Teenagers learn important social, technical skills online: study
Your podcasting, myspacing, online-gaming, YouTube uploading children are not becoming socially awkward, violence prone loners, but are actually busy learning critical developmental, social and educational skills - in ways you may not appreciate or understand.
A three year study released today by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, reveals that not only are teens using the internet, texting, and IMing friends they know offline, but are using digital technology - gaming, creative writing, video editing - to learn, promote themselves and distribute their work to online audiences.
For the study, described as the most extensive ever conducted in the United States on teens and their use of digital media, researchers from the University of Southern California and the University of California, Berkeley, interviewed more than 800 young people and their parents over three years.
They also spent more than 5,000 hours observing teens on sites such as MySpace, Facebook and YouTube.
"America's youth are developing important social and technical skills online -- often in ways adults do not understand or value," the study found. "There is a generation gap in how youth and adults view the value of online activity.
"Adults tend to be in the dark about what youth are doing online, and often view online activity as risky or an unproductive distraction," it said, while "youth understand the social value of online activity."
The study found that teenagers "are navigating complex social and technical worlds by participating online" and "learning basic social and technical skills that they need to fully participate in contemporary society."
The study, which can be found online at macfound.org, identified two categories of teen engagement with digital media: "friendship-driven" and "interest-driven."
Friendship-driven participation centered on "hanging out" with existing friends online while interest-driven participation involved accessing online information and outside communities, the study said.
"In both friendship-driven and interest-driven online activity, youth create and navigate new forms of expression and rules for social behavior," the study said.
Cyberspace is like a big, exciting city for our kids. There are libraries, universities, museums, places to have fun, and lots of opportunities to meet people from all walks of life. But, like any city, there are people and areas that you ought to avoid and others that you should approach with caution. It's a parent's responsibility to make sure that their child is informed of the benefits and dangers posed by the internet.
There are plenty of great sites dedicated to educating parents and teens about online safety. Here's some tips from one of them.
1. You should keep the family computer in your living room or other communal area. Avoid allowing your child to keep their computer in their bedroom. You can then see at all times what they are viewing and this reduces the risk of them accessing material that is unsuitable.
2. Agree with your child how much time they are allowed to spend online each day. This will depend on the age of the child and how much they might legitimately need the internet for study purposes. Agree on the time of day they can access the internet also and make sure that they stick to the rules agreed.
3. Talk to your child/children about the dangers of giving out personal information online. If they have a profile on any social networking site, warn them not to include any contact details that could identify them. Encourage them to set their profile to private so that no unauthorized person can view it. You should also advise them to use a screen name instead of their own name.
4. Encourage your child to talk to you about any communication they have received or viewed online that makes them feel uncomfortable or upset. Warn them not to reply to any such messages without telling you first. Cyber-bullying is becoming a major problem, particularly for teenagers so make sure that you take any reports of such behavior seriously.
5. Warn your child against sending pictures of themselves to strangers online. Make sure that they understand that strangers on the internet might not always be who they say they are.
6. Make sure that your child knows that downloading anything to the computer can cause serious damage. They must always get your permission before installing anything. You should always make sure that your computer is well protected with anti-virus software and / or firewalls.
7. There are various types of blocking and filtering software available, such as Net Nanny, that can block access to certain types of site you might consider unsuitable. Check with your Internet Service Provider (ISP) to find out if they offer any parental control options that can block your child from downloading any objectionable material.
8. Bookmark your child’s favorite sites so that they can access them easily. This also reduces the danger of your child accidentally accessing unsuitable websites through misspelling words.
9. You should spend some time on the sites your children regularly access, either with your child or alone. You will then be aware of the type of material available and of how other users of these sites can communicate with your child.
10. If possible, encourage your child to use your e-mail address instead of setting up their own so that you can monitor any communications that they are sending and receiving.
So, let's chill out, parents, and learn to take control of the internet, for a more safe online experience.