'You have a buddy list?' asks my 10-year-old.
Her tone drips with incredulity.
Yes, carbon-dated Dad uses an America Online feature that alerts him when his buddies log on.
"Do you I.M., too?"
This is too much for her. She dissolves into giggles. In her mind Dad using the Instant Message feature conjures up a picture of him passing notes in grade school. Cyberspace is her space.
As Jennifer Wolcott notes in this week's cover story, teens - and preteens - are fast making online talk a staple of their world. For many it is an indispensable social tool. It hasn't supplanted the phone. But it's certainly a contender.
Logging on is now as much a part of my eighth-grade daughter's early morning routine as bagels and trying on 37 different blouses. And after school she hangs out online with the likes of Razorstone, Lilguy919, Jame206, and CoolcatUR. At last count, her buddy list tally was nearing 100.
Should I be concerned?
One online survey of teens showed that their greatest fear was not the lack of a boy or girlfriend, it was the fear of having no friends. That may partially explain the popularity of online talk.
Teens have yet another tool for making friends and maintaining friendships.
I suspect the Internet will soon reach the hallowed heights of that Great American Youth Icon, the shopping mall, as a crucial gathering place to gossip and to be seen.
Besides, when the kids are online our other phone line is open. Now that's a praiseworthy advancement in any household.
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