apophenia: Sociality Is Learning
Another timely blog post from Danah Boyd. As a parent of two teenage girls (and as a former teenager myself) I can relate to the challenges of learning social skills and having to “navigate these muddy waters” of middle school. Today’s parents need to recognize the important role online social networks can play in their teenagers’ lives. Sure, to many parents, sites like Facebook can seem like they are a waste of time. But to your teenager, what happens there can be critically important.
Social skills are the bread and butter of professional life. So how do we learn them?
It's easy to point to middle school as ground zero of youth drama. The rise of status hierarchies combined with budding sexuality throws all sorts of relationships upside down. Bullying, social categories, and popularity are all there. But the key to "surviving" middle school is learning how to navigate these muddy waters with an intact self-esteem. It's not that jealousy and other social dramas disappear after middle school; it's that they get much more nuanced as people's skills improve. But for people to improve their skills, they must learn how to manage unpredictable and uncomfortable social situations. These aren't skills learned in abstract; they're learned through practice.
Rather than demonizing social media or dismissing its educational value, I believe that we need to embrace the environments that youth are using to gather and help them learn to navigate the murky waters of sociality. We cannot "fix" their social worlds, but we can provide the scaffolding that they need to help learn to make sense of sticky social situations. We can serve as listeners, guides, and cheerleaders. We can be there when they're trying to make a decision about a best way to handle a situation and play devil's advocate when they need to work through complicated dynamics. But to be there for youth, we have to treat them with respect and value what they're learning. We have to value the importance of learning about sociality. And we need to be able to listen as confidants, not judges.
We can continue to demonize social spaces, dismiss hanging out, and overly regulate our kids. But I believe this does them a disservice. Being a successful adult in society requires social skills. And we desperately need to give youth space to learn them. They're committed to learning; why aren't we supporting them in doing so?