Issue 104, Spring 2007

NCAC’s Youth Free Expression Network (YFEN) conducted a panel discussion at the 4th Annual Grassroots Media Conference, held February 24, 2007, at the New School in NYC.

Featured on the panel were NCAC staff Claire Karpen (YFEN Coordinator) and Ben Colmery, and members of YFEN’s Speakers’ Bureau: college senior Danya Steele and high school seniors Yannick LeJacq and Emily Duhovny.

The panel’s premise was that youth voices need to be heard in public debate on issues directly impacting young people’s lives. With this in mind, Karpen facilitated a discussion of Internet filters, social networking Web sites, abstinence-only sex education, and youth media.

From the outset, the energy in the room was palpable: the audience, almost entirely comprised of students, spoke passionately and urgently about censorship’s effects. The topic of abstinence-only sex education elicited unanimous groans and rolling eyes. Students described the frustration they felt at not being given complete information.

This topic dovetailed with the subject of Internet filtering, which supporters argue protects youth from illicit sexual content and potential predators online. Yet the drawbacks are seldom discussed.

One audience member described how a teacher had used while teaching A Raisin in the Sun, instructing students to create characters online. Filtering discourages such hands-on activities, which could make class material more engaging while teaching useful computer and social skills. A few teachers in the room commented that trying to incorporate computer instruction into lessons is often a greater challenge than it’s worth, because of cumbersome rules.

And yet, another side of the issue emerged. A manager of a local youth center said she simply lacked the manpower to adequately monitor the computers, and had to resort to filtering. Two women described how it had been necessary to control material on their website for teenage girls, such as messages instructing others how to be bulimic.

“It can be easy to simply say that censorship is bad,” said LeJacq. But these examples revealed that it is often complex, and may require compromise. In such cases, reasoned discussion between youth and adults is essential.

“It gave me insight into what to tell educators and parents who fear the role of new media in the lives of their kids,” said Steele. “There may be students in that room who now have ideas to suggest to teachers down the road.”

Ultimately, the panel demonstrated an unmistakable demand for dialogue between youth and adults on these issues. There is so much to be learned from all sides, and as LeJacq pointed out, “Simply engaging in a conversation about these issues is, in its own way, defying censorship.”

Interested in getting involved, email
YFEN Coordinator, Brian Pickett.