in Technology

Growing up Online

Digital by Steve Jurvetson CC Licensed

Digital by Steve Jurvetson
CC Licensed

The idea that this generation is growing up online may be cliched, but you only have to visit the Facebook feed of one of your friends with young children to note that children have an online presence before they have much (any) choice about it. Facebook recently added a feature called Scrapbook, which lets you give children under 13 an official presence on the site.

Two things happened today to float this issue to the top of my mind again. In a workshop on Design Thinking and Tinkering with Liz Perry, someone proposed that tinkering and hands-on/active play is vital in schools because too little of it happens at home, and this is often because children are given too much access to technology. Then on my walk home, I listened to an OnBeing podcast conversation between danah boyd and Krista Tippett titled “Online Reflections of Our Offline Lives“. In particular, danah talks about how our current social and family structures, and fear mongering make it hard for children to meet friends to play with and explore (in) their physical world. She contends that even if a parent gives a child the opportunity to do so, it’s meaningless if the child’s friends aren’t also allowed to, and this pushes social activity online. She emphasizes that children are learning behaviors from us, and we serve as models for them of the kinds of activities that they can/should engage in. She advices parents to build a network of adults in a child’s life that the child can have access to for support, help, encouragement, modelling to replace the missing social connections that were traditionally available through nearby family, church, and other networks.

danah talks about the three C’s to consider in digital citizenship: conduct, content and contact. The part that worries parents (and educators) the most is conduct. But what conduct are we modelling for children? What do we expect them to learn from news, reality shows, backbiting and gossip amongst parents, politics and advertising? Drama and interpersonal conflict is rife in amongst adults in our world and from that, children learn the flair for drama, as well as self-bullying. danah sites research that she and Elizabeth Englander did on which shows that cruel questions asked by teens are often answered by the questioner to build drama online. danah talks about the fact that teens explore identity online, and that their use of media shifts over time. When people engage online, there are some things that they have control on, and some things (such as search results and archiving) that they do not. If we want children to think creatively and critically to made decisions about their online life, what questions can we ask them to facilitate this? How can we do this questioning in a way that’s nonjudgemental and open to encourage children to think in ways that can result in transformative action?

As a technology instructionalist, I’m wondering how much technology use is too much, and what is developmentally appropriate at different age levels. I’m also wondering about how we can improve our use of technology to mitigate some of the negative impact of our current use. When I look at the creative thinking spiral by Resnick, play and share are key components. This makes me wonder how social is play, and what does online play offer? Children can play alone, but in a constructivist framework, socializing and sharing are important components.

What questions are you grappling with about helping our children navigate the three c’s of contact, content and conduct online? What have you found to be successful with children at various developmental levels?