A couple of posts back I discussed the importance of school and district leaders taking an active role in facilitating discussions around the topic of students and digital devices. The reason for this is that the endless number of articles that have been written citing the dangers of device usage can create fear for parents who are playing catch up with the idea of ubiquitous technology. The two most common topics for these anxiety-provoking articles are the dangers students of connecting with strangers online and students being exposed to too much screen time during the day.
Fortunately, there are experts who have been dealing with this topic extensively who can give us concrete research on how much of this worry is misguided. In my estimation, the most valuable resource for school leaders involved in these discussions in their communities is Danah Boyd and her study surrounding the online activities and behavior of students. Boyd, who has been looking at this topic for over a decade published a brief article in the New York Times last week titled Blame Society, Not The Screen Time. Boyd puts the extensive use of technology in our society into proper perspective with the following statement:
"Even though multiple generations have grown up glued to the flickering light of TV, we still can't let go of the belief that the next generation of technology is going to doom our kids. We blame technology, rather than work, to understand why children engage with screens in the first place."
One of Boyd's major points in regards to causation of the need for students to lose themselves in the digital world is the fact that they are over-scheduled and have little time to decompress due to their hectic lives. "We're raising our students in captivity and they turn to technology to socialize, learn and decompress," Boyd noted. "Why are we blaming the screens?"
If people want to discuss how and why teens do what they do online and have a clear understanding of this activity, they must start by reading It's Complicated, a book written by Boyd after seven years of research which included interviews of over 150 teenagers. It is misleading to toss out personal opinions and paint an ominous picture about on-line activity based on a few observations of teenagers or a few headlines. A look at Boyd's work helps paint a much clearer picture of what our students are doing and why they are doing it. A faculty or community read of the book may also foster conversations between students and adults and help others realize a point that Boyd shared in her preface to It's Complicated. "I recognized that teens' voices rarely shaped the public discourse surrounding their networked lives."
We who consider ourselves educational leaders who value student voice have the power to help our students be understood on this critical topic.