I just saw a New York Times article that I had to comment on. The piece, by Tara Parker-Pope, asked the question: “Is the Internet making teenagers do more dumb things than ever?”
Now, it’s easy to rationalize that teens are gonna do stupid stuff no matter what. So why blame the Internet? After all, most of us have had to pass through that “watch me do something I’ve only thought through for a second-and-a-half” stage. But Parker-Pope asserts that the attention-drawing klieg light of sites such as YouTube and MySpace ups the ante and propagates even more dangerous choices. And that makes some sense, too.
The article includes some anecdotal stories centered around online videos, one of which involves a kid lighting a basketball on fire and then accidentally ending up with second- and third-degree burns all over his body. And, since I hadn’t scanned any random YouTube videos in a while, I went online to see if I could find the flaming basketball vid.
Turns out, I had my pick: There were more than a hundred entries in the flaming b-ball category. One kid set a gasoline-soaked ball on fire. Kicked it. Set his shoe and sock on fire. Flailed around while stripping off his burning shoe and sock as a friend stomped on the now fiery patch of ground at his feet. And it all took place about three feet from an open 10-gallon gas can. Whooey. Hello, Mensa society?
But we’re not just talking about just fiery orbs o’ sport. Other random vids showed a kid with giant floats firmly tied to his feet who jumped into a pool and immediately flipped upside-down to be suspended helplessly underwater. (Thank goodness the camera wasn’t just set up on a tri-pod.) Another teen attempted a back-flip on solid ground and landed on the top of his head, knocking himself out cold and probably giving his future grandchildren migraines. The ranks of such video entries stretched into the thousands, and every one I saw seemed to be a teen kid with a “watch-me, watch-me” look and not a single lick of sense.
The Times article quotes an adolescent medicine specialist from the University of Wisconsin named Dr. Meg Moreno who states that one of the distinguishing characteristics of kids is a sense that everybody is closely examining everything they do. “A really normal part of that is the perception that you’re on stage, and that everybody is looking at you,” Moreno said. “But for kids today it’s a different world they’re growing up in. It’s a world where there really is that audience.”
And that can make a big difference, it would seem.
All right, I see that raised eyebrow. No, I’m not an anti-tech nutter with a tin foil hat and a “The Internet Eats Brains” T-shirt. I’m just saying that if you happen to see your kid walking toward the backyard with a video camera and a tub of kerosene … it might be worth a look see.