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Today's children are being raised as ‘digital natives' in a world dominated by popular culture and technology. TV shows, computers, video games, social networking sites, advertisements, and cell phones too often have an unnecessarily strong-and negative— influence on children. But pulling the plug just isn't an option in a world where being connected is essential for success.
In Raising Generation Tech, noted parenting and new-media expert Dr. Jim Taylor explores how popular ...
Today's children are being raised as ‘digital natives' in a world dominated by popular culture and technology. TV shows, computers, video games, social networking sites, advertisements, and cell phones too often have an unnecessarily strong-and negative— influence on children. But pulling the plug just isn't an option in a world where being connected is essential for success.
In Raising Generation Tech, noted parenting and new-media expert Dr. Jim Taylor explores how popular culture and technology shape children's lives. The essential message from Raising Generation Tech is that excessive or unguided exposure to popular culture and technology is not good for children. Rather than offering the usual ‘end of days' scenario, Dr. Taylor offers a balanced and optimistic perspective that offers parents insights and practical information they need to ensure that popular culture and technology are tools that benefit their children rather than weapons that hurt them.
Six Messages From Raising Generation Tech:
"Raising Generation Techargues convincingly that children should be raised by their parents, not by popular culture or technology. Dr. Taylor tackles this difficult task with state-of-the-art psychological theory, the latest research, engaging anecdotes, and a healthy dose of sensitivity and humor.Raising Generation Techis a must read for parents who want their children to thrive in this media-fueled world (which means all parents!). Larry Rosen, Ph.D., author ofiDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession With Technology and Overcoming its Hold on Us
"Raising Generation Techwill be an eye opener for parents! Rather than offering the usual ‘end of the world' scenario,Dr. Jim Tayloroffersa balanced perspectivethatgives parents the insights and practical information they need to ensure that popular culture and technology are tools that benefit their children rather than weapons that harm them."Michele Borba, Ed.D., TODAY show contributor and author ofThe Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries
"The essential message ofRaising Generation Techis that excessive or unguided exposure to popular culture and technology is not good for children.In today's world, parents can't just sit back and play defense.Dr. Jim Taylor empowers parents to prepare their children for life in this digital age."Michelle LaRowe, Author ofA Mom's Ultimate Book of Lists,Working Mom's 411and theNanny to the Rescue!parenting series
Our children are growing up in a world that is vastly different from the one in which we were raised. Economically, politically, socially, culturally, and technologically, the world that we live in hardly resembles the world of just a few decades ago. Consider this: Facebook and text messaging, two of the most popular and powerful forces in the lives of young people today, didn’t even exist ten years ago. The Internet itself has only been in widespread use for around fifteen years.
The vast changes that we have observed over the past few decades are certainly unsettling for us “digital immigrants.” We may worry about what the world will look like in the coming years and long for a simpler and slower time (although the “good old days” were probably not as good as we remember them). At the same time, for our children—the “digital natives”—this crazy new world is neither crazy nor new; it’s just their world, and it’s filled with excitement and possibilities. Regardless of where you are standing, one thing is certain: there is no going back. Technology is an inexorable force that can’t be stopped, nor should we want it to be.
People, however, haven’t changed much. Despite the immense changes that have transpired throughout time, we humans are little different from our ancestors of thousands of years ago. That seemingly obvious fact may no longer be fact from here on in. New technology is altering us as individuals, changing our brain development and functioning, and as a society, reweaving the social and cultural webs (no pun intended) that encircle our lives.
The challenge for us as parents is to ensure that these dramatic changes help foster a better world for our children and that our children are well equipped to master the increasingly complex world that they will inhabit. This challenge is no small matter. As the visionary educator and philosopher Marshall McLuhan said almost half a century ago, “We shape our tools and afterwards our tools shape us.” That sentiment predated computers, mobile phones, and the Internet. As if looking into a crystal ball, McLuhan saw the future. For us and especially for our children, that future is now.
The speed at which technological advancement is occurring is so breakneck that we have little time to consider the implications of each new development before the latest technology takes root in our collective psyches. Only looking in our rearview mirror can we begin to understand how these new technologies have altered the way we think, the way we connect, and ultimately who we are. Only then are we able to judge whether those changes are beneficial or detrimental, but by then, it’s too late to undo the changes. The relentless pace of innovation forces us to play a constant game of catch-up that we have little chance of winning.
