Sunday, April 24, 2011

Understanding Teen Internet Addiction: digital natives versus digital immigrants

Parents now see their children spend multiple hours every day on computers, cell/smart phones, and gaming systems and are understandably concerned. Parents often tell their children the computer is a waste of time, Facebook isn't a meaningful way to communicate, texting reduces their ability to communicate, and their reliance on technology decreases their capacity to attend to such crucial tasks as reading books and writing papers.

Children respond to their parents concerns and complaints with a simple rejoinder: "You are tech phobic. You have no idea what you are talking about. You are living in the past!" Certainly, both parents and children have a valid perspective and differences in their perspectives can best be attributed to growing up in vastly different technological generations. The term "digital native" and "digital immigrant" was coined by Mark Prensky to describe this new divide between parents and today's children/teens. These terms designate people born in the digital era (generation X) and people born before the digital era (baby boomers). Certainly not all digital immigrants are the same. Some digital immigrants are enthusiastic about new technology, while others are committed to avoiding new technology. Technological "avoiders" prefer a lifestyle free of or with minimal engagement with new technology. They tend to have a landlines and may refuse to use cell phones or e-mail.

The differences between the digital native generation and the digital immigrant generation can be divided as follows.

Digital immigrants:

Prefer to talk on the phone or in person, text sparingly, prefer synchronistic communication, are accustomed to and like to read manuals with clear steps, assume they will work their way up the ladder in the workplace (in a linear fashion, in one career), enjoy face-to-face contact with their friends, value the use of proper english, use the internet to gather information, think young people are wasting their lives via online research (wikipedia generation) and communication, believe the internet is not "real life, " and have safety concerns such as kidnapping, assault, and robbery.

Digital natives:

Prefer to communicate via online chat, Facebook, videogame platforms and texting (more than 47% of teens can text with their eyes closed), prefer asynchronistic communication, do not utilize manuals (but prefer to problems solve intuitively), are interested in trying many careers, want balance between family, friends, activities, and work, prefer flexible hours, want opportunities to work remotely, socialize online in chat rooms, social networking sites, and gaming platforms, utilize texting and instant messaging shorthand rather than proper english, communicate about personal experiences by posting messages and posting photographs online, view the internet as real and often more pleasurable than off-line life, engage in multiple tasks or recreation activities at a time, and have safety concerns such as identity theft, privacy invasions, and cyber stalking.

Some families manage to successfully negotiate reasonable and equitable settlements with respect to the use of the internet, texting, gaming, and other forms of electronic communication and entertainment. These families tend to have parents who are open to new technology and may even be using technology in ways similar to their digital native offspring. These families also tend to see the use of current mode of technology as inevitable and therefore do not see the point in attempting to remove or inhibit the use of new technology.

Other families are concerned and highly anxious about how much time their children spend on the internet or gaming. They tend to communicate this anxiety and fear to their children, which falls on deaf ears. These parents tend to try to control their children's use of technology through setting parental controls, through the use of software, or by setting specific time limits. In response to these limitations children/teens work around the technological limits by lying, manipulating, and finding other ways continue to be online and play online games. In response to this defiance parents become increasingly frustrated, which eventually results in a locked power struggle. At this point, parents either resort to more extreme measures such as taking the computer away or they give up altogether. The child parent relationship escalates to alienation, disconnection, volatility, and even violence in certain cases.

The overwhelming consensus of current research on parental reactions to child/teen internet, smart phone, and gaming use is that working in a collaborative manner results in much more effective limit setting than does attempting to control or eliminate the use of current technologies. Current research also clearly reveals that many of the concerns that digital immigrants have of the lifestyles of digital natives are unfounded, particularly in the area of cyber stalkers, privacy and reputation.

The key to bridging the gap between digital immigrants and digital natives lies with the digital immigrants. Digital immigrants need to become more aware of the benefits of new media and technological platforms. With this said, many digital natives do not seem to have a reasonable or realistic sense of how much time they spend online, in chat rooms, texting, and gaming. As a typical child/teen is spending more than seven hours per day engaged with some form of technology, it is certainly a reasonable concern of digital immigrants that there are better ways to spend time: reading a book, writing a letter, hiking, swimming, going to the movies, eating out, traveling, and talking face-to-face.

Digital immigrants and digital natives have a great deal to offer one another, to teach one another, and to share with one another. If parents can be open to understanding the ways in which their children/teens think about technology and how technology is integrated into their lives, they will certainly have a better opportunity to offer opinions and provide guidance and influence. Likewise, digital natives need to learn to consider that their digital immigrant parents have a perspective on technology that could advance the quality of their lives.

More on the subject of digital immigrants and digital natives to come in additional blogs.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Prevent Cyber Addiction: Rules for Internet Use from the Organization Enough is Enough

Implement both safety rules and software tools to protect children online. Focus on the positives of Internet use while teaching children about the dangers and how to make wise choices online.
Establish an ongoing dialogue and keep lines of communication open.
Supervise use of all Internet-enabled devices.
Know your child’s online activities and friends.
Regularly check the online communities your children use, such as social networking and gaming sites, to see what information they are posting.
Supervise the photos and videos your kids post and send online.
Discourage the use of webcams and mobile video devices.
Teach your children how to protect personal information posted online and to follow the same rules with respect to the personal information of others.
Be sure your children use privacy settings.
Instruct your children to avoid meeting face-to-face with someone they only know online or through their mobile device.
Teach your children how to respond to cyberbullies.
Establish an agreement with your children about Internet use at home and outside of the home (see Rules ’N Tools® Youth Pledge).
Set age-appropriate filters.
Consider using monitoring software, especially if you sense your child is at risk.
Periodically check your child’s online activity by viewing your browser’s history.
Set time limits and consider using time-limiting software.
Disallow access to chat rooms and only allow live audio chat with extreme caution.
Limit your child’s instant messaging (IM) contacts to a parent-approved buddy list.
Use safe search engines. Set up the family’s cyber-security protections.
Utilize parental controls on your child’s mobile phone and other mobile devices.
Parental controls should be utilized on all Internet-enabled devices (desktops, laptops; and gaming, mobile, and music devices). However, these resources are not a substitute for parental supervision.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Commentary: Berkman Center Study on Teen Internet Addiction

