I went to the public forum presented by commonsense media and the MacArthur Foundation at Stanford last Wednesday and was pleasantly surprised by the range of information presented during the two hours, particularly that it was primarily qualitative. Sadly, after a 12-hour day I had to get home to kids and missed the reception, but the conversations started in the forum were very interesting.
Basically, the MacArthur Foundation, under the competent guidance of Connie Yowell has funded a tremendous amount of research about how digital technologies and new media are changing the way that young people learn, socialize, and participate in civic life. I should probably admit here that I am one who usually is arguing in favor of turning off the TV, the computer, the phone, and anything else that pulls teens away from families, free time, and old-fashioned "face time."
What surprised me Wednesday was that some of the character-building experiences I associated with real-time face-to-face contact may actually be occurring while kids are mixing music, making videos, or publishing on fanfiction sites. I found the "presentation of self" on social networks research by Danah Boyd (UC Berkeley) really interesting and wished that the research presented in the first half of the presentation was being integrated more by the media and technology leaders present in the panel discussion.
I walked away with two very strong feelings. First, more work needs to be done to connect different generations via media - children and teens need (safe, supportive, asset-building) relationships with older people to grow, expand their realities, and learn skills they will need in their futures. With media being second nature to the current generation, we need more tools to bring those of us who are older into the conversation, in a painless way, that does not make us feel stupid, I might add. Related to that, there is some immediate parent-education to be done about not only Internet Safety, and how to keep boundaries, so that kids are not forgoing sunshine, nutrition and exercise for excessive screen time, but also about the benefits of media, and how publishing a story on a fanfiction site, may be as beneficial to the self-esteem of a "non-cookie cutter teen" as being a star athlete is to another teen.
Here is the chest-beating: Parents need to start engaging in the media that our children participate in. We used to say watch the TV shows your kids are watching, listen to their music ... but the world has changed and now we need to add, visit their social network sites, read their online writing or blogging. Do not be afraid of appearing stupid - just accept it and move through it - our children need us present where they are learning about the world and themselves! We cannot fight progress!