As someone who has serious concerns about the influence of technology on children (and on all of us), I’ll admit that I may sound like Chicken Little. Calls of “The sky is falling” have been heard throughout the history of technological advancement, for example, with the introduction of writing during the Bronze Age and the invention of the printing press in the 1400s. Yet, in most of these cases, these game changers have been boons to humanity rather than the end of days that those Chicken Littles predicted. Plus, we as humans have shown ourselves to be remarkably adaptable creatures who can readily adjust to the variety of changes with which we’ve been confronted.
The essential question is whether this pattern of Chicken Little reactions to technological changes is an appropriate response or whether simple acceptance of the inevitable is perfectly reasonable. If the metaphor holds true to form, then I would argue that, given the poor track record of calls about the end of the world, Chicken Little should be kept in his coop. At the other end of the continuum, though, blithe submission also seems misguided, particularly given the growing body of research showing that technology can have a negative impact on our lives. As with most things in life, the best answer usually lies somewhere in the middle of the two extremes. As the saying goes, better safe than sorry.
With this book, we can draw some compelling conclusions from emerging research and from what we see occurring before our very eyes. My intention is not to act as Chicken Little but rather to sound an alarm. My goal is not to repel technology; it’s to help you use technology and the culture it creates to your children’s greatest advantage.
The Power of Popular Culture
There has always been popular culture. Various media, however primitive by today’s standards, have always influenced the way we think, feel, and behave, and how we communicate and interact with others.
Popular culture has been defined as a reflection of the values, norms, and beliefs held by the people in a particular culture. When certain ideas, interests, or choices reach a critical mass within a society, they become widely accepted and proliferate throughout that society. Most people think of popular culture as the most common forms of entertainment, whether television, movies, music, or what’s on the Web. Those are really just the conduits through which popular culture is expressed.
Popular culture actually plays a vital role in maintaining a vigorous society and a healthy democracy. Collectively, a popular culture that is an expression of a society’s shared experiences has essential value and a beneficial function to that society. Perhaps as much as the rule of law, an authentic popular culture acts as a societal truth, a shared bond that holds societies together and communicates that “we are one.” Maybe more powerfully than the top-down government-provided glue, a genuine popular culture, created “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” acts as the real, bottom-up glue that unites diverse people into a cohesive society.
As individuals, a genuine popular culture instills a sense of ownership and empowerment in our society because each of us knows that we contribute to that culture. We are more likely to act in our society’s best interests because we know that those best interests are also our own. An authentic popular culture also gives us a sense of shared identity, meaning, and purpose that transcends differences in geography, race, ethnicity, religion, or politics. All of these then encourage us to lead a life in accordance with our culture’s values and norms because they are our own.
Popular culture was, until the electronic revolution, an organic expression of what the populace of a society found engaging and that had the unifying effect that I just described. Yes, forces outside of “the people” have always tried to sway the masses, whether through soapbox proselytizing or ads in early print media, but the influence of those forces was obviously tempered by their limited reach.
Then radio, television, and movies were invented, and the ability of inorganic forces to influence popular sentiment and, by extension, popular culture, grew exponentially. With this powerful new technology, this impact wasn’t restricted to face-to-face contact or small geographical regions in which newspapers and other print media were distributed. Its impact reached across miles and states, and now, of course, it extends nationwide and internationally. That reach has also changed what popular culture means.
With this ability to reach increasingly larger audiences, businesses saw these electronic media as conduits through which they could sell their goods and services. They also saw how they could directly influence a society’s values, norms, and beliefs in ways that would encourage sales and increase revenues. Advertising became more and more sophisticated in its ability to shape and, yes, manipulate the needs and wants of its audience. That impact has grown exponentially with the rise of the Internet to the point that, through the latest computer and communications technology, children (and all of us) can be exposed to these influences almost every hour of the waking day.
The result has been the loss of an authentic popular culture, one that is a reflection of what “the people” value, and the emergence of a synthetic culture that is driven by the forces of materialism and consumerism. As a commenter on one of my blogs observed, there is nothing popular about popular culture these days: “[Most] of what is considered popular culture is churned out by corporations…with the sole purpose…that we can be converted into voracious consumers.” We didn’t demand, for example, American Idol, Grand Theft Auto, or Facebook. They were created to make money and then marketed as “must-haves,” which, admittedly, the masses then embraced, and then they became a part of our so-called popular culture.
