Monday, March 10, 2008

Teens Online

While I am very eager to learn about today's teenagers I can't claim to having any real teen friends. My overtures of friendship are frequently rebuffed because they bundle me with their parents and are suspicious of my motives. Whatever the magic pass that allows one into the charmed world of today’s teens, I just don't have. The concept of a guest pass does not exist. Until now, young adult fiction has been my only glimpse into their world.

So when my much younger cousins let it slip that they all have profiles on Orkut, I could not resist the temptation to check out their online avatars. There are five of them in all. Three come from somewhat dysfunctional families. The mothers have always been physically and emotionally absent from their lives. One in pursuit of a career and the other as a result of being hypochondriac. The fathers have stepped in to fill the gaps the best they could without knowing exactly what it takes to do so. The other two have model parents who could co-author a Parenting Success for Dummies book.

The first three have Orkut profiles with their own full names and a whole slew of pictures. The other two don't use their own names and are not friends of the first three. At any rate I was not able to find them on Orkut assuming they even exist there.

One of the Orkut people has about 500 friends and 25,000 scraps. I am guessing this is one heck of a social animal. He is definitely a looker and has a reputation for being a big hit with the ladies. The pictures and the scraps bear testimony to that. The blond highlights and the wannabe rock-star vibe is probably okay but I was disturbed by the many suicide theme photographs in his albums. The boy has a sizeable collection. I am not sure if this is part of some coolness meme that I don't get because of generation gap.

The girl won a minor beauty contest recently and it appears to the dominant theme of her life at this point. Thankfully, she appears to be happy being pretty and basking in the adulation of her fans. Unlike the two boys she does not have a bunch of pictures of herself.

The third guy is a poet disenchanted with the education system. Lot of rants, some verses some nice pictures. Nothing out of the ordinary or particularly disturbing there.

The parenting handbook kids are probably smart not to have any online presence traceable to their real identities. So much easier to not be embarrassed by your adolescent outpourings of love, angst and worse when seeking gainful employment.

The handbook kids are not nearly as cool as the Orkut people but they are dead serious about education and have been doing very well academically. I would not be surprised if they went on to graduate summa cum laude, land cushy jobs and in time become boring people who got married, bought homes and had equally uncool kids.

I wonder if the differences between the two sets of kids is has anything to do with their parents. At any rate, discovering their personalities on Orkut was very educative - back in the day we had all that stuff locked in our heads and no one had a chance of knowing what we were thinking unless we actually told them. It seems that parents now have much easier and far greater access to what's on the minds of their kids. The tricks appears to be in striking the right balance between solicitude and snooping, between guidance and censorship.

I am very glad I have about seven years to get my act together and I know it will be anything but a cakewalk.

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