In her BlogTalkRadio show this Thursday, August 14th, Amy will discuss kids’ use of technology. The show will focus on the decisions parents make on when and how much to expose children to computing, games and the Internet.
We offer a look at some recent studies on use of the Internet by kids as well as a personal inventory of how techie our own boys have become.
Children are at the vanguard
In an article on how parents monitor their kids’ use of social networks, author Mike Sachoff reports that one in four pre-teens are already account holders on MySpace, Facebook or Bebo. The lower limit for membership in those social networks is 13 or 14 years old.
Last June, Garlik—an online identity manager based in the UK who is also responsible for the QDOS identity ranking—commissioned the teen virtual world Dubit to survey 1000 UK children between ages 8 and 15. They supplemented this survey information with market research from 1030 UK parents. According to the findings, there are 750,000 underage members of the three large social networks, or about 23% of all UK children in that age range.
“Children are at the vanguard of the social networking phenomenon, using sites such as Facebook and Bebo in the same way other generations used the telephone.”
Tom Ilube, Garlik CEO
Their caretakers responded to that behavior. About a quarter of parents secretly log into their kid’s account to check online activity. A similar percentage admit to creating a second account for the purpose of spying on their children. Other findings from the commercial study include:
- 58% of parents claim they are more diligent now than they were a year ago
- 89% of parents have talked with their kids about the dangers posed by social networking sites
- Two-thirds of kids post personal information on their profile page, including current school and cell phone number
- 26% of kids aged 8-15 have strangers as friends
- 20% of kids have met strangers they previously only knew online
The Pew Internet and American Life project offers an additional longitudinal perspective on the growth of young kids online, as well as how parents participate in that exploration. A report released in April 2007 showed 55% of teens had a profile page and two-thirds of them restricted access to their information in some way. While the Garlik findings probably need better context to avoid coming off as fear mongering, safety is just one of the issues parent currently face raising kids in the Age of Web 2.0. Academic fraud, consumerism and cyberbullying are other areas of concern that confront parents as their introduce the next generation to technology.
Any dystopian fears about exposing kids to tech are countered by the more optimistic focus on benefits. Our (Western) world is so immersed in computers and mobile devices that not having early access to the Internet and Wiimotes may disadvantage children later in life. The creative and expressive tools available through computer, the ease of exploration, and the extended communities formed around niche topics of interest can help overcome limited resources or restricted educational policies in local schools.
An inventory of our kids’ technology
Our sons have a computer—a hand-me-down that only recently gave our eight-year-old Internet access. It sits in the main room of our house, in between the kitchen and Amy’s computer. The screens are visible, and we try to make consumption of the Web a social activity.
We have encountered two notable obstacles in this setup. The first is volume. Carter spends a lot of time on the Bionicle site, which features many movies with background music. He likes it loud. Our parents, regrettably speaking through us, don’t. Out come the earbuds, which addresses the noise but brings up a new issue of connectedness and shared experience.
The second obstacle is clicking on links. Many kids sites are self-contained webs within a larger web, with many clear warnings when you are about to leave the protection of their site. Facebook, YouTube and pretty much anything with site advertising offers no such indicators. We discuss the things he sees and explain our concerns, urging him not to explore YouTube on his own. At the same time, we want to demonstrate the freedom the Internet currently provides and how to discriminate between degrees of truth in its content.
Some precautions are taken. I do have to shield some of the YouTube content I might enjoy from the boys’ eyes and (mostly) ears while working from the living room couch. After a late-night screening when it was first released, however, the family enjoyed multiple viewings of Dr. Horrible. Carter and Amy play PackRat, and Archie loves watching Carter build things on Scratch and the LEGO Digital Designer.
Carter has accounts on a few social networks. We set them up, with a little guidance from him, and restricted who can view them. I am a big proponent of transparency and the ability for sharing to enhance your life, so use of these tools is encouraged. I am less comfortable gambling my son’s identity on emerging properties of an open system. A balance needs to be struck. He is currently working on creating a blog, and we have turned YouTube into a personal gallery for family projects.
After almost two decades of avoiding computer games, we are back in the mainstream with a Wii and plans to add Spore in the fall. I became sold on the Wii because of (a) it’s use of haptics and natural motion for input, and (b) the social nature of the games. Wiis are the new charades for family game nights. Not all of the games on the Wii have been as social as I would like (ahem, LEGO Star Wars) nor have the collaborative ones all captured the boys’ interest (ahem, Rockband).
Archie likes Wii Fit
Spore offers a different set of benefits. It is soaked in opportunities to educate on evolution, group dynamics, cultural capital, ethics, geology, and communication. Although it isn’t a social game, the stories of the evolution of creatures and the pair-programming style our sons typically employ to play computer games make it a communal activity.
In addition to his year-round campaign for Santa to bring a superpower machine, he is also hoping for his own laptop and cell phone come Christmas time. At age 4, Archie has been exposed to technology earlier than his older brother and has been able to experience its benefits in more meaningful ways because of a peer guide. Like his brother, Archie is practicing to read by selecting shows to watch from the TiVo now showing menu.
What is your philosophy on technology use by children?
We would love to hear your thoughts on when and how to introduce children to technology. If you are a parent, what are your plans and limits for your own kids? For non-parents, what kinds of strategies might you employ to address the issues of early adoption while still reaping the benefits?
Parenting for Humanity will be discussing these issues on their radio show this Thursday, August 14th at noon Eastern. Hosts Amy Makice and Lisa Stroyan invite you to participate in that discussion during the show, or post comments here.Tags: BlogTalkRadio, children, computers, discussion, Garlik, Parenting, parenting for humanity, philosophy, social networking, Spore, studies, technology, underage, Wii