strategic communication

“Write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow.” – Lawrence Clark Powell

Growing up in the Digital World

Looking back on previous posts about mobile use, social media, blogging, and technology tools, I now realize there is a generation that has been born into all of this. Children and teens today have always lived in a world of instant accessibility through the Internet. All of these strategies for going mobile and posting on social media are practically embedded in their brains from an early stage.

Alison Gopnik’s TED Talk presented some fascinating evidence on how children naturally use problem solving strategies. In one experiment, a four-year-old boy was asked to figure out how to make a block light up. The child actually tried five different methods, rationalizing aloud as he did so, and finally figured it out. The curiosity of a child is a wonderful thing, and it can be taken even further when using technology. This article on how the Internet is a major part of life claims that even if an older sibling shows a younger sibling the Internet, it is the younger sibling that becomes the “computer genius.” Another TED Talk by Sugata Mitra showed how children in India with no exposure to computers or the English language actually taught themselves how to browse the web and speak about 200 English words. Technology sparked their interest and motivated them to work until the reached success.

Children are quick to absorb technology. Almost anyone can share a story of seeing a toddler playing on a cellphone and figuring out how to open up game apps.

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With this instant exposure comes great responsibility for the guardians of these children. Parental control options and firewalls at school are some ways parents are attempting to protect children from suspect content. When I was completing my student teaching for my undergraduate degree, I constantly overheard students’ conversations about social media and the Internet. I used this information to create a lesson on the legitimacy of online resources. They were interested simply because they got to use computers in class, but the lesson is extremely important. Nowadays, high schools across the country are adopting the one-to-one initiative: one iPad, tablet, or laptop for each student. How can we deny children’s use of technology when it is being enforced in an institution where they spend most of their days?

The fact that I am enrolled in an online Master’s program shows how far technology can take us. I have had plenty of experience with technology ever since I was young and AIM was the coolest way to talk to my friends. I had no trouble transitioning to online classes, and those younger than me will most likely have exposure to online classes throughout their years of education. I have already seen many commercials for online K-12 schooling which shows how young this “online generation” really is.

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Elementary level students that use technology should use it in a way that promotes learning: reading apps, vocabulary apps, math games, etc. At school, teachers frequently monitor content when taking their kids to computer labs. One way to ensure young children are using the Internet safely at home is to bookmark their favorite websites that have been approved, and instruct them to go to the bookmarks to access this content. This prevents the child from having to type anything into the browser. As students enter adolescence, their schooling requires more use of the Internet. Research papers require the use of secondary sources, most of which are found online. It is absolutely crucial for all students to learn how to conduct professional and productive research while in school.

Outside of the fact that children are online for schooling purposes, there is, of course, the entire world of social media. Teens need a mode of self-expression, and have found the Web to be the perfect platform for it. Unfortunately, they are not protected by the privacy of a written diary, rather their posts and pictures are on the Internet for anyone to see. I remember when MySpace was huge. I believe the minimum age was 14 to sign up, and the site automatically made your profile private, or “friends only” until you were 16. Many students simply lied about their age, or just accepted every friend request that came their way. I remember making the decision to make my profile private even though I was old enough for it to be public. There were too many news stories about strangers trying to stalk people on social media. Stories like this still occur today, and it is important for children and teens to know so they can protect themselves online. Privacy settings have been a huge topic today, particularly with Facebook. Facebook has gone from no privacy, to some privacy, to it offering personal privacy settings.

Looking towards the future and how all of this relates to strategic communication, adolescents are currently developing their own personal brand on social media and personal blogs. They decorate their sites in a style that fits their personality, and recognize changing trends such as going from a colorful, sparkly layout to a very plain and simple layout. These adolescents post pictures that reflect their interests, and they keep up with their friends. They know what their friends want when it comes to online pages: comments, tagging, and interactive conversations. They feel they have to comment on other pages so that users will comment on their page. Major business strategies have been demonstrated: advertising a brand, keeping up with trends, and knowing target audiences.

Businesses will benefit from these technologically advanced youths in the future. Imagine a company trying to start up a social media platform. Recruiters for this businesses would quickly develop a pool of interested candidates, because that is something this new generation will know. There are certainly strategies to be learned for appropriate, effective practices online, but there are more people than ever who have online exposure than ever. These potential candidates can will just have to fine tune their previous knowledge instead of learning from the basics, allowing for more productive opportunities for the company.

Children and teens will continue to grow with technology for years to come. Parents, guardians, and educators must engage in open conversation about online use. We cannot protect them from everything, but we can try to ensure security through frequent monitoring and parental controls. There are no limits to what children can learn, and technology tools can enhance the overall learning experience.

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