Boyd constantly emphasizes teens’ relative (pun intended) lack of power in their lives. Teens use social media to hang out with their friends, when their parents often cut off other ways of socializing because of fear of public spaces. Teens, she says, mostly aren’t addicted to social media; “if anything, they’re addicted to each other,” and it’s this desire for connection that’s misdiagnosed as antisocial texting. Teens are excluded from many physical spaces/parts of public life, but they struggle against this, using social media and other networked technologies both socially and politically.
Adult fears and mis-fears are a big part of the book. “American society despises any situation that requires addressing teen sexuality, let alone platforms that provide a conduit for teens to explore their desires.” But adult attempts to isolate teens from risks are damaging, undermining teens’ trust and eroding social ties: “When parents create cocoons to protect their children from potential harms, their decision to separate themselves and their children from what’s happening outside their household can have serious consequences for other youth, especially those who lack strong support systems. Communities aren’t safe when everyone turns inward; they are only safe when people work collectively to help one another.”
Boyd also critiques the rhetoric of teens as “digital natives” who are more savvy than their elders. First, she unpacks the term “native”: “throughout history, powerful immigrants have betrayed native populations while destroying their spiritual spaces and asserting power over them.” Then, she points out that teens aren’t necessarily knowledgeable about digital spaces (many have the same difficulty controlling their Facebook settings that their elders do) or about digital sources (they’ve been taught to distrust Wikipedia, but that just means they go to the next search result down, which is often worse):
[m]any teens I met assumed that someone verifies every link that Google shares…. Everywhere I went, I heard parents, teachers, and teens express reverence toward Google. They saw Google as a source of trusted information in a digital ecosystem filled with content of dubious quality. More important, many of the people I met believed that Google was neutral, unlike traditional news sources such as Fox News or the New York Times.