This synthetic culture not only has significant implications for our society as a whole but also has serious ramifications for how children develop. An essential purpose of popular culture is to enculturate children into society by communicating to them accepted values, norms, attitudes, and beliefs. The intent of this process is to prepare children to be functioning and contributing members of that society.
Yet, when children grow up in a synthetic culture that is far removed from the realities of society, they are prevented from learning what it takes to survive and thrive in that society. In addition, this synthetic culture isn’t nurturing, because it doesn’t care at all about children. It is downright disorienting to children because of the large chasm that lies between that artificial culture and the genuine and caring culture that they need to feel safe and secure. This unsettling experience is exacerbated by children’s inability to distinguish between what is authentic and what is manufactured.
This synthetic culture is also suffocating genuine popular culture, depriving it of the oxygen it needs to live and flourish. Today’s parents, who were raised in a predominantly authentic popular culture in which media and technology was less evident and influential in their lives (there wasn’t the ubiquity of TV channels, radio stations, magazines, shopping malls, and advertising—and, of course, there was no Internet), are the only link that this generation of children has to anything other than the current synthetic culture. What is perhaps more disturbing is the realization that, if this synthetic culture continues to dominate our societal landscape, the next generation of children may have no connection to authentic popular culture. What is now a clearly manufactured culture will simply become popular culture for future generations.
It is these forces that our generation of parents must confront while raising our children, forces that no other generation had to confront previously. The melding of this synthetic popular culture with technology has created a new world, one that feels so alien and different from the world in which we grew up. It is our responsibility as parents to help our children not only to survive but also to thrive in this crazy new world while preserving whatever authentic popular culture we have left.
The Power of Technology
A central belief that I want to convey in Raising Generation Tech is that technology may be the most powerful force in society today, and as the noted technology historian Melvin Kranzberg observes in his six laws of technology, “Technology is neither good nor bad—nor is it neutral.” Technology isn’t neutral, because it does, clearly, have an impact on our lives. The nature of that impact is what determines whether technology is good or bad.
When I speak about technology, I am casting a wide net that encompasses gadgetry both quite old and very new. Technology includes oh-so-twentieth-century media such as movies, radio, and television. It also includes more recent developments in computers (e.g., desktops, laptops, tablets) and communications (e.g., mobile phones, GPS). Technology, in its latest iteration, comprises the Internet, and the entire universe of information, connectivity, and devices at our children’s fingertips.
Technology influences your children (and you) both indirectly and directly. First, it acts as a conduit through which our popular culture inserts itself into your children’s lives. Popular culture has certainly changed over the past two decades, but the means by which it can reach children has changed even more. Thanks to the proliferation of communication technology, which has grown exponentially in the past twenty years—for example, the birth of the Internet, the proliferation of smart-phones, the emergence of viral marketing, and the explosion of social media—popular culture is now an almost inescapable presence in your children’s lives; it influences them more often, more directly, and more powerfully than ever before.
Second, as Marshall McLuhan suggested so presciently in 1964, “the medium is the message,” which means that, beyond the content that is conveyed, the medium itself has an impact by its very nature and unique characteristics. For example, the use of social media means that we have less need to interact with others directly. This distancing of communication has real implications for children’s development. If learning to communicate with others is a skill that develops with practice, children’s constant use of social media reduces the experiences they have with which to learn social skills. McLuhan asserts that we are so focused on the content of the technology that we neglect to notice the influence of the technology itself on people. This observation is certainly true today: we focus on what the technology provides (e.g., video, text messages, social media), but we fail to consider how the very act of using these advances shapes us.
All the developments in technology of the past two decades affect our children in so many ways, including cognitively, socially, culturally, politically, and physically. Researchers in such diverse fields as computer science, psychology, sociology, philosophy, and the neurosciences are only beginning to explore these medium-not-content issues and to study how McLuhan’s thesis applies to the most recent technological developments. Frighteningly, early investigations on the impact of technology on children have indicated that many parents whose children are, as digital natives, immersed in technology, don’t even consider the ramifications of either the content or the medium on their children’s development.
The Power of Parents
So what are we as parents to do so our children don’t become zombies of this synthetic culture or drown in the tsunami of technology that is overwhelming them? We can’t turn back the clock. We can’t raise our children in caves. We can’t teach them that popular culture or technology are evil, because neither is. Popular culture can be a wonderful source of entertainment. Technology is just a tool, and it is what we do with it that determines whether it helps or hurts our children.
