#DigitalParenting: The Myth of the Digital Native (#SID2014)

book-cover-bex-400The CHILDWISE “Digital Lives” Report of 2010 proudly noted: “Today’s young children are born into a digital world, and have never known a time without the internet affecting all aspects of their daily life.” That may be true, but it tends to be translated into a kind of panic:

one step ahead in an area [technology] that has developed so much, as we have become parents and never navigated it before ourselves [as children]. (Parent, 19 or over)

We need to appreciate, however, that using technology doesn’t mean that we understand how it works, any more than driving a car means that we are mechanics. Terms have been coined such as “digital natives” or “net generation”, which all perpetuate this idea that every child knows what they are doing online. Parents seem to agree:

The children usually know more than we do, and I think that is one of the problems. Computers didn’t exist when I was at school, so I didn’t learn anything about them; I’ve as an adult, and probably steps behind my children! (Parent, 16 to 18, 19 or over)

had to learn everything sometimes I’ve been a few of parenting and realize that I will most likely be a step behind my digitally native children! However, with guidelines in place, I believe that digital 

(Parent, 2 or under, 3 to 5)

If 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, innovation, transparency, and openness are often ascribed to the younger generation, and they may indeed be found there, but research demonstrates that they can also be observed across all generations. The EU Kids Online study in 2012 found that only about 20 per cent of the 25,000 children they interviewed fitted this stereotype.5 I have observed many students who are entirely happy using social networks such as Facebook, but struggle to conduct effective online searches, 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 popularized 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.6 I am most definitely a digital resident, though I’m far too old to be a “digital native”.

(p60-62, Raising Children in a Digital Age: Enjoying the Best, Avoiding the Worst, released 21st February 2014)

By Digital Fingerprint

Digiexplorer (not guru), Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing @ Manchester Metropolitan University. Interested in digital literacy and digital culture  in the third sector (especially faith). Author of 'Raising Children in a Digital Age', regularly checks hashtag #DigitalParenting.

9 replies on “#DigitalParenting: The Myth of the Digital Native (#SID2014)”

“The idea that our students must have innate technological skills because they’ve grown up in a computer-saturated world is equal, to my mind, with assuming all drivers must be excellent mechanics or auto designers because they’ve spent so much time behind the wheel or, perhaps more germanely, to assuming all students must be innately gifted writers because they’ve grown up around books and paper.”

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