Sunday, July 11, 2010

Why Would Anyone Do This?

As someone who writes for teens, I often find myself racing to catch up with them. I try not to add too many details in my books that will "date" them, but if I'm writing something contemporary, inevitably I'll have to reference some current music, clothing, or technology.

I'll confess, my musical tastes are locked somewhere in the 80's (not my fault, really, since I used to work at an 80's radio station and their entire playlist is embedded in my mental hard drive ...) so I regularly query kids on what they've recently added to their iPods.

Styles are easy enough to figure out: just carpool to the high school a few times or chaperone a dance (if you dare) to check out what kids are wearing. Technology and the Internet is tougher. I've leaned on my kids multiple times to walk me through Instant Messaging, Facebook, and texting. This process becomes highly comic when one of my manuscripts reaches a copyeditor who is older and even less tech-savvy than me. Confusion reigns, and problems are resolved only when a very young, junior editor can be found to explain it all.

Recently, I had reason to explore a new site on the Internet which has apparently taken off with teens in the past few months, and has left me absolutely bewildered. It's called Formspring, and I'd describe it as the Wild West of Cyberbullying. According to a recent New York Times article it's particularly prevalent among middle schoolers, and most parents have never heard of it.

Formspring is free, public, and mean. It's essentially a blackboard where anyone who signs up can ask you questions about yourself or simply post comments about you. And unlike sites such as Facebook, which only your "friends" can access, anyone can sign up for Formspring and post comments. Anonymously.

Yup. It's like taping a sign on your own back that reads "Kick Me." It begs an interesting question with a troubling answer: Why would anyone in their right mind subject themselves to this?

Now, it is possible to block or delete questions and comments that are sent to you via Formspring, and the site managers claim to have methods for tracking reported cyberbullies. But that doesn't explain the horrible, rude, often obscene comments which teens do make public. Why? Why would anyone purposely post horrible, untrue comments about themselves?

Shrinks and school counselors have explained the Formspring phenomenon as extreme attention seeking, as well as too much reliance on what other's think of you. Rachel Simmons, who has a wonderful site for girls, posted this insightful commentary on Formspring:


Much of what I've found as I explore the world of today's teens is exciting and fun and creative. But some of it is troubling, and I'd put Formspring in the latter category.

No comments:

Post a Comment