Youth On Twitter

By far the question I have been asked the most this month is “How do you feel about kids under 18 using Twitter?” (This is second only to “How do you feel about porn stars using Twitter?”, by the way.) I think what people are truly asking with the subtext of that question is “Do I censor my use because I know there are under age Twitter users listening to me?” and “Do I think there should be rules about Twitter use because of under age Twitter users?”

Before answering the contextual questions, perhaps I should outline that I see Twitter as a tool for communication and connection from one to many. I don’t see it being just for business, just for pleasure or limited to one group’s view of how it should be used. Twitter is most effective because it has no rules – it is a la carte, a point I hammer home everywhere I can. With rules, Twitter would no longer work as effectively or uniquely as it does now.

To that end, I don’t see limiting the way people can communicate and connect using Twitter to be beneficial to anyone, including the kids using it to connect with a world bigger than their home or classroom. There is power in connection and ideas, and that may scare some, but it would be wrong to take that away from the many to give a false sense of protection for the few. To that end, let me answer the question and the subcontext as best I can.

At the risk of opening a can of worms, I’ll share my thoughts. I don’t care. I don’t care at all if people under 18 are using Twitter, or that they might see me talk about a difficult topic like IVF vs adoption or argue politics or religion or tell an adult joke here or there, or link to a site a parent might not approve of. True, I do those things rarely anyway, but even so, when I do it doesn’t occur to me to censor it. The reason is simple: I am not their parent, and I should not be expected to parent the children of others – and neither should anyone else on Twitter.

Harsh? Perhaps. I feel the same way about lyrics in songs that young people might hear (I grew up in the age of Tipper Gore’ campaign against free speech in music and the beginning of the Nanny State labeling everything under the sun), or movie ratings, or violent games, or books, or anything else. It is not the service’s responsibility to parent children online, it is the parents’ or guardians’ responsibility.

Do I think that parents and guardians should be educating themselves about online tools in this Web 2.0 world and carefully monitoring the internet use of the children in their care? Absolutely. I have helped several friends with kids get on various networks and learn about slang and how to interact and watch and protect without limiting or stifling. It’s a learning curve for some, but it can be done, and it is not Twitter’s (or the Twitter community’s) place to do it.

Are there unsavory people on Twitter or other social networks that might do a child (or a grown up) harm? Of course there are! Teach your children how to protect themselves from predators. This is a new frontier but the “don’t take candy from strangers” rule still needs to be taught – just in a different medium. Meanwhile, with apologies to @chris24 @arix and other smart teens with lots to share with us from a perspective of growing up digital and that ten year old @gloson who’s parents let him Tweet and blog and who has been prominently featured in the news – I’m not going to censor myself on the off chance your parents aren’t watching. I will however, be happy to sound a loud Twitter alarm if I see something going down in the public stream that may cause someone harm – no matter how young or old they are. Why wouldn’t I? It’s the same thing I’d do if I saw something happening in real life, after all.

(By the way, if you look at the tweet streams of these kids everyone is so worried about, the first thing you notice is how much they know and what knowledge they share. Impressive generation coming up, I think.)

New teen tweeter: MC Hammer‘s son @xSuperbrax (as of 3/5)

  • I’m about to become a parent, but as most know, my baby already has it’s own Twitter account. Twitter is like any other Internet channel in that if you say it publicly, it will be available publicly. I never say anything that I’d have a problem with others seeing, even children. I’m not lewd, I don’t swear (often), and I don’t talk about anything that I wouldn’t bring up at “Sunday diner”.
    While that is how I moderate myself, I wouldn’t want others to moderate themselves because my children are around. It is my job as a parent to monitor who and where my children communicate with others, until they are 18.

    Michael Durwins last blog post..Gen Y Does NOT Dominate Internet Usage

  • I’m about to become a parent, but as most know, my baby already has it’s own Twitter account. Twitter is like any other Internet channel in that if you say it publicly, it will be available publicly. I never say anything that I’d have a problem with others seeing, even children. I’m not lewd, I don’t swear (often), and I don’t talk about anything that I wouldn’t bring up at “Sunday diner”.
    While that is how I moderate myself, I wouldn’t want others to moderate themselves because my children are around. It is my job as a parent to monitor who and where my children communicate with others, until they are 18.

    Michael Durwins last blog post..Gen Y Does NOT Dominate Internet Usage

  • Triston

    I completely agree leslie. I’m sick of the public delegating parental responsibilities to everyone but blood. Same thing with entertainment media like music and video games. What happened to the old days of the twenties to the fifties when social responsibility was existent, and neighbors watched out for kids like they were their own, but that was secondary to strong social values shared with and taught by the actual parents of children? If parents lactually raised their kids, then we could talk about social responsibility.

