Teens and the Internet. Teaching good use of time and learning how to select quality content

Teens and the Internet. Teaching good use of time and learning how to select quality content

In June 2013, at the University of the Holy Cross (Rome, Italy), a licentiate thesis entitledEducating Adolescents in the Conscious Use of Digital Media was presented by the Ukrainian researcher Alla Kovalenko. Here we offer a few of the main ideas. So as to not encumber the exposition, we’ve excluded the supporting statistical data, often available on our portal with the occasion of other more empirical cutting research.

The global expansion of the Internet and the increasingly common use of digital media even by children and teens were the “motors” behind the research. The principle trait of the digital era, at the center of interest for this study, is the immeasurable accessibility to widely varied content. This in turn, implies the need for a greater attention to their quality, and therefore, the need to study both the effects of this new media and the development of rules for an enriching use.

The research focused on young people (children and adolescents): they have equal opportunities as adult to access a wide-range of information. This reality gives rise to the ever-pressing question as to how to protect these future members of society from unfitting - and sometimes even destructive- content. The study critically deviates from a negative perspective that rightly denounces certain marketing strategies in the digital realm; a view often found in the work of some scholars. It explores the boundless potential of the Internet that characterizes the current educational context. Following the thought of various authors in the educational and social fields, the researcher emphasizes that the Internet can become a beneficial means for formation. Technology, which can generate a negative impact, can and should be the cause of a beneficial influence precisely if measured and mastered by the human person: the origin and target of every educational process. The social and human growth of the person is the goal of education. If one is truly cognizant (not merely on the level of principles) the Internet can become an ally.

Beginning with the studies conducted on the positive and negative impact of the Internet and related media, Kovalenko tries to synthesize the ideas that link the greatest potentials of the web with the wellbeing of the human person. The study found that the Internet has a significant positive impact on the life and formation of the human person. It is enough to recall the simplicity and flexibility of current communication, accessibility to diverse content, creative expression, the economy of time and money, etc. It’s vital, however, to shed light on the other side of the coin: the implementation of the positive effects highly depend upon a reasonable use. Two main factors were identified as standards for a wise use of the digital media: quality of time and quality of content. This result sprang from finding that negative effects were often provoked by the disproportionate use of digital media in terms of time, or in terms of substance, such as content that impoverishes or damages the person. That is why the researcher sustains that it is absolutely necessary for each user to establish norms on how to use their personal time and develop their own criteria for analyzing content on the web.

The interesting aspect of life in the digital era today lies in the fact that people are always connected to the Internet through smartphones or tablets. Through these means, the majority of people in the world have a facilitated and instantaneous access to notifications through social networks, chats with friends, email and other applications. In such a context, personal time is no longer marked by rules and social customs as in the past, which is precisely why a disciplined use “adapted” to the social context is not enough and a self-disciplined use must be developed. Otherwise, the Internet easily becomes a source of distraction that depletes attention to the people around us and to the activities that require an exclusive dedication, such as professional work.

One of the most discussed topics of recent years was not omitted in the research: digital online games and their impact. There are particular studies on the positive formative effects of educational games, the so-called “good games”. Parents have to be aware of the fact that even this way of having fun can easily provoke dependencies and can generate a certain disinterest in communication and relation with other people. It would be wrong to disregard the tight link between the online world and physical life, in which the former has a great influence on the latter because the human person is a totality that acts, often simultaneously, online and offline.

In her work, the author reaffirms a conclusion that may seem to be taken for granted or stemming from her own subjective values, but is actually endorsed by the empirical research in the fields of communication, psychology, and sociology. Parents have a fundamental role, especially in the digital era, because the family is the primary place of socialization and education, where one acquires virtues and learns how to relate with others. Faced with the challenges set out by the new media, the centrality and solidity of the family emerge as ever growing needs. It is in the ongoing commitment of parents to dedicate quality time (attention, full presence that is not paralleled with electronic tools like smartphones…) with their children, thus building up hierarchical educational relationships. Parents’ authority is necessary for an ample formation of their children that not only deals with the child’s behavior in the physical realm, but also online. Without their example, the “message” of their parents will be perceived by their children as just more spam.

This study on the effects and possible ways of educating youth in a conscious use of the Internet demonstrates that, in the world of education, there are not only challenges “provoked” by the logic of the digital world but also challenges that respond to much deeper causes. The negative effects of digital media are closely associated to parents’ renunciation of their roles as true educators and formers of their children. The study consequently proposes certain guidelines and points of reflection for parents:

a) Given that the online arena is the most popular among young people (i.e. social networks), parents must get to know it well (privacy rules, their logic, etc.). If possible, they should be professional and conscious users of social networks. This does not mean to control their children, rather to learn how these networks work in order to teach by example.

b) It is possible to find formative and entertaining platforms and applications to propose to children. This avoids a fatalistic vision of the digital media through a critical approach that seeks to use the Internet as another means for formation.

c) The research demonstrated that the Internet has become the main place for the social life of young people and often the only space for interaction. The consequences for this type of behavior are varied and include addiction, closing in on oneself, lack of autonomy and lack of self-confidence. One could avoid such a negative impact through parents’ participative (rather than invasive) presence that manifests real interest for the lives of their children.

To summarize the main ideas of this study, one could say that in the digital era, in addition to being present in the lives of children, it is necessary for parents to have knowledge of the web and exercise a competent and virtuous use. Having thus the capacity to use and critically evaluate the content, while understanding the logic of the web, parents can accompany their children in navigating the web, promoting Internet study, and introducing them to a variety of usages marked by standards. The family can then become a kind of team where education in virtues and reciprocal promotion of human, intellectual and moral development takes place.