SOLSC #5: Valued Voices

John Tenniel Illustration

Recently, while lost in sixteen-year-old Nao’s narration from Ruth Ozeki’s novel, “A Tale for the Time Being”, I stumbled across a line that resonated with me as both a middle school teacher and a blogger (I use this term loosely as I am not a blogger in the true sense),

“There’s nothing sadder than cyberspace when you’re floating around out there, all alone, talking to yourself.”

This line set off an alarm in my head; how many young adults share Nao’s sentiment? Middle school is a tumultuous time in which adolescents struggle to find their place, and now they have the virtual world to fret over.

Many of us know Lewis Carroll’s Alice. As a child, we lay in bed, stealing a peek into her strange world. A world in which white rabbits ran about stressing over time, mad hatters hosted crazy tea parties, cheshire cats grinned impishly, stoned caterpillars philosophized with you, and queens threatened to cut off your head. No wonder Alice had trouble making sense of herself in this odd universe.

Alice’s resizing and struggle with her identity symbolizes the difficulties associated with growing up. Her identity displaced as she searches for her niche in a strange world.

Middle schoolers, like Alice, fall down the rabbit hole and emerge in a strange world, a world in which they struggle to define their place in both the real-time world and the digital world. They wonder if they “are floating out there, all alone, talking to themselves.”

As an educator of twenty plus years, I wonder and worry how my students are navigating their budding identities amid the burgeoning media practices of social networking, IMing, and just the general overall hyper-connectedness of today’s world.

While these new media practices allow our teens to join a variety of communities in which they feel supported, I wonder if the intensity in which they participate impacts their sense of self.

If they are “always-on”, how do they find time to take a break from their public image and listen to the quiet of ‘self’ reflecting on the person they are and strive to become?

I worry that this ‘hyper-connectedness’ impairs their safety of self. Navigating so many communities limits the amount of time to think for yourself – without others asserting their opinions about your opinions making you second guess yourself.

But then again, maybe such an environment builds resiliency. I am not sure. What I am certain of however, is within the wonderland of new media, there is indeed a rabbit hole to fall down.

What role do I play in helping them to understand their voice is valued and heard?