Monday, November 24, 2008

Study Released on Teens and Digital Media

Guess what adults...Social Networking isn't that bad after all...who knew?

Some people hear the names of sites like MySpace, FaceBook, YouTube and Second Life and immediately their minds conjure up images of cyberbullies, online predators, and online scammers just waiting to steal the identities of unsuspecting internet users. This blog also publicizes those dangers on a regular basis. Every now and again a story or a study comes out with the positive ways in which web 2.0 technologies are being used by teenagers. This past week, a New York Times article reported on a study released by the MacArthur Foundation. In the study, it was found that teens who socialize online develop important social and technical skills. In the article, one of the lead researchers of the study said that, "their participation is giving them the technological skills and literacy they need to succeed in the contemporary world. They’re learning how to get along with others, how to manage a public identity, how to create a home page.” Researchers found that teenagers tend to fall into two distinct categories of engagement with digital media, "friendship-driven participation" and "interest-driven participation". The teens that fall in the friendship driven category, tend to hang out and communicate online with existing friends while teens in the interest driven category seek out information from online communities dedicated to that particular interest. These online communities are usually outside of the teen's local peer group and can consist of other teens and adults from around the world. The study also shows that teens are very interested in learning from their peers online and that the internet provides a platform in which youth can submit ideas or work and receive feedback from people all over the world. These teens tend to explore new interests and tinker with various forms of new media. Through these experiences, they acquire new technical and media skills. The teens in this interest-driven category tend to become self-directed learners and invite feedback from their peers. A report on the study also pointed out this very important detail:

most youth are not taking full advantage of the learning opportunities of the Internet. While most youth use the Internet socially, they may overlook learning opportunities. Serious learning opportunities are abundant online in such subjects as astronomy, history, creative writing, and foreign languages. Youth can connect with people in different locations and of different ages who share their interests, making it possible follow pursuits that might not be popular or valued with their local peer groups.

It is always important for parents and caretakers to be aware of who teens are socializing with online and what they are posting on their profiles, but it is also equally important to encourage teens to be creative, take positive risks, and learn new things...just like they should offline.

An executive summary of the study can be found here.

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