There’s a reflex negativity when people talk about teenagers online. What are they doing – for it surely must be something bad? And why are they doing it – for they surely can’t have good reason? And how can we limit their use – because it’s obvious that we must stop them doing this mysterious / pointless / boring / dangerous stuff? Teachwire reports.
However, this attitude shows a vast lack of understanding, which ultimately will fail the young people who will, whether we like it or not (and I do) grow up in a digital world. We need to understand – properly, deeply, in an evidence-based way – the benefits and the risks of online life. And to do that, we first have to understand humans.
Contrary to popular opinion, teenagers are simply humans. But every human has a context, provided by their past and present, and including their stage of life. Teenagers are humans in a teenage context. They also have individual contexts, but it is the teenage experience I’m focusing on.
So, let’s look at three particular things humans are programmed to be, and how teenagers might be more tempted by the associated rewards than adults:
Humans are social creatures. We need networks, even those of us who don’t actually enjoy groups. Exclusion from social contact harms mental health. Teenagers are forming new groups as they leave the family protection, and they are strongly drawn to conform to group behaviour in order to be allowed in. If their friends are doing something, they must be involved or they risk suffering. Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) is not a joke.
Curiosity gives us knowledge, skills and success. People who are passive tend not to succeed as much as those who are go-getting, including taking risks. Biology makes us curious, then, but I’d argue that teenagers, with less fixed thinking patterns than adults, may be more so – let’s encourage that, but accept that it may lead them to investigate things we wish they didn’t. And teenagers represent the greatest risk-taking group of humans (even though many individuals are not risk-takers.)
The bandwidth issue
On the other hand, if all this is about how we are wired for survival and success, what’s so bad about spending time with screens? Maybe teens should do even more of it? Well no, for several reasons, including the one that most affects learning.
Read more about the ongoing debate of teenagers and the internet and how we can understand and help them Are you losing your students to a life on the Internet?
Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin
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