LSE - Small Logo
LSE - Small Logo

Sonia Livingstone

April 11th, 2018

Children online: Two books that accentuate the positive

0 comments

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Sonia Livingstone

April 11th, 2018

Children online: Two books that accentuate the positive

0 comments

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

In this post, Wendy M Grossman reviews two books: First, Screenwise by Devorah Heitner which provides advice on guiding kids through the digital world. Then, Worried About the Wrong Things by Jacqueline Ryan Vickery which urges more focus on the opportunities available to children online. Wendy writes about the border wars between cyberspace and real life. She is the 2013 winner of the Enigma Award and she has released a number of books, articles, and music. [Header image credit: K. Yeznaian, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

It’s hard to find anyone talking about children online who isn’t consumed with moral panic and child safety. In the UK, notable exceptions are this Parenting for a Digital Future project, as well as Andy Phippen at the University of Plymouth, and the former teacher Terri Dowty, who for years led Action on Rights for Children. Even Beeban Kidron’s 2013 admirably on-the-streets documentary InRealLife focuses almost entirely on the negative.

Two books from the US take a more positive view.

Screenwise is by Devorah Heitner, founder of Raising Digital Natives, which aims to offer advice to parents and teachers who are struggling to guide kids through the online world. The book is largely practical advice that focuses as much on parent-child relationships as it does on technology.

Heitner’s first piece of advice could have been written in friendly yellow letters: ‘don’t panic’. She walks through numerous dangers that children can encounter — not just pornography, but privacy, data-slurping, and plagiarism — and provides common-sense suggestions for dealing with the consequences. A key point she makes is that kids don’t always want the latest technology, and they do want their parents’ attention. As others such as Sherry Turtle have pointed out, parents often focus on their kids’ screen time while failing to notice their own.

Also, while so many focus on the material that kids share with each other, a bigger problem for many children is parental oversharing. Does every embarrassing photo have to go on Facebook so the grandparents can see it? Heitner’s approach of asking your child’s permission before posting their photograph is a good one: not only does it give them control over this aspect of their life, it also offers a model for how your child should treat the privacy of others.

In Worried About the Wrong Things, Jacqueline Ryan Vickery objects to the way all discussions of young people online converge on just a few topics: access to sexually explicit material, online grooming, and cyberbullying, which Vickery calls “porn, predators, and peers”. While acknowledging that these are concerns, Vickery sees bigger problems in unequal access. Like Heitner, she understands that kids vary as much as any other demographic group in their grasp of new technologies. 

One reason Vickery has that understanding is fieldwork: she and her group of researchers spent nine months in after-school digital media and film clubs at a school she dubs “Freeway High” — a diverse school in central Texas where more than half the students qualify for free lunches and few go on to university. Her work there included weekly interviews with students and additional interviews with parents and teachers; the team also collected observational data. Students like the ones she describes rely more heavily than richer kids on school computers, and the limitations imposed by the filters required by the Children’s Internet Protection Act fall more heavily on them as a result. 

Overall, Vickery recommends changing focus from the harms young people may encounter online to the opportunities they may find there. They are — or can be — active participants, she writes, rather than passive victims. As the UK heads into yet another round of “we must protect the children” this is important to keep in mind.

Notes


This text was originally published on the ZD Net and has been re-posted with permission.

This post gives the views of the authors and does not represent the position of the LSE Parenting for a Digital Future blog, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

About the author

Sonia Livingstone

Sonia Livingstone OBE is Professor of Social Psychology in the Department of Media and Communications at LSE. Taking a comparative, critical and contextual approach, her research examines how the changing conditions of mediation are reshaping everyday practices and possibilities for action. She has published twenty books on media audiences, media literacy and media regulation, with a particular focus on the opportunities and risks of digital media use in the everyday lives of children and young people. Her most recent book is The class: living and learning in the digital age (2016, with Julian Sefton-Green). Sonia has advised the UK government, European Commission, European Parliament, Council of Europe and other national and international organisations on children’s rights, risks and safety in the digital age. She was awarded the title of Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2014 'for services to children and child internet safety.' Sonia Livingstone is a fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences, the British Psychological Society, the Royal Society for the Arts and fellow and past President of the International Communication Association (ICA). She has been visiting professor at the Universities of Bergen, Copenhagen, Harvard, Illinois, Milan, Oslo, Paris II, Pennsylvania, and Stockholm, and is on the editorial board of several leading journals. She is on the Executive Board of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety, is a member of the Internet Watch Foundation’s Ethics Committee, is an Expert Advisor to the Council of Europe, and was recently Special Advisor to the House of Lords’ Select Committee on Communications, among other roles. Sonia has received many awards and honours, including honorary doctorates from the University of Montreal, Université Panthéon Assas, the Erasmus University of Rotterdam, the University of the Basque Country, and the University of Copenhagen. She is currently leading the project Global Kids Online (with UNICEF Office of Research-Innocenti and EU Kids Online), researching children’s understanding of digital privacy (funded by the Information Commissioner’s Office) and writing a book with Alicia Blum-Ross called ‘Parenting for a Digital Future (Oxford University Press), among other research, impact and writing projects. Sonia is chairing LSE’s Truth, Trust and Technology Commission in 2017-2018, and participates in the European Commission-funded research networks, DigiLitEY and MakEY. She runs a blog called www.parenting.digital and contributes to the LSE’s Media Policy Project blog. Follow her on Twitter @Livingstone_S

Posted In: Reflections