Viewpoint: Study of Digital Native Kids Gets Some Things Right
by Leslie Meredith, TechNewsDaily Senior Writer
April 23 2012 04:21 PM ET
CREDIT: Shutterstock YanLev
If you have teenagers in your house, you may have noticed differences in their attitudes toward technology. Your 17-year-old may have been around to beg for one of the first iPhones, but her younger sibling probably doesn't remember a time when they didn't exist. A new study breaks down the generational differences. However, as a mom, I find a few of the conclusions to be a stretch.
"Individuals at the formative ages of 11 to 13, those born after about 1995, were part of a substantively different world than the one that had shaped 11- to 13-year-olds over the preceding 15 or so years," author Tammy Erickson wrote in a recent issue of Harvard Business Review.
Unlike generations before them, these youngsters grew up with mobile technology — iPhones and iPads, Android and Instagram. By the time they reach 11 years old, half of kids have their own cellphone.
ne of the biggest behavioral traits of the Re-Generation, as Erickson calls them, is a preference for texting over talking. On average, young teens spend 73 minutes a day texting, Erickson said.
That jibes with my own experience as a mom. Recently, my just-turned-14-year-old daughter Elizabeth complained about her friends who insisted on calling instead of texting her. "I text back and still they continue to call," Elizabeth said. "Honestly, just text me back — clearly, I don't want to talk. Calls should be reserved for emergencies — like a big break-up."
Communication has become a group activity, Erickson wrote. Instead of one-on-one chats, these kids' conversations often involve a group's input. The Re-Gens entered grade school around the time that Facebook launched in 2004. Twitter followed two years later. Kids grew up wanting to be like their older siblings — Googling, tweeting and clamoring for Facebook long before they reached their 13th birthdays.
And parents had to follow just to stay in the loop, but social media is a moving target. As soon as I felt like I had mastered Facebook, Elizabeth switched over to Twitter and Instagram.
"No one posts on Facebook anymore," Elizabeth said. "If you have something to say, you use Twitter. If you have a picture, you use Instagram."
Children of the Re-Generation have also grown up with access to unlimited content and endless games — most of it for free, which accounts for their proliferation among young users, Erickson said.
Experts disagree about the implications of all this technology on our kids — some cite dangers, other benefits. Erickson drew some pretty scary conclusions that may be overblown.
By connecting through technology, Re-Gens reduce the need to connect face-to-face. She claims that many have friends they've never met with whom they interact regularly. Elizabeth disagreed.
"You only chat with your friends," she said. "Others may follow you, but you don't interact with them."
Erickson also said that this generation's wired lifestyle may be linked to obesity.
"Physical appearances can be replaced with avatars," she said. "The alarming epidemic of childhood obesity may be related to this generation's ability to hide."
As a mom, this sounds to me like someone who is out of touch with today's average teen. Last-minute runs through McDonald's have more to do with obesity than Facebook.
With guidance from an early age, kids can learn to use social media and mobile devices responsibly. But technology does not have to take over the family — cellphones at the dinner table? No way.