The Advertiser - SA Weekend - - CONTENTS - WOR DS SAMELA HAR­RIS

For teenage boys, can real life ad­ven­tures in Scouts com­pete with the ad­dic­tive al­lure of the in­ter­net?


the bed­room door slammed shut be­hind them, we com­forted our­selves that at least we knew where our boys were. They might have been in ado­les­cent huffs but they were safe at home in their rooms. Once upon a time. Now those rooms have no walls. Safe at home, our boys and girls can be any­where. They travel with pass­words that are keys to an in­fi­nite num­ber of sites on the in­ter­net. It’s a whole new world – in the most lit­eral sense. In it, says Aus­tralian author and so­cial an­a­lyst Mag­gie Hamil­ton, our boys may be dab­bling in hard-core porn and vir­tual sex, us­ing avatars to kill peo­ple in vir­tual role­play games, be­ing cy­ber­bul­lies, or gam­bling. Or they might just be chat­ting on Skype or brag­ging on Face­book – maybe even do­ing their home­work. The in­ter­net is not all bad. How­ever much we talk about parental su­per­vi­sion, the lo­gis­tics of con­tem­po­rary life and the tech­no­log­i­cal ap­ti­tude of the young put very long odds on the cosy idea of par­ent-child on­line col­lab­o­ra­tion. And safe at home, they may well be mak­ing dan­ger­ous li­aisons in the vir­tual world. And cy­ber­bul­ly­ing has been linked to teenage sui­cides. A Mel­bourne teen, Allem Hal­kic, 17, com­mit­ted sui­cide af­ter a cy­ber­bulling cam­paign last year.

So par­ents need to wise up. Boy­hood ain’t what it used to be and our lit­tle boys are hav­ing all man­ner of crises we may have found unimag­in­able in our own child­hoods. In­deed, Hamil­ton ar­gues in her book,

What’s Hap­pen­ing to our Boys? (Vik­ing, $29.95), that child­hood is shrink­ing. Chil­dren are so heav­ily ex­posed to un­com­pro­mis­ing adult mar­ket­ing that they are shunted out of the cra­dle and into adult­hood be­fore they can ut­ter the words “Peter Pan”.

In­stead of bar­ter­ing mar­bles or col­lect­ing footy cards, they are wor­ry­ing about body im­age and girl­friends. A few years later, they are desperatel­y try­ing to build up their im­ma­ture bod­ies so they can look buff. Anorexia and bu­limia are not un­known among lads, but ac­cord­ing to Hamil­ton, the catch­word is “big­orexia” – the quest to look big, to bulk up. To get these V-shaped bod­ies they spend long hours pump­ing iron, eat­ing high pro­tein and, in ex­treme cases, seek­ing steroids . . . bom­barded by im­ages, just like girls, of how they should look. Like girls, our boys can suf­fer from eat­ing dis­or­ders.

The in­no­cence of the play­ground is gone. Never a hal­cyon place, it has al­ways been the scene of ri­val­ries, small vendet­tas and for bul­lies to flex their mus­cles. The dif­fer­ence these days is the emer­gence of the new plat­form of cy­ber­bul­ly­ing and the corol­lary territorie­s for tor­ment – text mes­sages, Face­Book and YouTube.

Lach­lan McAl­lis­ter is 16, a Black­fri­ars Pri­ory stu­dent who hopes to be­come an avion­ics en­gi­neer. He and his brother come from a mod­ern, par­ent-shar­ing world. Lach­lan can barely re­mem­ber a time when he could not turn to Google and the web to pro­vide an an­swer to al­most ev­ery­thing. Much of his free time is given to paid work at McDon­ald’s which has helped him to up­grade his on­line life to the other sort of (Ap­ple) Mac. Of Face­book – the time trap for his age­group – he of­fers the un­der­state­ment: “I am on there a few hours a day and in hol­i­days quite a bit. But not so much that I don’t have a life. Mainly it is chat. Out of sev­eral hun­dred FB friends, I chat with about 50. We talk about ev­ery­thing and any­thing, things we have been do­ing and plans we want to make. I ad­mit it’s a pretty bad dis­trac­tion while you’re do­ing home­work.”

Lach­lan agrees that it is im­pos­si­ble to be a teen to­day and not to have heard of or wit­nessed cy­ber­bulling. “I’ve not been di­rectly af­fected but quite a few friends have,” he says, cit­ing Form­spring, a web­site which en­ables the anony­mous ask­ing of ques­tions on Face­book pro­files as a pri­mary tool now be­ing used for bul­ly­ing on­line.

Since its cre­ation last year, Form­spring has been con­tro­ver­sial. In March, a New York girl was re­ported to have com­mit­ted sui­cide af­ter re­ceiv­ing a se­ries of in­sult­ing com­ments posted via Form­spring. “It’s a shield some use and you see it quite a bit on Face­book,” says Lach­lan. Then there are school­yard fights which go from the yard to Face­book where, says Lach­lan, boys “un­friend” each other as acts of anger, spite or de­fence. “It just makes things worse,” he says.

With these new vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties comes a new era in which the vi­tal shoul­der of man­hood has slumped. More than ever, grow­ing boys are with­out role mod­els

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