  • Triston

    I completely agree leslie. I’m sick of the public delegating parental responsibilities to everyone but blood. Same thing with entertainment media like music and video games. What happened to the old days of the twenties to the fifties when social responsibility was existent, and neighbors watched out for kids like they were their own, but that was secondary to strong social values shared with and taught by the actual parents of children? If parents lactually raised their kids, then we could talk about social responsibility.

  • Many high school students are using Facebook; maybe middle-schoolers, too. And if not Facebook, then MySpace or some other social networking site. And they’re playing online games, interacting with others. As a communication channel, Twitter is no different.

    Sure, there are quote-unquote dangers, such as Twitter porn feeds, but there are also adult-oriented ads for Botox on Facebook; is that any worse to brainwash a child’s mind?

    At least folks like @arix you mentioned above are making good things happen through entrepreneurialism; like you say, there is hope.

    Ari Herzogs last blog post..127 Countries Are Reading With You

  • On Twitter, and elsewhere online, I try to follow the “rule” to never say anything you wouldn’t want your grandmother to read in the local paper. I think I’m “safe for children”.

    But that doesn’t mean we need to try to childproof the web. The world is not a safe place. Don’t get in a car with a stranger. Look both ways before you cross the street. Some books should wait to be read when you’re a little older.

    I tend to believe that kids know a lot more than many adults give them credit for. A lot of middle-schoolers swear more than many adults I know. Kids hear thing son the bus (listen to some of the cell phone conversations they’re overhearing) and they’d learn things from their peers.

    Better that the actual parents are open, watch and share and be willing to answer questions. As Leslie says, it’s not up to us (the Web, the State, the other users) to parent your children – or to try to pretend that the world is a different place than it really is.

    Vickis last blog post..vlb: Caught part of a commercial tonight for "Romancing the 70’s" (10 CD set). Reminded that in the 70’s, ads were for "Love Songs of the 50’s".

  • On Twitter, and elsewhere online, I try to follow the “rule” to never say anything you wouldn’t want your grandmother to read in the local paper. I think I’m “safe for children”.

    But that doesn’t mean we need to try to childproof the web. The world is not a safe place. Don’t get in a car with a stranger. Look both ways before you cross the street. Some books should wait to be read when you’re a little older.

    I tend to believe that kids know a lot more than many adults give them credit for. A lot of middle-schoolers swear more than many adults I know. Kids hear thing son the bus (listen to some of the cell phone conversations they’re overhearing) and they’d learn things from their peers.

    Better that the actual parents are open, watch and share and be willing to answer questions. As Leslie says, it’s not up to us (the Web, the State, the other users) to parent your children – or to try to pretend that the world is a different place than it really is.

    Vickis last blog post..vlb: Caught part of a commercial tonight for "Romancing the 70’s" (10 CD set). Reminded that in the 70’s, ads were for "Love Songs of the 50’s".

  • Many high school students are using Facebook; maybe middle-schoolers, too. And if not Facebook, then MySpace or some other social networking site. And they’re playing online games, interacting with others. As a communication channel, Twitter is no different.

    Sure, there are quote-unquote dangers, such as Twitter porn feeds, but there are also adult-oriented ads for Botox on Facebook; is that any worse to brainwash a child’s mind?

    At least folks like @arix you mentioned above are making good things happen through entrepreneurialism; like you say, there is hope.

    Ari Herzogs last blog post..127 Countries Are Reading With You

  • I have a different take on this. I think that regardless of the fact that their are children watching, people should curb their vulgar and lewd posts on Twitter. Posting on Twitter is like standing on top of a table at a party and yelling out your conversation for all to hear. I personally would never use that platform to use vulgar language.

    It just so happens my daughter (who is 10) and I have Twitterthons on Friday nights to raise money for charity. So far she hasn’t seen anything bad yet, but of course she will unfollow anyone who sends inappropriate tweets. For that matter, so will I.

  • I have a different take on this. I think that regardless of the fact that their are children watching, people should curb their vulgar and lewd posts on Twitter. Posting on Twitter is like standing on top of a table at a party and yelling out your conversation for all to hear. I personally would never use that platform to use vulgar language.

    It just so happens my daughter (who is 10) and I have Twitterthons on Friday nights to raise money for charity. So far she hasn’t seen anything bad yet, but of course she will unfollow anyone who sends inappropriate tweets. For that matter, so will I.