Skip to content

The term ‘Digital Native’ was popularised by education consultant Marc Prenksy in 2001 to describe the generation of children who are growing up immersed in a digital world. These children demonstrate the ability to pick up almost any piece of technology and instinctively know how to use it. But skill with a tool and wisdom about how to use it appropriately are two very different things. Our children need to learn to navigate risks which are often hidden – and we need to learn alongside them. It can be hard to know where to begin, or how to set boundaries for something that you are still discovering. While there are no hard and fast rules, we often find that children and young people fall into certain stages of development that can help guide the way in which we support them in exploring the physical and digital world around them.

Our youngest children are learning to navigate the world alongside their parents. As we parent our children through the physical world, we take them to specific places which are designed with the safety of the child in mind such as parks and play spaces. Their digital landscape needs similar boundaries. Children are at risk of misunderstanding what they see and hear online through technology. They are vulnerable because they are more likely to take what they see at face value.

During this stage, it is crucial to use technology side by side with your child by putting strict controls around what they access and how they access it.

As children grow, we foster their independence by giving them the opportunity to be independent in both physical and digital spaces designated by us and within our boundaries. Children might be allowed to walk along the road to visit the skate park with trusted friends but aren’t allowed to catch the bus alone into the city. At this stage, the child’s curiosity and exploration often begins to outstrip their parents’ knowledge (“No, I had no idea the neighbours have 10 cats and an alpaca, thanks for sharing that”). The same rings true with technology; they will use technology independently but with the need for conversations and negotiation to ensure their use is appropriate with supervision from adults. This might be viewing what they’re viewing online, visiting digital spaces together, and including boundaries such as no social media.

By communicating clear boundaries, why they exist and allowing the child to respond with their own suggestions, there is space for negotiation. These boundaries will be seen as non-arbitary giving room for autonomy with shared values being developed.

Young people then move into a stage where they are more independent within the set boundaries, communicating where they are going and seeing independence as a logical reward for responsibility and honesty. In early teens, the challenges faced by young people change. This is the age bracket where greater levels of antisocial interactions are experienced online, including bullying. The desire for novelty and mastery can lead to more compulsive, prolonged use of technology, and the desire for autonomy can result in defiance towards parental figures in general, and particularly with regard to technology use.

In their later teens, they are more likely to run into the pitfall of technology as a mode of procrastination from responsibilities, with other risks being addictive behaviours and online gambling. Whilst these issues are by no means commonplace, they tend to be where adolescents run into difficulties around their use of technology.

For both of these age brackets, keeping the conversation open is the most important strategy for maintaining a good relationship and being able to see how technology use is impacting on your child. Conversation is important at all stages, but with an increasing emphasis on autonomy and learning from young people by showing interest. Conversations need to stem from gentle curiosity; asking probing questions about time spent online or engaged with technology in the same way that you would ask about time spent out and about with friends shows interest and allows you to connect with your child.

When talking about technology, it’s important with older children to get their opinion first, and to engage in non-judgemental conversation. One of the biggest risks is dialogue becoming a moral conversation rather than one about balance. When young people are using technology as a procrastination strategy or are demonstrating addictive behaviours which are beginning to impact on other areas of their life, it can be difficult to frame the conversation; it often ends with the young person feeling that they are being judged on how they use their time. When the conversation is framed in terms of the true end goal, whether that is focusing on priorities, increasing face-to-face social interactions or being physically active, the young person is freed to exercise autonomy in how they tackle the problem, and often ultimately come to the realisation that their technology use patterns may be unhelpful.

St Peter’s College is invested in the potential of technology to improve learning outcomes and experiences for our students. At the same time, we share many of the same concerns as our parent body; protecting and supporting our students and their wellbeing at same time as educating them, so that they might grow to be informed and aware young people who are capable of navigating the digital aspects of our world with wisdom and integrity.

Mrs Angela Norman
Head of Learning

Dr Mike Oliver
School Psychologist