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Childhood in the digital age
Childhood in the digital age

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1 A family discussion

You may have grown up in a world which was very different to today’s. Perhaps there were only a few television channels, or perhaps you remember the days of black and white broadcasting, when ’iPad’ or ‘Google it!’ were not in the vocabulary. But how different was your experience of childhood from that of today’s children? Do you think it was different in fundamental or just in superficial ways?

You’ll start your online journey with a scenario that might sound familiar, a typical discussion among families involving parents and their children on a camping holiday together. Imagine the scene after a full day of physical activities: some of the children start asking where their games console is and what the campsite’s wifi password is. The oldest child is eager to post an update on Facebook and share a photo from the day on Instagram. This provokes much discussion among the parents with their children, with the main thrusts being ‘why are digital technologies so appealing’ and ‘have these technologies merely sharpened problems with children that parents have always faced or is there something new to contend with?’ ‘Have these technologies radically changed childhoods?’

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Figure 1 Is family time spent away from technology increasingly precious?

Some of the parents start to discuss what ‘technologies’ and ‘digital’ really mean, and this indeed is the point of our story here, as we need to agree on what definitions to use in this course too.

What counts as ‘childhood’? Among many parents, and indeed experts, agreement on this is tricky; but in this course mainly focus on school-aged children, that is the 3–14 year age range.

Similarly, what is ‘technology’? And what do we mean by ‘digital worlds’? One parent has a very clear definition. She says technology is best thought about in terms of hardware devices and outputs. Namely ‘computer, tablet devices and mobile phones, and the outputs – such as DVDs, websites, games, and interactive stories – that are viewed, read, played or created on these devices’.

Throughout the course you should also adopt this definition but also add some ideas from an Australian researcher, Sue Bennett, which will help you to focus more on how children use this technology. Bennett (2012) suggests that technology refers not just to the physical hardware but also incorporates different functionalities such as communicating (texting, instant messaging), sharing (blogs), searching (Google), reporting (camera use) and socialising (social networking sites such as Snapchat or Facebook).

This campsite scenario has helped us define exactly what we are investigating. The questions now are what makes digital technology so compelling and motivating to use? And are we raising a new generation of children for whom technology is as natural as breathing?