2.3 Forming an identity
Play and social interaction are key ways in which children begin to develop their identity. Chana Etengoff, a professor at Columbia University, suggests that digital technology has resulted in new types of spaces for social interactions to take effect (Etengoff, 2011).
Children can immerse themselves in digital environments with some anonymity, in a way that they can’t in real-world contexts. This can allow them to reinvent themselves and try out new identities that are different from how they are known in other spaces. Through virtual online play, children have access to a wider social community and can explore multiple aspects of themselves and experiment with social behaviours.
Children are very aware of what they want from digital worlds. For example, in 2008 the BBC created a virtual world, Adventure Rock, for children aged six to 12 and invited parents and children into the production process. Children identified freedom, self-expression, creativity and interaction as essential ingredients of a virtual world. They wanted an avatar which reflected their religion, culture and interests and they wanted a space away from adults where they could play with their identity through dressing up, could exchange views with others and could ‘rehearse having responsibility for looking after things’ (Jackson et al., 2008, p. 46).
If you are interested, you could read an extract from Jackson et al., 2008.