Teens and tweens are using online forums to create their own digital version of the neighborhood playground, but while they’re online they’re also learning how to navigate social relationships and enhancing technical skills.
A three-year study of how U.S. teens use digital media showed that while it’s changing how kids learn, play and socialize, there are many positives to their use of technology. The study, funded by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, published its results recently.
"What we found was that what kids were doing was not that different than what parents were doing, but there were a lot of myths and misperceptions, for instance that kids are being lazy and not playing outside," says Heather Horst, one of the University of California, Irvine researchers who helped conduct the study. "One of our arguments is that while it doesn’t always look productive in the adult sense, they’re actually learning very basic social and technological skills that they need to participate in today’s society."
The study also found that in spite of the ongoing perception about strangers and predators online, there wasn’t much evidence that this was a danger for most kids. "We found that kids, as a general rule, found talking to adults online ‘creepy.’ They weren’t seeking out other people, they weren’t looking for strangers. They basically were hanging out with kids in their community network," Horst says.
Based on the study, the researchers suggest parents take some time to learn more about what their kids are doing online rather than banning the Internet. "We’re encouraging parents to take on a supporting role," Horst says. "It’s giving them the space to explore, but at the same time keep conversations going. There’s a lot parents can learn about what they’re doing. This isn’t going to go away so it’s better to learn and appreciate online participation and the value of being able to go online."
For more information about the study, visit digitalyouth.ischool.berkeley.edu.