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Jul232007

Fading Boundaries: Does Technology Make Self-Disclosure Too Easy?

Remember when self-disclosure was something special? It might take months of youth activities, Bible studies, and relationship-building. You showed your students you were trustworthy in countless little ways. You created special one-on-one times when students could feel safe to share what was one their hearts. Then it would happen. A student would let down their guard and share something personal. It was like a gift. They would open up and, together, you could share a deeper relationship that would eventually move both of you closer to Christ.

It would seem that technology is beginning to change all that. Instead of a precious gift, things like IM and MySpace seem to have made self-disclosure nothing more than a dollar-store bargain buy.  What used to take months of relationship building to share can now be found splashed all over MySpace and Facebook pages. What used to be incremental, well thought-through disclosure is now instantly messengered and texted to friends without a second thought.  Are our kids better off now that technology has freed them to liberate their confined innermost secrets? Are they more in touch with who they really are? I'm thinking not.

So what are the implications of fading boundaries? Clearly, one of the foremost problems is that kids get in trouble.  They say too much to the wrong people and, whether it be a scarey stalker or a boyfriend who turns out to be no friend at all, they can find themselves betrayed and hurt.  But I wonder if the problem of over self-disclosure isn't even more insidious.  Our technology that makes it so easy to open up also makes it a lot easier to share things before really thinking through them.  After all, it is a lot easier to spill your guts in an online journal than to really stop and contemplate how those feelings or thoughts fit in with your worldview or your self image. Is our technology making meditation and contemplation outdated?

As people who are interested in helping kids grow into mature young people, it seems important we talk to them about how their technology is changing the way they self-disclose.  Help them think through why personal boundaries can be good things.  Brainstorm with them things that can happen when we share too much of ourselves with someone who is not worthy. Talk about what happens when we spill our guts before we get a chance to pray about things, thinking through what God is trying to teach us.

Sharing parts of ourselves with others can be a rich and rewarding thing, drawing us together as we build on a friendship and committment to one another. Cheap self disclosure, however, can short-circuit the growth process, making friendship little more than digital symbols passing by as we flit from one conversation to the next. I challenge you to help the young people you work with to reconsider the precious value of the personal thoughts they share with one another.

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