Busting the Myths of the “Digital Native”

3 surprising beliefs you probably have about your child’s tech ability.

GUEST COLUMN | by Hilary Scharton

As part of an edtech company, I constantly see the amazing things children can do, and how quickly they can learn, by using technology. One teacher even went as far as to say, “Technology isn’t just part of their world. It is their world!”

This widespread presumption of technological aptitude feeds into the term “digital native.” A digital native is defined as a person who was born after 1984 and who grew up in the digital age (first coined by Marc Prensky in the 2001 article “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants”). Digital natives are also called “homo zappiëns,” which I find humorous. Digital immigrants are us older people who came to technology as adults.

In truth, “digital natives” don’t exist. No one is born with tech skills—they need to learn them. Our children are not fundamentally different than we are, and though they now grow up surrounded by technology, we still need to teach them how to use tech effectively.

Here are three myths about parenting (and teaching!) in the digital age, and solutions to those myths:

Myth 1: Children instinctively know how to use technology 

They use it a lot, to be sure, but their range is quite narrow, and not very deep. They’re okay at the basics (email, texting, surfing the internet, etc.), but when it comes to using technology to learn, it’s mostly passive consumption of information.

The EU Kids Online Report noted: “Children knowing more than their parents has been exaggerated … Talk of digital natives obscures children’s need for support in developing digital skills.” It also noted that “… only one in five [children studied] used a file-sharing site or created a pet/avatar, and half that number wrote a blog … While social networking makes it easier to upload content, most children use the internet for ready-made, mass-produced content.”

A survey from the Pew Research Center found that children probably know a lot about social media and usage convention, but are unaware of the difference between the internet and “World Wide Web” or what Net Neutrality means.

Solution: Time for Teaching

We need to show children how to use technology for learning real-world concepts and solving everyday challenges. Share your knowledge about how to access search engines, format documents, and embrace innovation. Through conversations about how they can consciously acquire more skills, your child will know it’s okay to not know everything about technology.

Myth 2: Children are good multitaskers

Children face increasingly packed schedules, and they’re more likely to multitask—with frequent task-switching and/or using different kinds of media at the same time. We know that’s hard on our cognitive load, so chronic multitaskers have a harder time filtering out the irrelevant and take longer to shift their attention. (Yes, I just said that chronic multitaskers are actually worse at multitasking.) Children can also get stressed because they try to make up the time they spent task-switching by working faster.

Solution: Find your focus

Help your kids learn to focus on other things the way they would focus on a video game or YouTube. As an adult, give them an example by turning off your instant notifications and putting away your phone from time to time. Finding the ability to immerse in something will be good for them as they grow up and encounter harder problems. That brings us to…

Myth 3: Technology (especially social media) prevents kids from having healthy social-emotional lives

All of us flourish when we pursue social-emotional learning, in which we understand and manage emotions, relationships, and feelings for others. Some research shows that using technology and social media can make us anxious and depressed. That’s true.

But technology does have its benefits when making social connections.

For example, technology enhances communication skills and creativity. It fosters a unique identity and attracts a diverse circle of connections, so kids have more respect and tolerance for differences.

Solution: Everything in Moderation  

The Pew Research Center found that young adults send more text messages than older people, but make about the same number of phone calls. That means they are actually communicating more by supplementing voice conversations with text conversations. The key to communicating through technology is moderation. Make your social interactions count.

What You Just Might Find

There’s no need to be intimidated by “digital natives.” You know your children better than anyone, and you likely know as much about technology as they do. Don’t assume that because they can fix your router connection, log onto a new social media app, or master an online game that you don’t have anything to contribute.

Technology is like a lot of things in your relationship; ask questions, pay attention, and provide encouragement during your child’s journey. You just might find that innovation is for all, and you’ll grow closer as a result.

Hilary Scharton is VP of K-12 Product Strategy for Canvas, an open online learning management system (LMS). She sets the strategic vision for product quality serving students and teachers across the globe, while focusing on leveraging technology to support improved instruction and equitable access for all students. Connect with her on LinkedIn


    Leave a Comment

    %d bloggers like this: