I'm sorry, again, for abandoning this space for a while. I'll save you all the long-winded winging (wingeing?) about work and family and preparing to relocate to a different continent and so on. Suffice it to say that I'm a tad overwhelmed. So, in the hopes of trying to bring my work life closer to what I write in this space, so that each can inform the other and I can feel less pulled in 10,000,000 directions, I thought I'd throw out a question to all you fabulous, thoughtful parents.
A bit of background: I've been doing some very preliminary research on the social and emotional (as well as cognitive) implications of children growing up online/plugged in/tech savvy. Among other core questions, I've been asking myself the following basic question: What are the social and emotional differences between digital "natives" (those who have grown up never knowing a world without the internet) and digital "immigrants" (most of us basically, those who may have whole-heartedly adopted technology and the use of the internet, but who have NOT grown up with it)? The distinction between digital native and immigrant was made by Marc Prensky, an innovative thinker in my mind (among other things, he works on trying to figure out how "gaming" can be used for educational purposes and how students', teachers' and parents' learning goals may best be met by harnessing the characteristics and benefits of online gaming).
There is some, but precious little, research on the real hard-core questions about children's online lives. Most of the developmental research has focused on self-reports of children's time spent on Facebook and other social media outlets. I find the implications of growing up with online social media fascinating, but I'm bored by the types of self-report, questionnaire studies that simply ask kids to report what they're doing in these spaces. I'd like to think more along the lines of the potentially massive social, cognitive and emotional implications and to start designing studies that DON'T rely on self-reports. There are massive changes that are being introduced or proposed to boards of education and to parents alike — most of these recommendations or proposals will be implemented with almost no research to back up their implications. Here's just one example of reforms proposed for reading and the like in the UK. So there's no time to lose in terms of asking new questions about the online worlds of our children. Here are some of the things I'm wondering about. I'd love to hear your feedback on how important you think these questions are. Even more interesting to me would be to hear about what you wonder about when it comes to your own children's development and how they're influenced by technology and the internet.
- Are digital natives (our children) more comfortable with uncertainty than we are?
- Do our children have shorter attention spans? Do they have a harder time sustaining attention to one task?
- When asked to think about a problem, do our children tend to think more "actively" (pointing and clicking away in trial and error sort of way towards an answer) rather than more "contemplatively" (taking time to sit back and simply think, without pursuing information outside of the self)?
- Are our children able to remember less than we do (possibly due to the many prosthetics we use… but maybe not, we've been using calendars and notebooks for a long, long time)?
- Do our children feel more or less connected to a community than we do? How does this sense of community, if it does exist, impact on feelings of civic responsibility, political values, and so on?
- Are our children more or less lonely than we were during adolescence?
- Are friendships that were formed online any different than "real life" friendships for "natives?" Does the nature of online friendships differ for digital natives vs immigrants?
- What are the essential "literacies" of the information/online age? (e.g., critical thinking skills, self-direction, focus, communication skills, programming)? How different are these from the essential skills that digital immigrants needed to cultivate?
- What do/will our children consider "private" vs "public"? Is this different for natives vs immigrants?
- How do social hierarchies form online? Do these social hierarchies (status levels) mimic the ones in the playground/schoolyard/hallways?
I have tons more, but I'll stop now. You can see I'm all over the place in terms of my interest in this very broad field (or very narrow, depending on your perspective). What do you think? Do you think your children will think fundamentally different than you did because they will be growing up "digital?" Or do you think that the online world won't make such a huge impact on the basics of development? What do you wonder about in terms of your own children's development and their online involvement?