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Childhood in the digital age
Childhood in the digital age

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1.3 Why is technology so appealing?

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Figure 4 Why do children find digital technology so absorbing?

As Lydia Plowman suggests in the previous section, children are often very engaged by digital technology. But why is it so compelling for young children to spend so much time interacting with their digital world?

First, technology is fun. Popular social media sites, games and websites are designed to be as entertaining and captivating as possible. Similarly, a big attraction of technology for children is that they see their parents and peers using it, and a major part of childhood is ‘modelling’ the behaviour of those around them, particularly parents. This is because a significant mode through which children learn is by observing and imitating others around them.

Richard Ryan and Edward Deci’s (2000) self-determination theory (SDT) for what motivates people seems particularly relevant to untangling the reasons behind young children’s fascination with the digital world. SDT uses the idea that there are two different types of motivation, ‘intrinsic motivation’ and ‘extrinsic motivation’. The first refers to doing an activity for its own sake because it is enjoyable (Ryan and Deci, 2000), and this is thought to lead to persistence, good performance and overall satisfaction in carrying out activities.

Ryan and Deci outline three basic psychological needs associated with intrinsic motivation that can be applied to children’s use of technology:

  • competence: children succeeding in what they do and feeling that they can master a challenge effectively
  • relatedness: children connecting with others and feeling close to other people using online networking
  • autonomy: children being in control of their lives and making rational choices about how they use technology and for what purpose.

Although each of these three basic psychological needs may not be met for every child, the self-determination theory offers a good psychological basis for understanding children’s intrinsic motivation in using technology.