As both a student of how humans use digital and social tools AND as a parent, this TED opinion piece by Alexandra Samuel about the different ways in which parents handle their kids’ use of technology is fascinating.
I’m an almost-40 digital native, thanks to my parents investing thousands of dollars they didn’t have on computers, dial-up service, new modems and classes for me. But how I enable my children isn’t the same, and nor is it the same for every parent and child across the globe.
My kids have grown up with their own personal iPads, a VR lab at dad’s office they can use anytime they want, and all three have YouTube channels. Meanwhile, they have many friends whose parents limit screen time. And other friends whose parents don’t let them access a single computer or video game device. We’re all over the place as a society, and this is creating new classes of kids that defy the “digital native” label that worked for Millennials.
In fact, Samuel says parents today are creating three new types of tech users: orphans, exiles and heirs…
Digital orphans have grown up with a great deal of tech access — but very little guidance. They’ve been raised by parents who’ve given them near-unlimited access to technology, yet their mothers and fathers have had few conversations with them about what they’re learning, seeing and experiencing and why it matters. So orphans might end up prioritizing online networks over face-to-face interactions, leading to shaky interpersonal skills. While they’ll probably grow into adults who feel at home on the Internet — they’ll suggest organizing cleaning duties with their roommates via a scheduling app, for example, rather than hashing it out over coffee — they might not think a lot about what kind of home they want it to be. And without reflecting on the consequences of technology, they could end up bringing some of the worst of the Internet into offline society (think: trolling, flaming), instead of actively working to elevate on- and offline life.
Digital exiles are at the opposite extreme — they’ve been raised with minimal technology. Their parents’ goal has been to limit their children’s access in order to delay their entry into the digital world until their teens, if possible — the age when kids are least likely to listen to their parents’ advice. Many exiles will throw themselves into their online lives with a vengeance, and they may struggle with finding a balanced approach to technology. They’ll become intense social networking users, as well the ones likely to get into various forms of online trouble. Other exiles, however, could continue following their parents’ lead and mature into neo-Luddites. This might lead to conflict — while society is willing to smile upon the grandparents who’ve yet to embrace texting, it’s unclear if this tolerance will extend to the young people who explicitly reject technology. Will governments and corporations be willing to offer face-to-face service options for citizens who reject digital channels ideologically? That’s the kind of question these exiles will force us to answer.
Digital heirs have impressive tech skills, thanks largely to their parents and teachers. Their adult mentors have encouraged and directed their tech education, enrolling them in classes and having conversations with them about being a responsible Internet user. By the time they go to college, they know how to build websites, and film and edit video. I believe they’ll bring this tech-savvy “maker” orientation into their consumer, social and political encounters, demanding digital and programmable products and services, like online publications that let you choose what content you’ll see (and where and when you’ll see it); products that go beyond customization into co-creation; and communities that enable citizens to create services by providing data, open online platforms and hack spaces. Due to their higher levels of tech understanding, heirs could face challenges in dealing with their less knowledgeable peers so they’ll need a little charm and flexibility to get along.
Samuel goes on to say that because how we use the Internet — what we pay attention to, what we ignore — determines the content and experience of the Internet itself, we are toward a clash of digital knowledge we haven’t yet seen.
How do you approach screen time, privacy, safety and emerging technology for your kids? Do you project those same values and assumptions on other kids? Good questions we should all be asking…