Whenever I talk with parents that are a bit behind the digital curve, they struggle to understand why Facebook is so important to their sons and their daughters.

One of my favorite old articles on the virtual world is by Christine Rosen, printed in the New Atlantis, many years ago.  I just re-discovered the piece as I was filing a few new articles away, and I thought it was worth sharing a few brief snippets of her introductory points with you today.

As Rosen explains, “For centuries, the rich and the powerful documented their existence and their status through painted portraits.  A marker of wealth and a bid for immortality, portraits offer intriguing hints about the daily life of their subjects—professions, ambitions, attitudes, and, most importantly, social standing.”

“Self portraits can be especially constructive.  By showing the artist both as he sees his true self and as he wishes to be seen, self-portraits can at once expose and obscure, clarify and distort.  They offer the opportunities for both self-expression and self-seeking.”

Rosen continues to explain how today, our self-portraits are digital, “crafted from pixels rather than paints.  On sites like Facebook, our modern self-portraits feature carefully manipulated photographs, stream of consciousness musings, and lists of our hobbies and friends.  They are interactive, inviting viewers not merely to look at, but also to respond to, the life portrayed online.  We create them to find friendship, love and that ambiguous modern thing called connection.  Like painters constantly retouching their work, we alter, update and tweak our modern self-portraits; but as digital objects, they are far more ephemeral than oil on canvas.  Vital statistics, glimpses of bare flesh, lists of favorite bands and favorite poems all clamor for our attention—and it is the timeless human desire for attention that emerges as the dominant theme of these vast virtual galleries.”

Our kids today want what we all did when we were growing up: love, attention and affirmation, but in today’s world, they are going online to satisfy these desires.  Through revealing personal information, posting attention-grabbing pictures, sharing news articles, creating videos and posting to their friend’s walls, they have a tangible and somewhat manageable place to gain approval.  Given our natural thirst for approval, it’s incredibly important for parents to be involved with their kid’s online lives and do their best to help direct, protect and connect with their kids as they create and manipulate the canvases of their online lives.  For information about parenting in the virtual world…  protecting your kids on social networking sites and online, check out our parent resources.