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y 13-year-old nephew was despondent, not his usual
smiley self. He moped about the barbecue with a
heavy air, as if he’d just been told he was destined
for a life working only the smelliest, noisiest jobs.
Between mouthfuls of lamb merguez sausag e, I asked
the boy’s father – my kid brother, who’d started making his own kids young –
if he knew why his eldest was channelling Churchill circa 1941.
“We’ve told him he can’t join Facebook til he’s 17. He has a fairly
substantial dose of the shits as a result.”
Gotcha: modern parenting in action.
By the time my 16-month-old is 17 years old, Facebook will presumably
have long gone the way of Napster and be as ‘square’ as using the word
‘square’. But for new teens in 2010, it probably feels as isolating and
draconian as not having a pair of Billabong boardies at the swimming carnival
did in 1985 (the year wearing Speedos anywhere but to the blocks of elite
competition became officially uncool).
My nephew is a bright, bookish lad and the son of an early-adopter IT
exec, growing up surrounded by the latest gizmoids and games. So his parents’
decision must have surprised him. It did me. He spent much of his 13th
birthday wreaking havoc online, playing the graphic shooter Moder n Warfar e
2, ‘pwning’ (Google it) players worldwide. When I’d asked his dad about him
playing an MA game at that age, he’d given a matter-of-fact shrug. “He knows
right from wrong.”
Fair call, let’s lock and load.
In the case of Facebook – its creation is now the subject of a feature
film, The Social Network – the decision was not about the technolog y or the
fantasy gore level. Exactly the opposite, in fact. It’s about reality and the
manipulation of it by juvenile minds.
“Your mate could be the guy you hit the
town with while backpacking... he’s not
someone to whom you ever write ‘LOL ;)’”
Allah knows navigating adolescence is difficult enough: the sprouting hair
and zits, the stinky feet and floes of hormones remapping the brain like lava.
Meanwhile, the r udimentary boys’ germs/girls’ germs structure of childhood
society is in great upheaval, transforming quickly into an exhilarating
nightmare of bras and fluids and crushing impulses. The blithe cruelty kids
throw at one another pre-puberty has the potential for producing serial killers
once everyone is fretting over their outfit for the formal.
And that’s just in the regular playground, where poison barbs find their
antidote in time and selective memory. So, imagine the ego-demolishing
possibilities of an online community where unscrupulous arseholes and the
gormless twaddlers who follow them can cr ucify anyone whom they deem
uncool in circulated videos that live for ever, and coordinated attacks piling insult
upon insult. Shit, even the number of ‘friends’ you have is actually listed on
your homepage. How is a poor nervous squib trying to impress a girl with
some judicious bullshit supposed to function when his inability to make
‘friends’ is open to scr utiny from the entire frickin’ universe?
Teenaged boys are susceptible enough to suicide – over the past 30 years,
the suicide rate for males aged 15–24 years has tripled – and orchestrated
humiliation online would be harrowing. In February, a 16-year-old Melbourne
student threw himself onto train tracks after being attacked by thugs who’d
been bullying him for months via Facebook. The previous month, a girl in the
US went through with it; the Facebook bullying was part of the equation.
Even as a hoary adult creaking into middle age, an ignored ‘friend request’
from a one-time pal prompts jaundiced pursing of the lips, the howls of long-
silent school hall jeers a dim echo. If this had happened to your dear author
when his acne resembled a bucket of smashed crabs, his psyche would have
returned to its kennel like a puppy punched between the eyes. Bullying sucks.
Bullying in the virtual world, paradoxically, makes it seem more real.
Daniel Murphy believes Facebook should be left to consenting
adults – and never discussed with children. They will only poke you...
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