Many parents may ask that question upon reading this article over on the San Francisco Chronicle. Apparently, a recent study - the Digital Youth Project - concluded those findings after a three-year run, that playing "gab on Facebook" or online games actually do more good than harm (read the two-page summary here). Many people may disagree, and retaliate by saying that technology basics should come from teachers and parents; socialization should be a part of schooling and general neighborhood exploration; what kids learn from sitting behind a monitor is that people can put on a false persona and be anyone they desire.
But the report, sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation, contradicts those general ideals. It claims that "children should be encouraged to use the technologies to gain a certain level of digital literacy." That is definitely true, but MySpace and Facebook isn’t the answer no matter what the report indicates. Mizuko Ito, the research scientist who led the study, theorizes that children who can’t access those community sites - AKA the popular online diversions - risk becoming outsiders and unable to function in the "Internet Age."
That’s a tall claim, but considering the amount of kids who access those sites on an hourly basis, the truth can be hard to swallow. MySpace and Facebook not only have become online journals, but means in keeping up with friends by way for sharing photos and leaving messages. "There is this generational gap in thinking about the value that social networking brings," Ito told the Chronicle.
Mizuko Ito and her group of researchers interviewed over 800 youth and young adults, and conducted over 5,000 hours of online observations. The result of this study shows that "social network and video-sharing sites, online games, and gadgets such as iPods and mobile phones are now fixtures of youth culture." As much as many parents hate to admit, the Internet Age has assimilated the youth; the socialization children learned by playing at the school playground or from group gatherings at the mall have shifted to digital mediums that require only a PC and a chair.
"To stay relevant in the 21st century, education institutions need to keep pace with the rapid changes introduced by the digital media," the report states. It also goes on to say that youth using new media often learn from their peers; they don’t learn from parents and teachers. The report states that adults can still influence kids tremendously by setting learning goals, especially those "adult hobbyists" who could come across as a more experienced peer, and could also be viewed as a positive role model.
As for online gaming, it’s interesting to see the study shine a positive light on an otherwise dreary subject. Although Jack Thompson is no longer stealing the spotlight (a big score for gamers) there’s still government officials, parent-organized groups and other studies that say games on a whole are just downright bad. But when virtual environments like Second Life and PlayStation Home come into play, it’s easy to see both sides of the case: sure, kids need to get out and mingle with real, physical people.
But in a day and age where the computer rules the world and the default forms of communication is by email or posting a blog online, perhaps it’s time for parents to hang up the reservations in the closet next to the graduation robe and embrace a digital world that will not stop evolving, that will take no prisoners. Schools need to step up and get into the groove so that their students are learning from educated professionals that can teach them that Sandra might actually be a boy behind that girly avatar.