When the (Digital) Natives Get Restless…

24 Mar

Last  weekend 2 teenagers from different continents hacked into a proprietary system and potentially jeopardized the security and well-being of innocent people and their businesses. You can read about that here: How we got owned by a few teenagers (and why it will never happen again). The incident has been the subject of world-wide debate, and you can read a pretty broad sample of what people are saying about it here: Hacker News Comments

I began this piece as a response to some of the comments posted about this case on Hacker News (@HackerNews). The comments ran the gamut from “They are just kids/Give ‘em a break” t0 “They are criminals-lock ‘em up”.

My thoughts were so connected with things I’ve learned from #edchat and past discussions with my PLN (especially @ShellTerrell @Ktenkely & @Annie_Fox) that I decided to continue them here. The thread I responded to was about the kids’ response to the situation and referenced comments they were making on other sites. I responded,

“Elliot’s statement and a lot of his Facepunch comments have been taken down. As an educator, I found a lot of the comments there pretty alarming… and want to ask everyone here to consider a few things when posting about anything related to kids.

Kids (and like it or not, that IS what they are) are notoriously dramatic and these boys are definitely experiencing this as a crisis, no matter how they present in their comments. They are also now being border-line (and in some cases overtly) cyber bullied by some of their peers online which may be devastating if they don’t have great face-to-face support. As adults, we have a responsibility not to add fuel to that fire and remember that if teenagers were predictable and transparent, there wouldn’t be so many tragic cases in the news where they hurt themselves and each other.

Part of the problem is that teenagers and young adults aren’t great at predicting consequences. This isn’t opinion – it’s science. Especially in males, the part of the brain that is responsible for predicting consequences is not fully developed until the early to middle twenties. This is a double whammy because it leads to their bad decision making, but also to their belief that when something bad happens as a result, that it’s literally the end of the world… that there is no way out.”

I’ll admit that as an educator, my default will always be biased in favor of what is in the best interest of kids, even and sometimes especially when they mess up. This case is no different, except in that it provides an opportunity to explore and begin to unravel a much bigger issue. My comment continued,

“There is no disputing that what these boys did was a big deal and that there should be consequences. But it’s also just a symptom of a bigger problem: as a society, we have failed to keep pace with the challenges that are the result of the first generation of digital natives (kids) being raised and educated by a generation of adults who are (at best) digital immigrants.

Most of the kids who hack are self-taught and completely unregulated by adult influences because there are no adults in their lives who understand enough about what they are doing to regulate it. We can use analogies like breaking a lock on a door and insist that they know right from wrong, but these kids literally see hacking as a game… an adventure… a challenge. And in this day and age, where so many young developers are doing amazing things with code, and becoming “rich and famous” in the process, to some of these kids, hacking looks really, really cool.

Combine those factors with practically unlimited access to an international peer group that is often both as supportive and as competitive as any other. Mix in social dynamics like peer pressure, pecking order and bullying, subtract all responsible adult influence and you’ve got the perfect storm – a digital “Lord of the Flies”.

I’m positive that this is not a problem any amount of litigation or adjudication is going to solve. So, PLN (and other readers!) what’s the answer?

I have visions of @FourSquare Founder Dennis Crowley (@dens) (because he is young and funny and cool) doing public service announcements. And other young founders mentoring, running Hack-a-thons, maybe even developing a Hackers Code of Ethics for kids, and clueing their parents in on how to help.

When kids break the Code – because they will- maybe there is something meaningful, challenging and very, very time-consuming we could make them do as opposed to throwing the book at them- like coding for non-profits… or maybe even for whomever they violated? I realize that may be WAY too much to ask of the offended company… but on this issue, couldn’t/shouldn’t up and coming tech leaders lead the way?

Can’t wait to hear your thoughts – feel free to link if you’ve blogged about this! Thanks for reading.

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2 Responses to “When the (Digital) Natives Get Restless…”

  1. Mario Morales March 24, 2011 at 12:31 pm #

    Creo que a veces nos cuesta trabajo entender que los adolescentes se comportan de acuerdo a su nivel de desarrollo. Algunas veces me han preguntado sobre ¿por qué trabajo con adolescentes? y ¿si tengo que ser paciente al trabajar con ellos? No creo que se tenga que ser paciente, cuando desde una perspectiva profesional conoces las características del desarrollo adolescente, se pueden entender sus actitudes,juegos y comportamientos. No creo que un adolescente que roba sea un delincuente si lo hace para pertencer a un grupo o para cunmplir un reto, igual es el caso de esta nota.

    • thenewtag March 28, 2011 at 9:54 am #

      Muchas gracias por tu comentario! Yo aplogize para mi respuesta tardía. Estoy de acuerdo, cuando hablamos acerca de los jóvenes y su comportamiento, tenemos que considerar su edad de desarrollo. Si los tratamos como criminales en casos como este, pueden aprender las lecciones equivocadas y, de hecho se convierten en criminales! Me encantaría ver a los jóvenes (más) fundadores de nuevas empresas con éxito se involucren en el tratamiento de este fenómeno! Gracias de nuevo por tu comentario!

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