At the same time, we can’t just sit back and let our children be influenced willy-nilly by popular culture and technology. To do so would be to naively believe that both have only benefits and no costs. To do so would put our children at the mercy of the manipulations of popular culture and the uncertainty and capriciousness of technology. Such an attitude would place far too great an onus on our children to decide which elements of popular culture they want to be exposed to and which technology to use and how to use it. It would place an unrealistic amount of trust in our children that they have the capacity to distinguish the benefits from the costs of popular culture and technology.
To add insult to parental injury, because of the growing impact of popular culture and technology, we just don’t have the influence over our children that we once had. In generations past, parents had an easier time controlling their children’s lives (in a good sense) because there were fewer outside forces trying to insert themselves into their families’ lives. Homes used to be largely impervious to the cultural “elements” (radio and television were the greatest intrusions); now, homes are largely permeable, with cable wiring and satellite transmissions breaching the literal and metaphorical membrane that exists between home and the world beyond its walls.
I also think it’s important at this point to define what I mean by children, because the term can encompass a wide range, from newborns to the late teens (in fact, they’ll always be our children, no matter how old they are). Certainly, it’s never too early to begin guiding and directing your children’s exposure to popular culture and their use of technology. For example, many parents these days give their children access to tablets and smartphones before they can walk or talk, whereas other parents actively limit this exposure.
At the same time, it’s never too late to exert this influence over your children. Because children don’t come with owner’s manuals, we often just muddle through raising our children without knowing whether or not our approach works, until it seems like it’s too late. But be assured that it’s never too late. If you see that something you are doing or allowing your older children to do is unhealthy, it is your right, responsibility, and absolute moral imperative to make changes. Of course, your children may not like those changes at first, but, as I will discuss later, if you are committed to the changes, your children will probably come around.
A Complex Relationship
The relationship among technology, popular culture, and children’s development is complex and difficult to define. Because both our boots-on-the-ground experience and research studying this issue are still relatively limited, there continues to be little clarity on the role that they play in children’s development. As a result, we cannot easily label this influence “good” or “bad,” “healthy” or “unhealthy.” There are, however, four questions that can help determine the degree of influence that popular culture and technology have on children and whether that influence is constructive or detrimental:
As we explore the role of popular culture and technology in your children’s lives, you should use these four questions to help judge whether popular culture and technology are beneficial or harmful to their development.
Children as Software
I believe that children can be compared to the evolving versions of software, which is why I chose the term Kids 3.0 to describe children who are optimally prepared to thrive in this increasingly complex world. First, because Raising Generation Tech is not only about the meeting of children and technology, but also about what seems like their integration, the metaphor seemed appropriate. I saw significant parallels between the development of software and children’s development. The latest versions of software are intended to be new and improved, with better functionality and fewer glitches and bugs. The same is true with the development of children. A key goal of Raising Generation Tech is to ensure that children’s immersion in this new technology results in their being new and improved rather than “buggy,” for example, children making bad decisions, or, even worse, having a “virus” that cripples them, such as children adopting bad values that lead them down an unhealthy road. Parents have perhaps the most essential role in whether children’s entry into this connected world of popular culture and technology results in a version upgrade (i.e., a meaningful and fulfilling life) or a software that crashes (i.e., a life of struggles and dissatisfaction).
That’s not to say that I extend this metaphor too far by viewing children as unfeeling, calculating little bundles of code. To the contrary, what makes children so receptive to the wonders that this new technology has to offer and susceptible to potential harm that it might cause is that they are vulnerable beings who are open to so many different kinds of inputs.
The evolution of the Web from version 1.0 to its yet-to-be-released version 3.0 also has striking parallels to the development of children. Web 1.0 tended to be static and one dimensional in its flow of information. It typically had a simple design and rudimentary functionality. Web 1.0 was also controlled by the relatively few who had the ability to create and provide content. Similarly, babies, that is to say, Kids 1.0, have limited ability to interact, and most of the information flows from the external world to them. Plus, they are relatively simple, with little or no “functionality,” and parents have primary control over what their children experience.
