Born digital

(Archivists will forgive me for the title, I know it means something else to you!)

This blog was prompted by a tweet from @ThetisMercurio yesterday: ‘In some strange parallel universe toxic Sue Palmer expects parents to be more media savvy than their teenagers’. Thetis was referring to a webchat over on Mumsnet (I won’t start to comment on that organisation, because I won’t finish) about how modern life is (supposedly) damaging children. I am currently working with futurologist Richard Watson on his latest book on the effects of the digital age, where he talks about the ‘rise of the screenager’ and laments the loss of time and space to think, but he’s raising issues and trends rather than being heavily judgmental, as were so many of the comments yesterday. And he’s well informed.

What does amaze me, as Thetis’s comment implies, is how naive some parents are about what their children know and can do. Along the lines of ‘I bought a new computer for little Jake yesterday, but it’s OK, I turned on the parental controls’. But if little Jake doesn’t know how to bypass those, one of his mates will. Or ‘I watch everything Chloe’s doing on Facebook’. And then you discover that Chloe’s got an iPhone – what does she need a computer for?

Let’s face it, however up to date we think we are with what’s going on in the digital world, in most cases our teenagers have got there first and are far more able to negotiate and manipulate it (and us) than we are. What we need to do is give them strategies for real life that will help them handle danger in whatever form it comes. I well remember a friend of one of my daughters whose parents were incredibly strict and all the way through school insisted on ferrying her everywhere she went, picking her up at 11pm on the dot and even vetting the playlist at her 18th birthday party for such undesirables as Eminem. What happened? She went to university and was pregnant within the first term.

Yes, children shouldn’t spend all day in front of a screen, of the computer or television variety. But if you make something forbidden, they only want to do it more. If you let them loose with whatever the latest fad is, sooner or later they get tired of it in any case and their use reverts to a ‘normal’ level, however that’s defined. And if your children don’t have any knowledge of technology, they will be disadvantaged in both education and the wider world. Help them to use the communications tools wisely, safely and to their benefit, help them be sceptical about whether something’s good just because it’s new, and you’ll turn out happy, well-rounded young adults who’ll be savvy and confident, with an arsenal at their disposal to take on the world.

Rant over – now you can shoot me down in flames if you think my offspring are precocious little brats!

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