Chris Knopp was born in Balclutha, New Zealand and is an Assistant Principal at a Secondary School for boys, where he also manages IT (Information Technology). Chris has been teaching for 30 years and has also served as an Education Officer with the Royal New Zealand Airforce (RNZAF). Chris is married and has five children and one grandchild.
Becoming a Digital Immigrant: Our Kids and Technology
By Chris Knopp
A six year old folds a sheet of paper in half and creates a ‘laptop’ by drawing a screen and keys. Her father says “We didn’t make those when I was your age,” and the girl, puzzled, replies, “Why not – didn’t you have paper back then?”
The world most of us grew up in exists largely in our memories. We played outside all day without sunscreen, rode our bikes without helmets, sat down around a table for the evening meal, and often watched TV programmes as a family. We would walk or ride bikes to school (whoever heard of being dropped off in a car!), and once there, would swing on the jungle gym or play marbles with our mates. If we were naughty we got the strap. Some of us remember the half pint of milk (usually slightly warm) that was dished out daily.
At high school we wrote our essays by hand. Projects meant a trip to the library and tracing diagrams, maps, or pictures from books. When we were naughty we got the cane. Yet technology was beginning to change our world! I remember getting our first colour TV and thinking digital watches were pretty cool. Tape cassettes replaced those outdated 33 & 45 rpm records. In senior maths we began replacing our slide rules with electronic calculators. Our school bought its first computer (with 48K of memory) that some of us were allowed to programme. The next year the school invested in a dot-matrix printer.
While some of these specifics no doubt reflect my particular age, we all have our own versions of the simple, golden childhood and adolescent years. These experiences form a powerful mindset that we use to view the world. It permeates our work, our attitudes, our beliefs, our way of relating. It colours much of what we perceive to be good or bad, important or frivolous.
There is nothing new about this. It is the origin of the so-called ‘generation gap’. Everybody’s parents grew up with a somewhat different mindset to our own – which we all experienced, to a greater or lesser degree, as that ever-present slight disapproval – of our friends, our music, how we talk, what TV shows we watch. And even as we age – how we vote, who we marry, how we raise our kids. We all roll our eyes until one day we realise that we’re largely repeating the same things to our children. And usually verbatim! The world of our parents, and even grandparents, has not, in fact, been so very different to our own.
But what we are experiencing now is unlike any previous generation gap. It’s no longer just about the differences in maturity and experience that come with age. It’s not just the trivial disagreements about what constitutes good taste in music, clothes, or hair. The gap is huge. The gap is growing.
Much has changed – the landscape, the customs, the language too. And the digital natives who inhabit this new world are young, confident, and comfortable with their environment.
They understand barely half of what we say and are largely immune to the half they do understand. Though this of course applies both ways. Our antiquated ways of connecting and communicating with each other they find quaintly amusing. Their directness in revealing so much of themselves online, or their fearlessness in diving into new technology or situations we find at best naïve, – at worst abrasive, foolish, and arrogant. They observe us as curious relics – not with any particular animosity – perhaps as emerging modern humans once considered the Neanderthal. We are distinctly disconnected – two essentially disparate groups that happen to exist in the same time and place. And like the Neanderthal, this does not end well for us. We will ultimately become irrelevant and disappear. Our time is near done.
Is this a problem? Surely, this is just the natural order of things. Life will go on. A brave new world, or some version of one, will emerge from the exponential change we seem to be living through. The sense of disconnectedness or foreignness we might feel toward the young digital natives amongst us, might well inhibit us from passing on what we feel are important values – values we in turn have had inculcated in us by our own parents and the culture we have grown up in. How can we explain that complete openness of every last detail of our lives available to every person on the planet is not necessarily the same thing as honesty; that the 500 friends we might have on Facebook teach us nothing about empathy, loyalty, and friendship; that ‘liking’ posts about important issues is not service and does nothing to improve anybody’s life; that flitting continuously between a dozen tasks achieves significantly less than focus, determination and the valuing of ‘seeing things through’?
Being uncomfortable with the culture of the digital natives is, to my mind, not a justification for an abdication of our adult responsibilities. If we believe in the importance of the above values, or any others, we have an obligation to inculcate them in our children. But to do so, we need to speak the same language, we need to be visible in their lives. Today that means having a digital footprint, an online presence, or whatever other term you wish to use. We need to be comfortable texting our children, we need to be their Facebook friends and encourage other trusted adults to be so also. We need to learn enough about the technology our children are using to ensure their online environment is safe. The rules or curfews we once might have imposed as parents are still relevant but will have their technological equivalents too. Simple things such as no ‘screen time’ an hour before bed, or all devices (computers, tablets, phones, etc) not allowed in bedrooms over night. Setting up age appropriate filtering on all devices is a must and most importantly, continue to have those open and direct conversations about why such measures are important. I have included a range of ideas and resources in the links below that may be useful. However, the most important starting point is the understanding that engagement is required – we need to learn their language, immerse ourselves in their culture, connect with them in their own world. The digital native may be proficient in the use of their technological tools, but it is we, the digital immigrants that have an important part to play in directing how those tools can be wielded safely and serve our society well.
The following is from:
Up to age 10
Supervise your children until they are age 10. You can use Internet safety tools to limit access to content, websites, and activities, and be actively involved in your child’s Internet use, but Microsoft recommends that you sit with your child when they use the Internet, until the age of 10.
Ages 11 to 14
Children this age are savvier about their Internet experience, but it’s still a good idea to supervise and monitor their Internet use to help ensure they are not exposed to inappropriate materials. You can use Internet safety tools to limit access to content and websites and provide a report of Internet activities. Make sure children this age understand what personal information they should NOT give over the Internet.
When your kids are this age it might not be practical to physically supervise their Internet use at all times. You can use family safety settings in Windows 8 or parental controls in Windows 7 and Windows Vista.
Ages 15 to 18
Teens should have almost limitless access to content, websites, or activities. They are savvy about the Internet but they still need parents to remind them of appropriate safety guidelines. Parents should be available to help their teens understand inappropriate messages and avoid unsafe situations. It’s a good idea for parents to remind teens what personal information should not be given over the Internet.