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.

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