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Originally published Monday, January 21, 2008 at 12:00 AM


"Growing Up Online" details perils of Web

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men on the Internet? "Frontline" knows and, in an overblown sociology lesson, lets parents in...

The Denver Post


"Frontline: Growing Up Online," 9 p.m. Tuesday on KCTS

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men on the Internet? "Frontline" knows and, in an overblown sociology lesson, lets parents in on the potential predators, bullies and voyeurs keeping company with young Web surfers.

The dangers of inappropriate Internet content parading before underage eyes are recounted, but this documentary ultimately helps parents see that some of their anxiety is overblown.

The topic itself seems a bit out of "Frontline's" usual range. The acclaimed journalistic outfit that has explored Darfur, Blackwater, the Taliban and torture this time sticks close to home for "Growing Up Online," Tuesday on PBS (KCTS).

It's true that the Internet has changed the experience of childhood in profound ways. Ninety percent of teens are online these days. They represent the first generation to come of age in the virtual world.

Some kids live online as much as they live in the nonvirtual world. Some assuredly get into trouble. But the alarm expressed by some of those interviewed here seems excessive.

NBC's "To Catch a Predator" has made a living off the modern fear of Internet connections. Parents who are paying attention know that spending more time online than off isn't healthy.

But most parents recognize that cyberlife is as much a part of teen socializing these days as passing notes in class was a few decades ago.

C.J. Pascoe, a Ph.D. with the University of California, Berkeley's Digital Youth Project, sums up nonjudgmentally: The Internet offers teenagers "a private space, even while they're still at home," she says. "They're able to communicate with their friends and have an entire social life outside the purview of their parents without actually having to leave the house."

Is that a recipe for disaster? Some are certain of it. When an eighth-grader committed suicide after becoming the target of an Internet bullying campaign, his father traced a series of messages on his son's computer, with instructions on how to make a noose.

The documentary makes much of the phenomenon of "cyberbullying" but never delves into the range of other possible reasons for the teen's hanging. (Certain taunts are exposed, but the subjects of hate crimes and homophobia aren't addressed.)

Danah Boyd, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, has a realistic view of this generation's social interactions. "It's not going away. So instead of saying, 'Stop MySpace,' 'Stop Facebook,' 'Stop the Internet,' it's a question of how we teach ourselves and our children to live in a society where these properties are fundamentally a way of life."

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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