At the moment, I am researching social media. While my professional interest in social media concerns its educational uses, my reading about it has crossed the boundaries to also look at personal uses, and what I’ve learnt is “it’s complicated”.
Recently, I have come across danah boyd’s (no, that’s not a typo, she spells her name with lower case letters) latest work “It’s complicated. The social lives of networked teens”. This book has had me enthralled. Though I’ve come across her work through researching social media for my PhD, I found her views on young people’s use of social media most heartening as a parent. From her research with American teens, boyd’s opinion is that young people use social media as a way of reclaiming a public space to hang out. Though the focus of my research is not on teens, my private life however, is quickly becoming dominated by one (or a soon-to-be one).
This year my daughter started grade 5 and began a love affair with her iPad. Last year, her primary school had introduced 1:1 iPads in the senior school, and she gleefully counted down the days until she too would be able to have one. Having been seriously deprived by her horrible parents’ decision not to purchase one for her while she occupied an age of single digits, my daughter took to her new educational uses of the iPad with gusto.
This was heartening to see as a parent and a teacher who has a great interest in the capacities of digital technology for facilitating positive learning outcomes. For me, there’s nothing better than seeing a child (your own especially!) absorbed in learning through creative uses of technology.
However, it soon became clear that creative uses of technology were not just being employed for learning purposes. Nor was my daughter’s engagement with the iPad limited to school hours. She had discovered the wonders of being digitally connected. A fact that has caused some alarm for us as parents; mostly for worry about the dangers of cyber space and fears of antisocial behaviour.
boyd contends that while these fears are not entirely misplaced, they are mostly exaggerated. What young people are doing today is not that different to what young people have been doing for generations- trying to carve out a space of their own. In light of the fact that these days the spaces in which young people can be independent are becoming more and more limited.
In response to this new world order that has been prompted by the addition of an iPad to our tween’s life, this has prompted more than one talk about being a responsible digital citizen, drawing up a list of appropriate iPad uses, and limitations on time spent with eyes locked on said device. All of which has mostly been met, albeit with just a little eye-rolling.
From my professional, and now personal experience, I have come to the conclusion that trying to avoid or ban the use of digital devices is not a productive endeavour. Our children and our students are better off, if we guide them in how to become responsible users of technology.
Read danah boyd (2014) It’s complicated. The social lives of networked teens, Yale University Press.