There’s a lot of Facebooks out there, I recently realised. ‘Well, duh?!’ – but it’s quite a headspinner when you think about it.

I suppose I’m on Thirtysomething Urban Liberal Facebook – my ‘local’ memes are campaigns in support of gay marriage, human rights and the like; a wide range of music, from dubstep to folk, largely from people who’ve been listening long enough not to be narrowly partisan; interesting gubbins about literature, history, politics and the arts. With words generally spelt correctly and in full.

As for the other worlds, I honestly have no idea. I got thinking about this on reading an online friend quoting a Facebook post from her teenaged niece about people posting up lists of ‘What boys should do’ (presumably to/with/at girlfriends). A very intelligent and measured response it was, too, largely about the narrowness of people’s ideas about gender and relationships. But it pointed out to me the vast chasm between ‘my’ Facebook, and that of a teen. (I really hate the word ‘teen’ for some reason, though in a different way to how I hate ‘youngster’.) I’ve never seen one of these ‘what boys should do’ memes, and there’s no reason I would. It’s not meant for me.

Then there’s Geek Facebook, full of tech news and in-jokes; some of my Facebook friends maybe skirt that. OK, they are it. And Pwned by Marketing Facebook full of Big Logo ‘friends’ and their advertising schtick. And OMG! Facebook characterised by celebrity and more local gossip. Plus a zillion-and-one Facebooks based around a sport or music genre or something that wouldn’t even occur to me.

Different generations have always had their own media, you only need to think of various music mags of my childhood – Smash Hits for kids, the NME/Melody Maker for your cynical teens and twenties, eventually mellowing on to Q magazine as dadrock beckoned. The web both opens up and hermetically seals these media worlds – anyone can access a website most of the time, but when it comes to social media, generations and groups create their own worlds online. And websites aren’t sitting on the shelf on WH Smiths , or in the magazine rack at home for anyone to casually see and pick up.

As my kids grow up, access to their media reality will be a trickier thing for me than it was for my parents and a thing much more central to them and their identity. This mostly bothers me as it makes kids far more of a captive market, especially when you throw in TV channels that are increasingly precision-tooled by age group and gender. I want to know more about my kids’ tastes than some tosser in an advertising office in Soho, but the nature of the media makes it increasingly hard for parents to do so and easier for the tossers in advertising offices to have a direct route to their little minds and their parents’ pockets. Quite aside from the pester power issue, and significantly more important as far as I’m concerned, are media-led messages about gender, about what’s normal and acceptable: being good looking, having cool stuff, being passive if you’re a girl, being aggressive if you’re a boy and the like.

I’m personally pretty confident we can keep TVs/web access out of the kids’ rooms until they’re a bit older – for a start, until we move out of this place, there sure as hell isn’t room for any such thing in their shared bedroom.  But keeping the marketers out of their head is another matter, especially when it’s clear that advertisers are more than ready to take advantage of children’s general lack of discrimination when it comes to thinking about what motives people might have for telling them that something is cool.

It’s increasingly hard for adults to mediate between the media and their kids, unless they literally hover over their kids’ shoulders all the time. And no kid wants gravitationally atypical parents around their person the whole time, any more than the parent wants to spend their time doing it.

Turning it off isn’t realistic, or desirable, as we have to accept that this is where a lot of kids’ social worlds will come from, and we can’t just cut them off from them. Standing at the sidelines muttering about how rubbish your child’s taste is has failed for parents since the dawn of time, and is a surefire way of teaching your kids how to really piss you off when they reach the teenage years, or possibly before then.

It’s just going to have to be good old vigilance, then. Being aware and trying to tell if your kids are absorbing the wrong sort of values and where those might be coming from. In other words, same as it ever was, but with the media playing hide and seek in your kids’ social and technical sphere, not coming from a shop shelf or a shared space. Kids’ media today seems to be speaking such a different language on many levels, and playing such a different and more central role to kids than it did to us that it can seem intimidating. On the other hand, a lot of the time it isn’t sophisticated – it doesn’t have to be – and any discerning adult can see where the rot is coming from and hopefully talk to their kids, sensibly, about knowing their shit from their Shinola, or words to that effect.

It’s not a tide we can change, so there’s no point being a bunch of Canutes about it – we’ll enjoy our boring, grown-ups’ media world, they’ll enjoy their childhood/yoof wonderland and seldom will the twain meet. But that doesn’t mean we can’t watch out of the corner of our eyes for the stalking figures of those media childcatchers waiting to take their values unaware.

Advertisements