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
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