The popularity of social networking sites has made the Internet a virtual public meeting place for all ages. By means of email, instant messaging, chat rooms and text messaging, gossip has found a way to be spread not only locally but also globally. How does this affect tweens-a demographic made up of kids between the ages of eight and thirteen?
The media has always addressed this universal issue. Currently, “Gossip Girl”: a series of young-adult novels by Cecily von Ziegesar (now the subject of a teen soap opera of the same name on the CW television network) focuses on how technology is used to spread gossip and rumors among its main characters- young, rich, private school students who are members of New York’s elite social circle. Though the TV series as well as the books content is not suitable for kids, it has a large fan base made up of tween girls. They are most likely drawn to Gossip Girl because of its trendy storyline but also because some can identify with being the subject of Internet gossip.
Today, instead of being the subject of a malicious note passed around in class, a twelve-year-old girl may learn that someone has posted hateful comments about her appearance or false rumors about her sexual conduct on the Internet where thousands of people could read it. Sounds hard to believe. But this happens more often than you would think. Has the media done anything to help tweens cope with this harmful influence?
This phenomenon has led to B*tween Productions Inc., creating a series of books starring the Beacon Street Girls (BSG)-five friends (Katani, Avery, Charlotte, Isabel and Maeve) who represent the average tween-with the purpose of providing positive media influences and role models for this impressionable age group. The BSG books were written with the consultation of experts on girls, adolescence, children’s issues and development.
One of the books in this popular series focuses on the negative effects of cyber bullying while providing guidance for kids on the Internet. In the book “Just Kidding” the Beacon Street Girls learn about gossip, no-jokes zones and how the Internet can be used to spread rumors, spoil friendships and contribute to hurt feelings. The book also includes a list of fun and safe sites for kids including its own interactive website (www.beaconstreetgirls.com), which features a safe social networking site and online club.
With the tween years being a critical time in a child’s development, gossip and cyber bullying can be especially hard hitting at this emotionally sensitive time. While the adult themed “Gossip Girl” glamorizes it, the Beacon Street Girls help children to see the divisive effect it can have. The media would do well to follow the example of B*tween productions and provide positive resources to help parents educate themselves and their tween on how to combat this threat.