It’s an embarrassing question; but have you ever asked a child for help with technology? Go on, admit it. I certainly have!

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/AntonioGuillem

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/AntonioGuillem

My 14 year old son is my first point-of-call for everyday techy assistance.
According to new Ofcom research, 14-15 year olds are the most tech-savvy people in the UK.

The “Digital Generation”…

The 14 and 15 year olds alive today are the first to have really  “grown up digital.”
They will have probably never known dial-up internet. They have grown up with broadband. As a result, the way they communicate is very different.
For example:

  • Just 3% of their communication is via voice calls on the telephone
  • 94% of it is text-based; e.g. texting, instant messaging and social media messaging
  • Only 2% of their communication time is spent on email, compared to 33% for adults
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The research…

The Ofcom study consisted of 2000 adults and 800 children.
Researchers measured confidence and knowledge of communications technology in order to calculate each person’s digital quotient (or DQ).
Like IQ, the average for an adult is 100. The outline findings were:

  • The peak age for confidence and knowledge of digital communications is in the “mid teens”
  • 6 year olds claim to have the same understanding of communications technology as 45 year olds
  • DQ score drops gradually between the mid teens and late 50s
  • From 60 onwards, DQ falls rapidly
  • 14-15 year olds communicate differently even from the tech-savvy 16-24 age group

Image courtesy of ©Ofcom

Image courtesy of ©Ofcom

So what?…

So, what does all this mean for our work with young people?

  • We should acknowledge that the internet and the online world is here to stay – It IS the context in which young people live their lives. It will advance further still; it certainly isn’t going to go away…
  • Get to know it – if we ignore advances in technology, we are ignoring a major shaping feature of our young people’s world. If we are to understand them and, more importantly, if we are to help them, we MUST understand the world they live in.
  • Old lessons, new context – the lessons adults have been teaching their kids for centuries still apply today. Safety, responsibility, kindness, honesty, respect… Young people still need the same lessons, only the context has changed.
  • Consult the experts – the best people to help us may just be the young people themselves. Remember, we KNOW what it is they need to learn, it’s the world in which they have to learn that’s changed. So maybe we should ask them?…
  • Boundaries – just as the lessons haven’t changed, neither has the need for clarity and guidance around behaviour. This applies equally to gadgets as to anything else. Don’t compromise on boundaries just because you don’t understand the gadget!
  • Join in – there is a huge amount of fun and laughter, learning and discovery to be had online. Playing games, exploring the internet, swapping photos, sharing on social media, etc. Don’t forget – being a kid can be great fun! As well as being the person who guides and corrects, maybe we should join in a little more, too?!…

These are just my thoughts. I’ve learned quite a bit from my 14 year old son and a whole lot more from my younger brother!
For me, it’s mainly about communication. Young people use gadgets for this. To understand them, we need to know something of the methods they use…
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Final thought…

Of course, we shouldn’t lose sight of the benefits brought to us by the online world. Like any advance in technology, it presents both advantages and dangers.
Rather than adopt a negative and worried stance about the online world, I believe that we should immerse ourselves in it, learn about it, use it and enjoy it. If only to make us better equipped to work with young people.
Maybe the best people to teach us about it are the young people themselves?

Your thoughts?

  • What are your experiences of teenagers and information technology? 

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© Jonny Matthew 2014