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Childhood in the digital age
Childhood in the digital age

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1.1 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 the term ‘digital device’ was 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 family discussion involving adults and their children on holiday together. Imagine the scene after a full day of physical activities some of the children start asking where their games console is and whether the campsite has a wireless password. The oldest child is eager to get online and post an update on Facebook. This provokes much discussion between the parents and children, with the main thrust being ‘why is technology so appealing’ and ‘how have technologies sharpened problems with children that parents have always faced?’

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

Some of the parents want clarity over terms, and this indeed is the point of the story, as we need to agree on definitions to use in this course too.

What counts as ‘childhood’? Among many parents, and indeed experts, agreement on this is tricky; but here we consider the 3–14 age range as our main focus.

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).

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