Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Totally Wired

What Teens and Tweens Are Really Doing Online

Anastasia Goodstein

St. Martin's Griffin


Chapter One

Meet a Totally Wired Teen

A Day in the Life of a Totally Wired Teen

Many of us remember watching the space-age cartoon The Jetsons and collectively dreaming about what the future would look like. While today's teens are not driving flying cars (yet) or studying cyborg biology and astromathematics, they would probably relate well to Judy, the Jetsons' teenage daughter. Just as Judy revealed every secret to her digital diary, or DiDi, and lived by the directions of her microprocessor personal organizer, today's teens are totally wired.

To get a better idea of what it means to be totally wired, let's spend a day in the life of a teen today. I'll call her Judy Jetson. Once Judy is awake, thanks to Mom and an old-fashioned alarm clock (still essential to getting sleep-deprived teens out of bed), she turns on the computer in her room. She quickly checks for messages on her two favorite community sites. She opens iTunes and begins getting dressed to a mix of Reggaeton (a combination of hip-hop, Latin music, and reggae), pop rock from the band Maroon 5, and pure pop from Gwen Stefani. Most of what's on her iTunes are songs from CDs her friends burned for her. She can't remember the last song or CD she actually paid for. Before heading downstairs for breakfast, she checks her cell phone for voice and text messages from her boyfriend and friends.

Judy arrives at school early but doesn't see her friends outside. She immediately begins calling them on her cell phone. She used to text everyone until her parents got the bill and gave her a strict limit on how many text messages she could send. She finds her friend Marsha and continues the conversation they began last night on her LiveJournal about the upcoming class ski trip. Judy learned the hard way not to name names on her LiveJournal after she gossiped about someone at school who then found out about the post. Major drama ensued. She turns her cell phone to vibrate, silencing her "Holla Back Girl" ring tone, knowing that if it rings in school, it will be taken away by her teachers until the end of the day.

There are lots of computers at Judy's school and some students even have laptops. Her favorite community site was blocked after a classmate posted a bunch of camera phone photos of herself and her friends drinking and smoking pot. The school administrators were also terrified that sexual predators would hunt students down because some of them put all of their personal information online. Judy uses school computers mainly to check her Web e-mail, do research for school, and type projects or make PowerPoint presentations for class. She and her friends seem more comfortable with the computers than most of the teachers and often end up answering their questions or helping them figure stuff out. Her English teacher, a young guy in his twenties, had everyone in her class create a blog writing as a character from one of the novels they had read that year. She chose Elizabeth Bennet from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. She gave this teacher a very high rating on, unlike her algebra teacher, who always seemed to call on Judy when she wasn't paying attention.

Judy's after-school time is packed. She either has soccer practice or SAT prep class. Any free time she has is spent doing homework or babysitting for her younger brother, Elroy. When she does spend time on the computer at home, it's usually to update her LJ, post comments on her friends' LJs, or instant-message (IM) her school friends or her cousin in California. She also uses IM and her MySpace profile to keep in touch with some of her middle school friends who ended up attending different high schools. She keeps tabs on her boyfriend's online profile as well—often leaving flirtatious comments or posting cute photos of them together. She likes having a boyfriend even though it's very time-consuming. Some of her girlfriends prefer having "friends with benefits." Her boyfriend loves video games—she bought him the new Madden NFL for Christmas.

Judy's mom insists on family meals for everyone to check in and catch up. No TV is allowed. Her parents don't really know that much about computers except how to use e-mail and shop. Her mom teaches middle school art and her dad is a college professor. Just like with some of her teachers, Judy often also has to help them with the computer. They have read some articles in the newspaper about what teens are doing online and got the school's memo about online predators. They talked to Judy about not giving out personal information online. They also told her that if they get sued for her illegal music, she'll spend the rest of her life paying their legal bills. Other than that they pretty much operate under the we-trust-you-so-we-won't-spy-on-you approach to parenting, hoping for the best.

On the weekends Judy and her friends either go see movies, rent DVDs, hang out in her boyfriend's basement watching him play video games, or go to a party. It's not uncommon for her to be hanging out with her group of friends and receive a text message from someone in the same room, usually about another friend who is also in the room. When she's out, her parents usually call her on her cell phone to check in. Most of the parties are at the homes of friends whose parents are out of town. Judy tells her parents she's somewhere else on these nights. As long as she answers her cell phone when they call, she usually gets away with it.

Judy feels strongly that she wants to help make the world a better place. She put a banner for the One Campaign, an effort to eradicate poverty in the third world led by U2's singer Bono, on her LJ and started an online fund-raising drive at her school to help victims of Hurricane Katrina. Judy is totally wired—she can't imagine a world without the Internet, iPods, or cell phones.

Eighties Flashback

Many of us remember struggling to get out of bed and get ready for school. My mom usually had to wake me up. She would sing some corny song, open the blinds, and, if that didn't work, start sprinkling cold water on my face. As a teen in the late 1980s, you had to have a stereo in your room. It was your prized possession (much like the computer is today), and often was taken away as punishment. So was the telephone. The kind with the cord that plugged into the wall. Cassettes, especially mixed tapes your friends made for you, were all the rage and had begun replacing vinyl. I often got ready for school listening to Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, the Cure, or Kate Bush, depending on my mood. If you needed to talk to a friend before school, the only way to do this was by calling her on a landline or from a pay phone.

Most of us didn't have any computers at school—at least not in the classrooms. We did all have calculators. In the late 1980s, there was no Web or Internet, just the basic DOS programming I learned at computer camp. If your parents could afford a Commodore 64 at home, it was basically a glamorized typewriter you could play a few games on.

Almost all of your teenage social life happened in person or on the phone. You might play Frogger or Donkey Kong on your Atari or watch the MTV Video Countdown at your friend's house after school. Bullying happened through handwritten notes or in person, like when two eighth-grade girls decided to make my seventh-grade existence hellish for several weeks. Growing up in Nashville, my friends and I saw a lot of live concerts and went to all-ages shows. We also had a VCR, which at the time was very high tech. I usually rented movies if a friend was spending the night or if I was grounded. I also kept a diary in my nightstand that I would confess to before going to sleep.

It seemed like there was more free time for teens to just hang out back then. When I was a younger teen, my friends and I hung out at the mall after school or at the McDonald's parking lot at night. When I was an older teen, I hung out with other teens who listened to punk or alternative music at a children's playground called Dragon Park. We spent hours just talking to different teens from different schools in the dark, united by our professed love of the same kind of music. I also went to parties at the homes of friends whose parents were out of town, and usually I lied about it.

In my junior year of high school, I saw an episode of 20/20 about the destruction of the environment that moved me to start an environmentalist club at my school. We started a schoolwide recycling program and went on camping trips together.

Copyright © 2007 by Anastasia Goodstein. All rights reserved.