written by an adult. Boyd is defending teens and appears to be battling parents who disagree with, argue, or dislike how teens in modern day society are using the internet. Many parents feel that teens are “addicted” to the internet and that they are being brainwashed and kept from seeing their friends in person. When in reality, teens would much rather see their friends in person; it is just made much more difficult today due to lack of transportation, busy schedules, parental concerns about safety, and property owners having a distaste for teenagers hanging around on their property.

One main concern among parents that Boyd brings up is that teens are now living in a whole new world that is blocked off to them. Since children are living these separate lives that are not willingly shared with adults, parents get the idea that teens are actively making efforts to hide what they are doing online and get the assumption that their children are engaging in inappropriate and dangerous acts on the internet. This causes friction and distrust between parents and their children and ultimately leads to parents snooping around, by any means possible, to find out what their child is doing online because they feel they have the right to. Boyd explains that “teens are not particularly concerned about organizational actors; rather, they wish to avoid paternalistic adults who use safety and protection as an excuse to monitor their everyday sociality” (56). There is a vicious cycle of teens using the internet to communicate with friends they cannot see in person, teens not wanting their parents to read their private conversations, parents misinterpreting this desire of privacy and interpreting it as their children putting themselves in danger, and parents snooping in their child’s personal life as a result.

Many of the teens Boyd interview expressed a huge desire for trust form their parents. Boyd brings up the important point that “there is a significant difference between having the ability to violate privacy and making the choice to do so” (74). As seen by the many examples of parents prying in on their children’s internet activity, it is very easy for a parent to see what their child is doing. But just because it is easy, doesn’t mean there is an entitled right to do so.

Teen Safe news segment (Scoundcloud)

I have pulled the audio from a clip on a news show that discusses this program called “TeenSafe” that allows parents to see all the activity on their child’s smartphone. This discussion really highlights the lengths that some parents go to in order to pry in on their kids and how they feel entitled in doing so.