By Gay Norton Edelman
Teens have always been thrill-seekers, but now their risk-taking is egged on by endless new videos and blogs of peers doing foolish or dangerous things. The sheer number of these peer insanities makes those activities seem normal and okay to kids, says Kathie Nunley, EdD, an educational psychologist in Amherst, New Hampshire, and founder of brains.org. Tamer exploits can also start to seem boring when you've viewed them on your computer screen a thousand times. Then there's competition with all those images. Typical kid-think can go like this: I see online brag photos of my friend drunk at a party. So next weekend I have to top that.
Our society's obsession with 24-7 celebrity coverage pushes the notion that living your life in full view of others is a good idea. "If celebrities, who seem to be most kids' role models nowadays, don't seem to care about privacy, why should they?" asks Michele Borba, PhD, author of 12 Simple Secrets Moms Know (Jossey-Bass). It's not just celebrities, either. American Idol aspirants let it all hang out, as do the people on reality shows like Real World and Laguna Beach.
All this look-at-me living is reflected in a new shallowness among kids, says Borba. "This is the faceless generation. They're communicating without the in-person contact that develops empathy, commitment, and relationships." If it doesn't feel like it matters all that much if you humiliate yourself or your friend, why not do it?
Interestingly, the relaxed feelings about privacy seem to go hand in hand with a new toughness. Asked whether critical comments about photos and videos posted online would be worrisome, 14-year-old Kendall Toole of Santa Clarita, California, responds, "People are entitled to their opinion. If you don't want to hear what they think, you can just disable their comments." (Kendall has posted YouTube videos of herself and her friends "just joking around" and some head shots on IMDb, the Internet Movie Database.) If you're less concerned about what others think, you're more likely to go for broke with what you post.