Web 2.0 is characterized by greater user participation and freedom, idea creation, collaboration, and democratization of content. Importantly, the Web became a social force in which people can interact with one another directly. It also opened the door to less positive influences, such as spammers and pornographers, who use the openness of the Web for nefarious and destructive purposes. In a similar vein, the toddler and preschool years are highlighted by the increased ability to actively participate in life’s activities, have a say in one’s own life, and develop more complex relationships. As they are exposed more to the outside world, young children also become vulnerable to less constructive influences from those beyond their immediate families.
Finally, Web 3.0—which, by the way, doesn’t yet exist but is expected to emerge within the coming decade—offers users total and continuous connectivity, with constant access to information, complete interactivity, immediate and widespread social networking, and a convergence between the real world and cyber worlds. By the same token, as children enter elementary school today, they experience a growing convergence between their internal world and the larger world of information, relationships, and popular culture. Their identities will become inextricably linked to and woven into the greater social fabric of this larger world.
Web 3.0 will also offer more bandwidth, which means that it will be able to offer more information more quickly to an almost limitless audience. As children develop, they too gain greater bandwidth, or the ability to process information of greater complexity with increased speed.
By the way, there is already talk of Web 4.0, which, I am quite sure, will have new, unforeseen, and even more challenging influences on how children develop. We as parents will have our hands full just dealing with the impending release of Web 3.0, so, as the saying goes, let’s cross that bridge when we come to it.
Who Are Kids 3.0?
There are certain qualities that children must develop to take control of the connected world in which they are growing up. This book will help you help your children develop these qualities, which have always been essential to children’s development but are perhaps even more important in this crazy new world. These very same qualities are threatened by the negative and unintended side effects of popular culture and new technology, and as a result, they are more difficult for parents today to develop in their children.
The sad irony is that many parents expose their children to technology early and often with the belief that it will better prepare them for success in the digital world. In reality, they are actually doing their children a disservice by causing their minds to become programmed in ways that actually limit them in both the digital and the corporeal worlds.
Think about the kinds of people you want your children to become. What values, attitudes, and skills will they need for this next “version” of life? Then look at the world they are growing up in, and ask yourself whether this world supports or interferes with the development of those people. Although there are many attributes that are important for children’s healthy development, the six qualities that I focus on in Raising Generation Tech—values, self-identity, thinking, relationships, health, and life—seem to me to be most vulnerable to the “dark side” of popular culture and technology. Not only are these six areas not nurtured by the connected, 24/7 world, but as you will learn from the plethora of research I describe in this book, their healthy development may actually be compromised.
The Birth of Raising Generation Tech
The idea for Raising Generation Tech emerged at a confluence of several aspects of my life. As the author of three parenting books, I regularly counsel parents on how to help their children develop into healthy, happy, and successful people. I also work with kids to help them find their way through the complicated maze that we know as twenty-first-century childhood.
As a frequent writer and speaker on the role of technology in our lives, I’m acutely aware of the nexus between technology and family, and I offer ideas to my audiences on how they can best leverage technology to their family’s advantage. As someone who is personally and professionally immersed in this technology, whether it be computers, mobile phones, the Internet, or social media, I have directly observed the influence that it has had on me, both positively and negatively, as a wholly assimilated digital immigrant.
Most important, as the father of two children who are growing up in this crazy new world, I have deep concerns about the role that popular culture and technology can play in their development. I want to ensure that this influence only contributes to my children’s healthy growth. As a result, Raising Generation Tech isn’t just an academic exercise of sharing my professional expertise and experience with you. Nor is this book about detailing the burgeoning body of research on the impact of popular culture and technology on children. More deeply, this book is a personal and family journey that my wife, Sarah, and I, like other couples, must navigate. This new world contains a cultural and technological landscape that is exciting, scary, and still largely uncharted. Like all parents, we must educate ourselves on this wired world in which our girls are digital natives and will lead lives thoroughly steeped in technology. We must make deliberate and sometimes tough decisions based on what we value, what we believe, what we have experienced, and what we have learned. This book is as much a shared process of awareness, discovery, understanding, and action with you as it is a guide on how to prepare children to survive and thrive in this crazy new world of popular culture and technology.
What Lies Ahead
Raising Generation Tech isn’t a comprehensive encyclopedia of all things related to popular culture, technology, and children. Such a project could conceivably fill several volumes. In addition, there are many topics—such as television viewing, video-game violence, sexting, and cyberbullying—that have been addressed with great breadth and depth in more focused venues, such as other books, websites, newsletters, and blogs. An Internet search on many specific topics will reveal a wealth of useful information.
