A new study reveals that teenagers extensive use of digital media help them to develop important social and technical skills online. What may be considered a waste of time by their parents and other adults is actually creating crucial skills for their future in society (and business!).
University of California researcher Mizuko Ito says:
“It might surprise parents to learn that it is not a waste of time for their teens to hang out online. There are myths about kids spending time online – that it is dangerous or making them lazy. But we found that spending time online is essential for young people to pick up the social and technical skills they need to be competent citizens in the digital age.”
Beyond the Local Peer Group
The study was funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation as part of their digital media and learning initiative. The overall goal is to understand how digital media are changing how young people learn, play, socialize, and participate in civic life.
Over three years, a team of 28 researchers interviewed over 800 young people and their parents, both one-on-one and in focus groups. They spent more than 5,000 hours observing teens’ interaction on sites like MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube, as well as using diary studies to document how, and to what end, young people engage with digital media.
The researchers found two categories of teen engagement:
- friendship-driven: essentially “hanging out” with existing friends
- interest-driven: accessing online information and communities that may not be present in the local peer group
Will Online Interaction Create More Informed and Involved Citizens?
In addition to learning business skills necessary for the future, kids may be better citizens for their time online. At the same time they’re learning how to negotiate new kinds of social dynamics (permanent, public, and is always on) the study found that youth are connecting with people in different locations and of different ages who share their interests. This breaks down a lot of barriers and encourages young people to pursue interests that aren’t available or popular within local peer groups.
“Online spaces provide unprecedented opportunities for kids to expand their social worlds and engage in public life, whether that is connecting with peers over MySpace or Facebook, or publishing videos on YouTube. Kids learn on the Internet in a self-directed way, by looking around for information they are interested in, or connecting with others who can help them. This is a big departure from how they are asked to learn in most schools, where the teacher is the expert and there is a fixed set of content to master.”
There’s a lot out there for kids to negotiate. Remember that next time your teenager is fully engaged in her phone.