Commentary: The Berkman Center for Internet and Society's research on youth and media.
In reviewing the research by the Berkman Center at Harvard University I was surprised to learn there is a disconnect between the fears and concerns adults have regarding youth media practices and the research/science on the consequences of youth media practices.
Overall, the researchers at the Berkman Center have a positive and optimistic view of the future of the relationship between youth and media/technology. The opportunities for the development of skills, both technical and interpersonal, is emphasized throughout their research. Rather than view the Internet and social media as inherently dangerous or inherently useless/mindless, the research on youth media patterns and practices suggests otherwise. Research is clear youth are far more interested in creating meaningful content, in sharing and communicating, in maintaining privacy, in maintaining their own safety on the Internet, and in protecting their reputations than adults believe.
The differences that exist between youth (or "digital natives") and adults (or "digital immigrants") is significant and constantly changing and evolving. The typical parent/ adult is skeptical and fearful of the transformations in the media landscape. Adults are concerned children and teens are being stalked by cyber predators, are sending personal and confidential information out into cyberspace indiscriminately, and wasting time mindlessly chatting, surfing, and instant messaging and texting.
It is surprising to learn research studies do not show an increase in overall predatory behavior as a result of the expansion of media use by young people. The youth who are most at risk online are those who are most at risk off-line, such as victims of sexual and physical abuse and children from impoverished or unstable homes. Furthermore, youth are far more likely to engage in dangerous or risky behavior with other youth rather than with predatory adults. Although cyber bullying certainly occurs, youth are far more concerned with bullying that occurs at school and feel that they are more vulnerable to and affected by face to face or three-dimensional bullying that occurs at school or another community settings. The bottom line from the Berkman Center is the Internet is safer and has a far more positive influence on youth then parents/adults understand and beleive.
With all of this said, there are important issues the Berkman Center study does not address: namely, the way in which new technologies can take over the lives of youth and produce changes in the way youth process information, particularly the level at which they can maintain their attention.
Dalton Conley, a social biologists, is one of many scientists who are analyzing the way in which youth are affected by constant their "connectivity" to multiple technologies. Conley suggests, in an article in the February 21, 2011 edition of Time magazine, that "scientific evidence increasingly suggests that, amid all the texting, poking and surfing, our children's digital lives are turning them into much different creatures from us-- and not necessarily for the better."
Conley points to the problem of what researchers now refer to as "continuous partial attention." A Kaiser Family Foundation report released in 2010 found that on average children ages 8 to 18 are spending seven hours and 38 minutes a day using entertainment media. If each content stream is counted separately, a majority of American youth are texting while watching TV, they are logging almost 11 hours of media usage per day.
Conley, citing research from Stanford University, states that one of the concerns about youth involvement in multiple media is that they experience a high degree of pleasure while engaged with media/technology -- due to the fact interaction with technology/media releases the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is responsible for creating pleasurable states in the brain. The experience of pleasure creates a “forward-feeding cycle” in which youth pay more and more attention to texts, instant messaging, posts on social media sites at the expense of their ability to sustain their focus on writing, reading, or engaging in problem solving that requires sustained attention.
Conley also points to a problem with the way teens utilize media and electronic communication, and that is they often have access to their smart phones, computers, etc.,  seven days a week, twenty four hours per day. As a result, many youth are sleep deprived and do not have downtime or private time to think and process what occurred during the course of the day. The constant connectivity deprives youth of the ability to be alone, to make use of time when they are alone, and to be able to disconnect and digest social experiences.
Another concern  I have with current media practices, including video gaming, is that children and teens whom have pre-existing social-emotional problem are far more likely to become compulsively involved in the use of media. Children and teens who lack appropriate social skills, who feel disconnected and alienated from their peer group, who are unable to initiate and sustain relationships, receive very little (or any) true benefit from their relationship to media/technology. In fact, many youth would benefit from being in an environment where they were completely "unplugged" from all and every form of electronic entertainment and media access.
Understandably, for many families with children/teens with special needs, the computer, video games, and other technology are perceived as an essential part of their involvement or connection to the world. Although youth with special needs are certainly drawn to media and technology, it is not the case this involvement is essential or important. The problem for many parents is when they consider limiting access to media and technology, they are confronted with a daunting problem: what will they do with their child/teen instead?
There is no question unplugging children/teens from electronic entertainment and social media will result in protests, complaints, and possibly tantrums -- while shifting responsibility to structure and plan leisure and recreation to parents -- which seem to be an impossible challenge to successfully navigate.
However, the conflict and rough terrain that lies ahead for parents who choose to significantly limit or eliminate access to electronic entertainment and social media is worth the effort, as it provides children/teens with social-emotional deficits the opportunity to live in reality and to become competent in reality, instead of living in perpetual fantasy. The ongoing involvement in fantasy via virtual reality is proving to be a major obstacle to social and vocational development that needs to addressed head on. 

Advice: don't waste time! 

Unplug and begin to create new experiences of pleasure and satisfaction separate and apart from technology.