A few months ago, my husband and I attended a local viewing of Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital Age. Following the screening, tweens and parents were separated to talk further with facilitators about the concerns families face with the use of technology. Most of the conversation in the group I attended focused on the balance between monitoring and trusting our children’s use of social media and how digital contexts offered yet another reason for parental anxiety.
While the movie was intriguing and the ensuing conversation raised many good questions to consider, it was the comment my husband made at the end of the night that made me wonder if we had even attended the same event. “Maybe kids need more, not less screen time.” I’ve known my husband for nearly two decades, and his subtle sarcasm and dry humor are traits I’ve come to expect and appreciate (most of the time), but it wasn’t until my recent research in the area of youth participation in online contexts that I actually started thinking he was onto something.
As we think about supporting youth in the development of their digital literacy and their ability to engage meaningfully, appropriately, and ethically in online interactions, it’s evident that our focus on fear and hyper-vigilance may miss the mark. Instead, fostering opportunities where youth have guidance, support, and compassion as they build necessary skills to increase their level of participation will help to build skills and resilience. As noted by NetFamilyNews founder, Anne Collins, Kids need to learn how to navigate the media of their present and future and can’t do that with media avoidance….reducing media use may reduce risk, it also reduces young users’ opportunities.
As I balance my research on youth and media and reflection on my own family’s digital life, it occurs to me what my husband was onto something as we left the movie. While simply increasing screen time is not a direct means to foster the skills and dispositions for healthy online interactions, it’s likely we need to increase our intentionality when it comes to the ways in which we’re using technology, including social media, as opportunities for youth to increase participation in ethical practices.
In her book, Disconnected: Youth, New Media, and the Ethics Gap, Carrie James explores the disconcerting trend for youth to take a egocentric stance when it comes to considering the moral and ethical impacts of online activity in the realms of privacy and property. While developmentally predictable, the tendency of youth to only go so far as to consider how their actions might hurt themselves personally (e.g., negative grade, reputation) highlights a lack of focus on fostering broader ethical and moral consequences. James’s research begins to shed light on the ways in which society can mentor youth’s consideration of implications beyond the self to include broader, societal and cultural impacts.
One of her remarkable findings, and one that gives me great hope that we do have resources in place to begin this work, is the discovery that youth who identify as Bloggers, are more likely to consider deeper ethical implications when it comes to the appropriation of property online (e.g., ideas, images, narrative). James offers that it may be the role of author that helps youth recognize the value of creating and sharing ideas and the inequity that follows when one takes others’ property without permission or appropriate citation.
After distilling this information and considering how the research stacks up against my own efforts and values as a parent, I’m starting to consider how I can increase my involvement, hone in on intentionality, and support my tweens as they consider their first blogs.
About the Author: Amy Howell holds a doctorate in Education Psychology from the University of Colorado at Boulder and focuses on Early Childhood Education.