Instead, Raising Generation Tech focuses on issues that have a direct and practical relevance to the in-the-trenches parenting you do every day, for example, the values that children get from watching television, the seeming addiction that many children have to their technology, and the physical health risks of too much screen time. These issues may not be fully on your radar as consequential influences on your children because they are so woven into your family’s lives and because they have a subtle and delayed impact.
Raising Generation Tech explores issues that are at the nexus of popular culture, technology, and children by looking at what the current research indicates and at what my professional and parenting experience has shown to be pertinent. In this book, we’ll examine what we know now about popular culture, technology, and children, and then we’ll gaze into a crystal ball to determine what we need to know in the coming years of your children’s lives.
My fundamental goal in writing this book is twofold: to help you protect and then prepare your children for this crazy new world. First, I want to motivate and educate you to protect your children from the toxic aspects of popular culture and technology until they have the maturity and capabilities to use the wonderful benefits of those things to their advantage. Think of it this way: you establish boundaries to ensure your children’s physical well-being because, for example, the risks of their running into the street are real and the consequences are immediate and potentially tragic. You should apply the same reasoning to when your children are, metaphorically speaking, at risk of running into the streets of popular culture and technology, because the possible harm, though less immediate, is no less significant. As a consequence, you must set appropriate limits on your children’s experiences in this always-connected world to protect their psychological, emotional, intellectual, and social well-being.
Second, you can’t protect your children forever; at some point, they will venture out into that crazy new world on their own. The question is whether you send them out ill equipped to survive or well prepared to thrive in this sometimes overwhelming world. I want to help you prepare your children for this digital world by instilling in them the values, attitudes, knowledge, and skills that will enable them to gain their benefits while avoiding their pitfalls. In summary, perhaps the most important goal of Raising Generation Tech is to offer you the information, insights, and tools you need to protect and prepare your children for this crazy new world of popular culture and technology.
I wrote this book to help you channel all of the positives that popular culture and technology have to offer your children while also helping you to mitigate the negatives, both obvious and hidden, that exist. The book begins by opening your eyes to the sometimes shocking presence of popular culture and technology in your children’s lives. I don’t use the word shocking lightly, but that was the word that best described what I felt when I began exploring the research on how and how much young people are using popular culture and technology today.
Part 1 of Raising Generation Tech, “That Crazy New World,” educates you about the presence and importance of popular culture and technology in your children’s lives. In chapter 1, you learn about the growing and oftentimes unhealthy influence that popular culture has over them. Chapter 2 details how much time children devote to technology, on what areas they are focused, and what specific aspects of it they are most involved in. Chapter 3 describes why it is essential that you instill healthy “defaults” in your children that will help you protect and prepare them for the popular culture and technology to which they will be exposed. And chapter 4 offers you my perspective on the kind of life that will enable your children to thrive in this crazy new world.
In Part 2, “Protect and Prepare Your Children,” chapters 5–10 look at the six areas that I believe are most affected by popular culture and technology: self-identity, values, thinking, relationships, health, and life. These chapters offer in-depth discussions of the latest research and practical suggestions on how you can ensure that these areas are allowed to be fully developed, and not hindered by, your children’s exposure to popular culture and technology.
Part 3, “The Hard Work and the Payoff,” focuses on more practical ways that you can protect and prepare your children for a life immersed in popular culture and technology. Chapter 11 emphasizes the need to do the job you signed on for, namely being a parent, and to avoid being expedient with your children and taking the path of least resistance. Finally, Chapter 12 describes who Kids 3.0 are and who you want your children to become in preparation for this crazy new world of popular culture and technology.
This Is Urgent!
It’s hard enough these days for parents to keep up with the latest popular cultural influences and technological developments. It’s downright exhausting to stay attuned to what popular culture and technology are on our children’s radars and what effect both are having on them. It’s nigh impossible to be able to separate the healthy from the unhealthy influences.
Yet we must look long and hard at the relationships that our children are developing with popular culture and the torrent of technology available to them. This juncture in our society’s history is critical because, given the unrelenting omnipresence of popular culture and the rapid pace of technological change, we simply can’t know how these wide-ranging influences and changes will affect our children or our society.
