There is a growing debate in the world of technology. It has nothing to do with the development of fancy new e-gadgets, computer games, or apps.
This debate cuts to the core of who we are as individuals, families, and communities. It asks the question, “How does technology affect the healthy development of children and teens?"
Of course, no one really knows the answer.
But the question is an important one. And depending on which studies and authors you read, there is evidence to support the positives, negatives, and downright scary aspects of how technology may impact healthy development.
A new book by Jim Taylor, Ph.D., Raising Generation Tech: Preparing Your Children for a Media-Fueled World provides some fascinating insights on the debate. Taylor, a psychologist and adjunct professor, lays out the complex relationship between technology, popular culture, and children’s development, giving parents excellent data and advice on which to make informed decisions.
Who Am I?
Young people normally answer the question, “Who am I?” during adolescence.
As a developmental psychologist, I was particularly intrigued with Taylor’s chapter on self-identity. Teens solidify their identities during adolescence, as they begin to more fully understand their personalities, values, needs, and emotions. This journey happens as they interact in their social worlds.
Accelerated by technology, today’s social world has expanded dramatically for teenagers. Taylor argues that this acceleration “may be interfering with healthy development of self-identity in children.” He also suggests that technology has caused a shift from children being internally to externally driven. For example, he cites Facebook and other types of social media as facades where children must always ask two questions, “How will others look at me?” and “How can I ensure that others view me positively?”
When children are consumed with questions that propel them to be driven by external factors, Taylor believes that “healthy self-awareness and self-expression give way to an unhealthy preoccupation with what others think, impression management, and self-promotion.”
In fact, recent data supports Taylor’s view, suggesting that extended use of sites like Facebook can decrease a teen’s empathy for others and increase narcissism.
Larry Rosen, Ph.D. weighs in on the flipside of this debate in his book Rewired: Understanding the iGeneration and the Way They Learn. Rosen, a research psychologist and computer educator, sees Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms as developmental pluses for the tech generation. “Social networking is really helping them with who they are -- their identity in the world.”
Rosen argues that the internet and social media helps teens test the “identity waters.” For example, they can take on different identities, sexualities, and behaviors online and receive feedback from peers. In doing so, they can “practice life” innocuously.
If you ask teens how social media affects their own lives, they might side with Rosen. In my article, Inside the Digital Lives of Teens, young people report they feel closer with friends because of technology and are able to connect with a wide variety of people with common interests.
But despite this generation’s love of technology, we cannot yet answer the looming question about their long-term development merely by surveys that ask teens questions about their digital habits.
It will take many years of research to more clearly define the good, bad, and scary aspects of technology. In the meantime, it may be safe to say that some kids will be affected positively and some negatively.
Who will influence whether technology is good or bad for kids?
And that is a point on which Taylor, Rosen, and most experts agree.
"Shocking" New Data
In his recent article at Huffington Post, Taylor confessed, “Shock is the best word I can think of to describe my reaction when I read the results of the latest Kaiser Foundation survey of technology use by young people ages 8 to 18.” Even the researchers were surprised to find that children in this age group spent more than seven-and-a-half hours a day engaged in non-school-related technology. This represented a 2-hour increase in the past two years.
Indeed, this amount of technology consumption is scary. Why?
For healthy development to occur, children must experience real-life peer friendships and positive relationships with adults. They must overcome challenges and obstacles in the real world, learn from mistakes, and reflect on the adult they hope to become.
If they are spending seven-and-a-half hours a day engaged in non-school related technology, is there enough time left over to make the human connections necessary for positive development to occur?
While Taylor’s book, Raising Generation Tech, presents many red flags about the role of technology in children’s lives, it also offers a balanced and broad perspective from which parents will greatly benefit.
Raising children in a technology-infused world is more than understanding the ins and outs of Facebook, Twitter, and computer games – or about the digital habits of teens. It’s about understanding the relationship of technology, popular culture, and child development. Taylor brings these deeper insights to readers in an easy-to-read, well-written format that is sure to benefit children.
The key for every parent is to facilitate a healthy, balanced relationship with technology – being aware of its pitfalls and helping children integrate media into their lives in positive ways. This is the message of Taylor’s book – and is well worth the read!
Marilyn Price-Mitchell, PhD, is a developmental psychologist working at the intersection of youth development, leadership, education, and civic engagement.
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©2012 Marilyn Price-Mitchell. All rights reserved. Please contact for permission to reprint.
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