Some extracts from #DigitalParenting for #ALTC2013

Some extracts from #DigitalParenting for #ALTC2013

A taste of my book, designed for a general audience, but drawing on academic thinking, triggered by some of the conversations on Twitter this morning at the conference.

Digital Natives?

book-cover-bex-lewis-160If we buy into the idea that children are ‘digital natives’, who are fundamentally different from ‘the rest of us’, we can cause serious confidence problems for parents. Traits such as collaboration, openness, innovation, transparency and openness are often ascribed to the younger generation, and these traits may exist there, but research demonstrates that they can also be observed across all generations. The EU Online Research in 2012 found that only about 20% of the 25,000 children they interviewed fitted this stereotype.[i] I have observed many students who are entirely happy using social networks such as Facebook, but struggle to conduct effective searches online, something that has been evidenced by others at e-learning conferences. Every generation is different, but there are factors other than technology that may account for the differences

Marc Prensky popularised the term ‘digital native’ in 2001, referring to those in the US education system who had grown up surrounded by technology. A more useful idea has developed from a team at Oxford University, led by Dave White: that of the ‘digital resident’ and the ‘digital visitor’, defined more by attitude than by age. ‘Visitors’ use the Internet as a tool: go in to complete a task, and leave. ‘Residents’ regard themselves as members of communities that exist online, rather than having access to an online toolbox.[ii] I am most definitely a digital resident, though I’m far too old to be a ‘digital native’.

For all of us, the online environment has changed. We increasingly have wireless broadband at home, we have more mobile devices, it’s easy to segue between online and offline, we have more control over the things we watch via time-shifted TV, we are able to shop online, search for information online, store material ‘in the cloud’, keep connected with people even when we’ve moved on through social networks, and use GPS for a range of functions. The rate of change means that there are major differences in experience across age groups – those who can remember a time before broadband, before smart phones, before Facebook, before the Nintendo Wii, and we read our experiences differently through what we’ve experienced before.

[ii] ‘Visitors and Residents: A Typology for Online Engagement’, David S White and Alison Le Cornu, First Monday, http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/3171/3049 , Vol 16:9, 05/09/11

Not on Facebook?

Davies and Eynon do emphasise that parental attitudes are key, whether resistant to, or supportive of, technologies. If you’re one of those parents who doesn’t hover over your children online, you are not alone. Such parents tend not to vocalize such a lack of concern because it suggests a laissez-faire attitude to children’s safety that’s not seen as OK in today’s risk-managed world. The authors also highlight the particular difficulties of separated families, where parents may have completely different attitudes to Internet usage, which children have to learn to negotiate. They note that younger teenagers, excited to be finally allowed onto Facebook, find it “a necessary addition to their social lives, but not so much fun as they had expected .”[i]

Social media appears to change so fast, with ‘the latest place to be ’ seeming to change frequently: is it time for us to all join Google+ now? As with offline hangouts, however, where we actually go can remain remarkably stable. The Childwise Monitor Report 2013 found that the three favourite sites for 5-16 year olds were (in this order) Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, which have been online since 2004, 2005 and 2006 respectively.[ii] We’ll look at these sites and a few others in this section, but note that a Pew Internet survey in May 2013 revealed that too many adults and too much drama on Facebook was encouraging teenagers to spend less time on (not leave) Facebook, meaning they were joining platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr.[iii]

Other sites fall in and out of fashion. In 2010, much of the concern about teens online was about Formspring, and in 2013 about Ask.fm, where open questions could be asked, with sometimes distressing responses, whilst sites such as Medium, Vine, Keek and Pheed are starting to appear in the ‘likely to be popular’ pile. As we’ve said, take time to talk to your children about what they’re using, and ask them to demonstrate it, and/or keep an eye on the websites we’ve suggested at the end of this book.

[i] Davies, C. & Eynon, R. Teenagers and Technology, Routledge, 2013, p57

[ii] ‘Children and Their Media 2013’, Simon Leggett, Childwise, http://prezi.com/6spkttfivlhp/children-and-their-media-2013/, 2013

[iii] ‘Teens, Social Media and Privacy, The Pew Research Centre’, http://www.pewinternet.org/Press-Releases/2013/Teens-Social-Media-and-Privacy.aspx, 21/5/13 See also: ‘I’m 13 and None of my Friends Use Facebook’, Ruby Karp, Mashable, http://mashable.com/2013/08/11/teens-Facebook, 11/8/13

Technology Neutral?

Technology is neutral – it can be used for good and bad ends. Martin D. Owens, a US lawyer, and author of Internet Gaming Law, sums this up nicely in the Pew 2012 report on ‘Hyper-connected lives’:

Good people do good things with their access to the Internet and social media-witness the profusion of volunteer and good cause apps and programs which are continually appearing, the investigative journalism, the rallying of pro-democracy forces across the world. Bad people do bad things with their Internet access. Porno access is all over the place—if you want it. Even Al Qaeda has a webpage, complete with interactive social games with a terrorist bent like Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom. Just as with J.R.R. Tolkien’s ring of power, the Internet grants power to the individual according to that individual’s wisdom and moral stature. Idiots are free to do idiotic things with it; the wise are free to acquire more wisdom. It was ever thus. Each new advance in knowledge and technology represents an increase in power, and the corresponding moral choices that go with that power.[i]


[i] ‘Imagining the Internet: Millennials will benefit and suffer due to their hyperconnected lives’, Pew Research Center, http://www.pewinternet.org/~/media//Files/Reports/2012/PIP_Future_of_Internet_2012_Young_brains_PDF.pdf, 29/2/12

I’m in the process of thinking of reviewers to invite for this book, so please do let me know if you would like to suggest appropriate names.

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