Another preoccupation for us over the last few months has been The Digital Media Study, carried out by Family Kids and Youth, and informed and helped by Marc Goodchild, Head of Children’s Interactive at the BBC, and Andrew Harrison, CEO Europe of Bestbuy and The Carphone Warehouse.
We are currently sifting through 6 months of ethnographic work that has included observation and filming of children aged 5-10 using digital media, sessions in-home, diary keeping, and observation and filming during the summer school holidays. All this is to be added to my previous doctoral study carried out at Cambridge University which was a 2-year ethnographic study with 10-14 year olds and their use of digital media. Our presentation on children and early adolescents’ emotional engagement with digital media will take place at the ESOMAR Congress in Athens in the main hall on Tuesday 14 September at 3.00 pm (see http://www.esomar.org/index.php/events-congress-2010-programme.html). The main report will be available in November. Marc Goodchild and I are also taking part in a BAFTA debate on Monday 6 September entitled The Good News about Social Media and the under 12’s held at their London HQ ,195 Piccadilly at 6.30pm.
Essentially, our message is good news. Children, we have found, are benefiting from their engagement with digital technology. Parents, as we found out in the Play Report (see previous postings), do express a concern about the time children spend with screen based media. Much of this might be parents’ concern that they are not actively engaged with their children when they use technology, although of course they could be. And we have found that many parents simply do not understand the technology their children are using, and are surprisingly reluctant to find out about it. So instead of engaging with their children, they tend to either ban it altogether, which could have social consequences for children (missing out on what other kids are up to), or they let their children get on with it. Both could potentially be harmful. There is a case for parents to become more engaged with what their children are doing online, partly to check that they are coming to no harm and that they are learning safe surfing lessons, and partly because otherwise a generational digital divide is created, one in which children and young people understand digital technology better than parents.
We have found that children can learn much from using digital technology, and that’s not just the ability to become familiar with the devices, but also allowing them to develop other skills such a numeracy and literacy. Many schools in developed countries recognise this, and are now using interactive whiteboards and computer technology in teaching. Children like to be allowed to find out things for themselves, and digital technology, the Internet and especially Google gives them huge opportunities to do just this – with the rider, always, that they understand how to stay safe. Never revealing personal information, never engaging in conversations with strangers, always reporting anything they feel unsure or unsafe about, even if it turns out to be perfectly innocent, should be a mantra for every child using digital technology. Children are having fun online, they are engaging in social interaction, and they are finding things out for themselves.