The Chicken Littles of this crazy new world fear the recent and impending technological advancements and believe that the sky will fall if these developments continue. This fatalistic attitude, if you buy into it, will only serve to paralyze you and prevent you from confronting the rapidly changing landscape head-on. At the same time, despite their strident warnings, these alarmists don’t actually have any practical suggestions on how to prevent this supposed Armageddon. As I noted earlier, you can’t stop or control popular culture or technology, and you can’t readily decouple your children (or yourselves) from the “matrix”—nor would you want to. All you can do is make informed decisions and take appropriate action in the best interests of your children.
To bury our heads in the sand would be irresponsible at best and catastrophic at worst. We must recognize that there are heightened dangers and heightened opportunities in all that this crazy new world offers. If we get this wrong, we could very well live in a world of zombies who used to be our children!
But seriously, without closely scrutinizing the impact of popular culture and technology on our children, we could be exposing them to a variety of threats, including cyberbullying, sexting, inappropriate content, privacy concerns, sexual predators, and manipulative advertisements. Here’s a striking example: research shows that 90 percent of children between the ages of eight and sixteen have, often unintentionally, viewed pornography on the Internet, and one-third of sixteen- and seventeen-year-old boys watch online pornography regularly. How, for example, will young men’s attitudes toward women and sexuality change now that pornography is so readily available?
At the same time, this crazy new world of popular culture and technology is teeming with incredible opportunities. Social media, for example, offers children prospects for increased individual and collaborative creativity, social connections, community involvement, exposure to diverse people, new learning experiences, and the development of essential technological skills. Just imagine who the superhumans of the future will be. If we can understand and shape popular culture and harness the amazing technology that lies at our children’s fingertips—while ensuring that they’re used as plowshares and not swords—we give our children the chance to become those superhumans who will flourish as we move deeper into the twenty-first century.
This leaves several difficult questions that we as parents must ask: Can we tease out the benefits that popular culture and technology have to offer while protecting our children from their harmful influences? Can we really understand and consciously manage the technology our children will be immersed in while balancing other academic, physical, artistic, and spiritual activities? If your answer is, “Yes, I can, and yes, I will!” then your efforts will result in raising Kids 3.0. That, I dare say, is a gift that keeps on giving. If, however, your answer is “No, I can’t” or “I’m not sure,” then you are potentially opening your children up to a world for which they will be overwhelmed and unprepared.
Payoff of Raising Kids 3.0
Raising Generation Tech is not intended to offer you a Chicken Little view of popular culture and technology or to cause you to fear for your children’s lives as they become uploaded, metaphorically speaking, into cyberspace. To the contrary, my intention is to inform you about all that popular culture and technology have to offer—the good, the bad, and the ugly. I hope to provide you with the knowledge, insights, perspectives, and practical tools that will empower you to make informed decisions about your children’s use of popular culture and technology in ways that maximize its benefits and minimize its potential harm.
The payoff for raising Kids 3.0 is immense. First, you’ll educate your children about popular culture and technology so they see these things for what they are, namely tools that enhance their lives rather than forces that define them. Second, you’ll raise your children protected from these influences until they are fully prepared to use them wisely. Third, your children will be masters, instead of victims, thus enabling them to enjoy these tools to their fullest benefit while avoiding their many hazards. The ultimate payoff is for your children to develop into value-driven, happy, successful, and connected people (in the old-school sense) while also enjoying all that popular culture has to offer and gaining an appreciation for and becoming sufficiently skilled at using the technology that will come to play such a central role in their lives.
Part I This Crazy New World 23
Chapter 1 Popular Culture Today 25
Chapter 2 Technology Today 33
Chapter 3 Setting Defaults in Your Children 53
Chapter 4 An Unmediated Life Worth Living 63
Part II Protect and Prepare Your Children 73
Chapter 5 Self-Identity: Who Are They? 75
Chapter 6 Values: What Do Your Children Believe? 93
Chapter 7 Thinking: What's on Their Minds? 117
Chapter 8 Relationships: How Connected Are They? 145
Chapter 9 Health: Use It or Lose It? 167
Chapter 10 Life: What's It All Mean? 189
Part III The Hard Work and the Payoff 207
Chapter 11 Do the Job You Signed Up For 209
Chapter 12 Meet Your Kids 3.0 231
About the Author 293
Posted May 13, 2013
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