Childhood in the Digital Age (Week 1) #FLdigitalkid15

This four-week course from the OU draws upon the expertise of a developmental psychologist, and a researcher in early literacy – both different aspects from mine, which comes from that of a social media/communications specialist looking at what children/those shaping their environment need to understand in order to ‘enjoy the best and avoid the worst’ online.


Intro Video

How is digital technology changing childhood – and how can adults keep up?

  • Touch-screen = accessible, but do children find them exciting beyond entertainment?
  • Different from our own experiences, so is it good, or bad, for child development?

Article: A Family Discussion

Are your experiences of childhood fundamentally or superficially different?

  • [Fascinating that it’s the kids that are seen as ‘problematic’ asking for wi-fi codes, etc. I’m considerably older than a child, but I’d probably ask that too, although as I’m older, I might have more etiquette, but I think my fundamental desire for connectivity is the same.]
  • Parents want definition over terms – childhood defined as 3-14 year olds; the course uses 2 x definitions of digital/technology – the hardware devices/outputs, but also the functionality.

The question asks ‘are we raising a new generation of children for whom technology is as natural as breathing?’. [Is this a culturally specific question? And what about the difference between a 3 year old, 5 year old, 12 year old? Is it more like comparing to learning to ski from a young age = less fears, and more creative about using it, before the rules of life have come in, rather than the tech itself?]

Article: From Zero to Eight

Increasing ownership of tablets (1/3 children) and use of smartphones. The EU Kids Online Project identified that there’s an increasing number of younger children using mobile, internet-connected devices, including 30% of 7-11 year olds reporting having their own Facebook account (‘legal’ age is 13), and that the stats are not uniform across countries.

Article/Video: A Moral Panic

Mariella Frostrup with Tanya Byron, Lydia Plowman, Julie Johnson and Helen King – notions of moral panics – is a particular issue seen as a threat to conventional social norms?

  • Should children under age of 2 use tech
  • Should pre-school-age children engage with age-appropriate social networks as ‘training’
  • What benefits (less often focused upon) associated with early exposure to technology?

Some thoughts

  • Democratisation of information – easier to access globally scattered information.
  • Typically focuses on 8+, but what about those younger, esp re tablets, etc.
  • Marketing for pre-8 age-group is aimed at parents/grandparents, typically for ‘learning benefits’, children typically not asking for selves, and often actually based upon old styles of learning
  • We have a digital economy, in which people need to engage.
  • Byron – neuroscience – children struggle to distinguish between fact/fiction – therefore need supervision & management online as you would offline (walled gardens). “Stop panicking and broaden our thinking about it”.
  •  Working in child exploitation, see the worst of the internet, and therefore colours thinking about it.
  • Julie – should only use technology with their parents (based on anecdotal experience)
  • Lydia – no evidence that early use does harm, but jury is out.
  • Byron – early stages of development = neurones are connecting, so need to be clear on how much technology is used, and is clear it’s not the most useful tool for developing brains.

Article: Why is technology so appealing?

  • Fun, captivating and entertaining
  • Intrinsic (rather than extrinsic) motivation – activity for own sake because enjoyable, leads to persistence, performance, satisfaction.
  • 3 basic psychological needs:
    • Competence – mastering a challenge effectively
    • Relatedness – connecting with others using social networking
    • Autonomy – control of own lives, rational choices in using tech/for what

Article/Video: Are children and adults today really so different?

  • Check out ‘digital devices and children‘ (Jim Steyer: digital natives); spend more time with their devices than they do with parents/at school; streaming video = convenience; huge amounts of guilt re allowing children to have devices at table, etc.; expectation is can take device everywhere/zones out; need for parents to model behaviour (parenting/how we learn hasn’t really changed, devices have changed); truly engage with what is being sent in/out from child’s account; reference to ‘impersonal way that we communicate’
  • Do we need new rules? New parenting classes?

Article: Introducing Digital Natives

Range of terms tied to the importance that technology plays in defining the lives of young people.

  • Prensky’s theory of ‘digital natives‘ [which I believe he has since drawn back from in some respects]
  • Neuroplasticity – new neural connections responsive to environments
  • Does this, therefore, mean that we need to change the types of education to meet children’s expectations?
  • [5 years ago I have a talk on 21st Century Students, which has had nearly 4,000 views – essentially, we are still dealing with humans, but there are things to be aware of]

Article: Digital Natives, Fact or Fiction

[This is one my favourite videos on this topic:


Sue Bennett (2008) indicates that Prensky’s research is not empirically/theoretically informed, and therefore has become an academic form of ‘moral panic’.

  • The term has stuck til 2015, and still informs discussions about education – dangerous to change large systems on such limited research

Question: Is there really a generational divide?

Specific types of tech used by kids more than others, what is difference to their offline activities? What about digital natives/immigrants?

[I would buy in more to Dave White’s theory of visitors & residents]

Article: Digital Pessimists

We live in a risk-averse society and this is certainly true with regard to children.”

  • Most concerns are related to moral or social anxieties – re children’s cognitive, emotional or social development
  • Pessimism directed at screen-based media, as assumes = social isolation, lack of social skills, obesity [other research has illustrated the opposite]
  • Aggression tied to video games? Attention deficit and disrupted sleep.
  • Searches = internet ‘addiction’, aggressive game playing & bullying – the digital is often blamed for this.

Poll: Are you a digital optimist or pessimist?

5 simple questions (I am clearly an optimist), but interestingly, the majority of those undertaking this survey (over 1000 people) are leaning towards more pessimistic views!

Article/Video: Back to the Experts

Sonia Livingstone asks if prevention is really the best cure:

  • What the real risks, the stats? Many childhood ‘issues’ haven’t changed over-time, but the visibility has changed? Media representations too! How do we respond?
  • The internet is always changing, and change makes us anxious – we have worried about every technological revolution
  • “The internet is not the cause of human misery, people are.”
  • Always in, always on, choices about communication – e.g. anonymity/identification, the speed/long-term nature of (negative) content.
  • Constant re-design of the internet. “Has not arrived from Mars” – it’s been made by us, shaped by commerce, government, work, people, etc.
  • What content are they engaging with, and who is providing that?
  • Ofcom figures from 2013 indicate that few are really partaking in participatory activities (uploading a photo = the most)
  • Where are our ‘spaces’, we have become so risk-averse, we don’t allow children outside, nor do we allow them alone online? How can we encourage better use of creative spaces.

Article: Digital Parenting

  • We need to give children more autonomy and choice, rather than shutting them down, trust the maturity and judgement of children.
  • Many psychologists avoid the term ‘risk’ and use ‘problematic situations’, recognising that children have different perceptions of what is problematic.
  • Awareness of risks means that children concentrate on avoiding problematic situations online, or from re-occuring.
  • Give children
    • Problem-solving strategies – actions/strategies
    • Plan/reflect – using hypothetical situations
    • Information seeking – about online environment
    • Support seeking – who to talk to if run into problems
    • Fatalistic – accept risks out there without trivialising/generalising.
  • See Digital Parenting magazine from Vodafone

Article: Creating responsible digital kids

  • Too much fear. Digital divide seen as between children/adults, who feel ill-equipped to protect their children.
  • Risk-avoidance is not the strategy, but equipping children with skills/knowledge to avoid known risks, and become responsible digital children.

What’s next?