Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Teens Use of Social Media Change Their Parent's World

Do you really know your teen? Do you have a functional relationship or is it just a culinary or financial one? Are you able to communicate your values and experiences and have a young person be receptive to listening to you? Don't be too quick to answer.

Last week I tried to explain how adults consciously and unconsciously transmit cultural values to the next generation. Some of those tools available involved dance, music, theater, books and movies. Adults use this type of content to show examples of our aspirations, goals and values. Adults are living beacons or transmitters of cultural knowledge and community, whether you have kids or not.

This might become an increasing battle to transmit what we know to young people who are  learning, adaptation and in control of technology and social media. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is exploring how digital media is changing young people.

Young people are developing and using online social networks.  They are developing their own peer valued communities. Some of these online communities teens visit have provide more of an emotional connection than they have to their parents. This is more than “cliques”, is is the establishment of communities that serve their intellectual, emotional and entertainment needs. Teens create and have their own self-defined cultural benchmarks. They may not be the same as yours.

What would you do if you could not only dream a world but create your own virtual communities? That is happening and attention needs to be paid to this change in communication and socialization modes. This will impact all of our lives as we get older and the society is transformed. But there are so many questions.

The MacArthur Foundation has completed an extensive study on how teens spend their time online and produced a report. The Foundation looked at the importance of teen peer community, education and self directed learning. There are some clues as to how parents and adults can make connections with this group.  You can download a two page overview of the study or dive in and read an extensive white paper produced by The Foundation.

Teen Peer Communities

Were you that kid who was on the outside of the in-crowd?  You survived but you never fit in? Now what if that same kid today could find his or her peer group online? Communities that share interests that nobody around their immediate area shared.  A teenager could find out very quickly that they are not the only ones that feel the way they do.

Peer based community emotional support about body image, video games, ecology concerns or sexual orientation.  I’m not trying to say that online peer groups are better or safer than real world, I do have concerns. But teen online peer communities broaden the ability to connect with an accepting community or culture. That could be a very good thing for a lonely young person.

Education and Self-Directed Learning

One of my biggest concerns with education today is the persistence of teaching 21st century people with 19th century methods.  Teens have access to instantaneous communication via Twitter, Instant Messaging, cell phone voice and video and new technology being created everyday. Young people create mash-up projects, meet-ups and collaborate on a host of projects, some of them are even academic in nature.

Then they go to school and listen to a top down recitation of facts that will be on a test.  Then they will listen to more facts and mimic the answers on the next test. According to The Foundation, teens are performing online self directed learning, going as deep and as wide as they need or want to study. They often share their research with their peer community.  They blog, the create videos and they Twitter.

In this video, Mizuko Ito, Lead Researcher on the project, talks about how today’s teens are similar and how they are different. She also talks about how we can better prepare them educationally and, by extension, for the world ahead.

One place where there are certainly paying attention to the changes is YALSA – the Young Adult Library Services Association. It is a part of the American Library Association and YALSA looks at ways to engage young patrons to come to the library. Not necessarily by having them come into the physical building; it might be an online presence or contact with an “Ask A Librarian” resource.  

On the YALSA blog,  they talk about outreach, connections and  trying to adapt library services to fit the current interests and needs of this population. If that takes a game night or a Anime conversation in order to nurture future patrons then the better libraries might consider this a good investment. 

Help For the Dusties – Finding Help & Support

Over at Parenting Teens The Modern Teen Connection blog, Carol Taber lays out the modern predicament with 4 teens and electronic desires unfulfilled:

Our children do not see us at the epitome of electronic/car blessedness but as a decidedly underpowered family. I am kinda stunned to see all the stuff we use just to communicate, travel or to entertain ourselves.

For all of the technology teens still need a bit of supervision. It is a balance and GMN Parents blog post on Homework - The Supervision Of A Teenager makes a good case for keeping an eye on the rascals both on and off line. Sasha at Diary of A Crazed Mom is accepting the laws of reciprocity have caught up with her via her son. Not so much advice as understanding what goes around comes around.

Educationally, Amy In Education she describes an activity that had her students engaged in learning. (Hint, they actually had to perform a task and observe the results.)

Although the blog doesn’t seem to be updated anymore, Principle Kendrick offers a bit of advice on teaching teens:

Allow choice and student decisions. It may also be useful if you can be flexible about what the students do. If you can provide them with choice and allow room for their personal interests, you are likely to find it much easier working with them. You can also involve them in decisions about what you will do in the lessons and ask them to plan activities, choose texts, music and so on.

Adrian Rowe at Poiema Paideia wrote:

Studies have shown that children are prone to look for reason and intentionality behind most things. I especially have noticed this attribute while teaching adolescents. Students’ questioning about the reason behind activity is a good thing, and since much of my teaching has been activity based, I have not often enough used it to my advantage. I have thought it difficult to deal with while teaching students a skill I consider to be intrinsically valuable (especially when they do not at first agree with me). However, it should be something I actively embrace and encourage.

So, it isn’t like you don’t have enough to do but here is one more item. Know what you teen is doing online and the various methods they employ to communicate, share and access information.

Be sneaky. Ask for their help in showing you how to do something.

That transmission of cultural values works both ways.

More Resources from the MacArthur Foundation:

Digital Learning Initiative -

Futures of Leaning

This post originally appeared on BlogHer, where I am a Contributing Editor.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post. Perhaps parents need to monitor what their children does online.