What the Popularity of Kony 2012 Says About Kids Today

To me, what’s most interesting about the popularity of the now-controversial “Kony 2012” video is that it reflects what a 2011 study suggests: Kids aren’t just spending their time online sending naked pictures of themselves and concocting new cyber-bullying techniques. Researchers found a link between young people who pursue interests on the Internet and increased engagement in civic and political issues. Teens are using the web not just to learn about the world, but also to try and change it.

So, while others have been carping about the video itself, I was happy to hear that 100 million viewers, many of them young people, had at least taken half an hour from their busy lives to learn about a brutal leader and the horrible things he’s done.

Sure, the video is slick and manipulative. As others have pointed out, it’s also an oversimplified version of historical events. And, the director’s use of his cherubic, towheaded son to draw us into the story smacks of a form of abuse I call Parental YouTube Coercion Disorder. Further, contrasting the white boy and his father with the black Africans in need of saving has many crying colonialism. But let’s consider the alternatives.

There’s no end to the crap our children can ingest on the web, some of it mind-numbing and inhumane. So what if a kid spends 30 minutes learning about a violent regime in a country he knows nothing about? What if that video moves a viewer in some way to think beyond his own small world?

As a woman who recently did her best to bring down Rush Limbaugh by tweeting while making dinner for her family, I understand the excitement that comes over you when you feel you’re part of something bigger than yourself — in my case, getting Sleep Train to stop advertising on Clear Channel. You think: Maybe someone actually cares.

I’m all for fact-checking the video, critiquing the way the story was told, and checking out the Invisible Children organization itself. But you have to admit that watching the thing beats the heck out of what most of us were doing on our off-hours as teenagers in the 1980s.

The other night I was struck by how much the world had changed in a generation. I was telling my nine- and six-year-old kids that I was once grounded for a week when I was in high school. (Unjustly, I might add.)

My son looked down from his top bunk and said, “What does ‘grounded’ mean — that you couldn’t use the computer?”

I laughed, harkening back to all those quiet weeknights I spent at home in high school, feeling trapped and alone in my small town.

“We didn’t have computers then,” I said. They looked at me as if I’d just flown in on a Pteradactyl. Even I was stunned by the statement. A wave of nostalgia came over me. Was life better then?

No, I thought, just different. I thought of the opportunities awaiting my kids, the way the world has opened up. Just recently my daughter said she wanted to know more about Nelson Mandela. She’s six. We went online and Googled him.