[image by Jeremy]

More and more recently I have been afforded some great opportunities to work with parents around the issue of their kids and technology. There have been some great conversations taking place in the context of therapy, church ministry and some conferences and workshops I have been fortunate enough to play a role in.

Last night the National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families did a presentation at HPPC on kids and technology, and they asked me to sit in as one of the panel guests in order to help facilitate some of my own thoughts on the presentation and questions that parents might present.

Lars Rood, John Dyer and I did a technology presentation for parents at HPPC back in September, so this was really another opportunity for me to think through some of the primary questions that parents have been raising regarding this topic.

One of the things I have been noticing (and this isn’t different than other parts of the population at large) is that there are a few primary emotions parents tend to experience and express when the topic of their kids and technology is discussed. First, there is fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the negative possibilities/opportunities that technology can create for kids. Second, there is naivete. And I don’t say that as a criticism. Rather, it’s the reality–kids are always going to be a step or two ahead of their parents when it comes to technology. So that can create a naiveness on the part of parents. They just may not know what technological tools or social media venues are available to their kids. Sometimes this naivete can put their kids at risk. Third, there is a feeling of defeat. Parents can feel so overwhelmed that they just feel defeated, often choosing to just ignore the issue and let their kids navigate the technological landscape themselves.

These are some of the observations I have made, and I know there are probably more. When you think of these emotions (fear, naivete, defeat), they tend to be more negative and critical in nature. So what I really see as my job, mission and passion is to try and help either remove these emotions from parents, or at least–help parents understand some things about their kids and technology. And hopefully understanding will bring less fear, less naivete and less defeat.

So last night one of the things I wanted to communicate to parents are four reasons why I think technology plays such a big role in their kid’s lives. These are the thoughts I shared:

  1. Technology and the tools of social media decentralize and flatten the hierarchy: What kid doesn’t love this?  Not only do we like it as adults, but kids, especially teenagers love any tool that decentralizes authority and gives them opportunities to participate, rebel, serve, create, etc.
  2. Technology and the tools of social media allow for a participatory culture: Because of the decentralization and flattening of hierarchy, kids are better able to participate, and possibly more willing to participate.  An “architecture of participation” is something I have blogged about numerous times before.
  3. Technology and the tools of social media create an ambient intimacy”, or “ambient awareness”:I think people, especially teenagers find so appealing.  Teenagers are usually connected at the hip to their friends in person, so a tool that can extend that beyond the physical is appealing to kids.   And to adults as well.
  4. Technology and the tools of social media enable kids and teenagers to crowdsource easier:  Kids already love getting input from their friends–add teenage peer pressure, the desire to fit in and do what others are doing–and you could see why the ability to use technology to crowdsource is popular with kids.

Two years ago when I contributed to the book The New Media Frontier: Blogging, Vlogging, and Podcasting for Christ this was something that I had really just begun thinking more critically through in my chapter “New Media Ministry to the MySpace-Facebook Generation: Employing New Media Technologies Effectively in Youth Ministries.”  Two years later I realize that the stuff I wrote was a good start and attempt at the topic (more about principles of technology than specific technology itself), but I couldn’t have even imagined all the new and continued ways that technology and social media are expanding.  And because of that, my thinking is continuing to be challenged and shaped by all the new things that I’m learning.

All that to say…my thoughts are just some things I’m learning, and you might have some other great insight.  So please share with me what you think about the stuff above, and what you would add or delete in regards to it.