Worried About the Wrong Things

From The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning

Worried About the Wrong Things

Youth, Risk, and Opportunity in the Digital World

By Jacqueline Ryan Vickery

Foreword by S. Craig Watkins

Why media panics about online dangers overlook another urgent concern: creating equitable online opportunities for marginalized youth.





Why media panics about online dangers overlook another urgent concern: creating equitable online opportunities for marginalized youth.

It's a familiar narrative in both real life and fiction, from news reports to television storylines: a young person is bullied online, or targeted by an online predator, or exposed to sexually explicit content. The consequences are bleak; the young person is shunned, suicidal, psychologically ruined. In this book, Jacqueline Ryan Vickery argues that there are other urgent concerns about young people's online experiences besides porn, predators, and peers. We need to turn our attention to inequitable opportunities for participation in a digital culture. Technical and material obstacles prevent low-income and other marginalized young people from the positive, community-building, and creative experiences that are possible online.

Vickery explains that cautionary tales about online risk have shaped the way we think about technology and youth. She analyzes the discourses of risk in popular culture, journalism, and policy, and finds that harm-driven expectations, based on a privileged perception of risk, enact control over technology. Opportunity-driven expectations, on the other hand, based on evidence and lived experience, produce discourses that acknowledge the practices and agency of young people rather than seeing them as passive victims who need to be protected.

Vickery first addresses how the discourses of risk regulate and control technology, then turns to the online practices of youth at a low-income, minority-majority Texas high school. She considers the participation gap and the need for schools to teach digital literacies, privacy, and different online learning ecologies. Finally, she shows that opportunity-driven expectations can guide young people's online experiences in ways that balance protection and agency.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262036023 360 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 9 b&w illus.


$25.00 X ISBN: 9780262536219 360 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 9 b&w illus.


S. Craig Watkins.


  • In this book that foregrounds the experiences of young people often marginalized by society, Jacqueline Ryan Vickery offers thoughtful insights on how parents and educators can rethink concerns about risk and can instead leverage youthful digital media interests for opportunity and possibility.

    Lynn Schofield Clark

    Professor and Chair, Department of Media, Film and Journalism Studies, University of Denver; author of The Parent App: Understanding Families in the Digital Age

  • In many respects this book breaks new ground. The focus is on a section of youth that is underrepresented in research, namely marginalized youth with lower social and economic capital. Bringing the argument back to an often ignored section of the population gives the book some real strength and allows us to set it alongside the ways in which so many texts in the field examine only richer-income populations and middle-class behaviors.

    John Potter

    Reader in Media in Education, UCL Knowledge Lab, UCL Institute of Education, London; author of Digital Media and Learner Identity: The New Curatorship