I've spent a fair amount of time in this blog talking about the challenges of educating the next generation of youth so that they acquire the social skills and cultural competencies needed to become a full participant in the emerging media culture. Much of this discussion inevitably centers around what happens in school-based or after-school media literacy programs. But, as I wrote in Technology Review some years ago, media literacy begins in the home. Parents have an essential role to play in helping their young people make sense of the new media landscape and giving them the ethical foundations they need to make meaningful decisions when they go on line. Unfortunately, we offer parents very little guidance on how to perform those roles. Indeed, most of the advice literature can be reduced to a simple message: the less media your kids consume, the better off they are. I don't think this is very good advice for a number of reasons: it reduces media consumption to a social problem rather than recognizing the pedagogical benefits of actively participating in media culture. Such advice, which often talks about media in terms of 'screen time,' produces enormous anxieties, anxieties which in turn get fed by sensationalistic news reports, shoddy research, and culture war rhetoric from political leaders, until parents are left terrified of this online world that they often know little about and totally uncertain where to turn for thoughtful advice. I often speak to groups of MIT alum as I travel around the country and inevitably, no matter what the topic of my talk is, the questions circle around the anxieties these highly educated and thoughtful adults feel about their children's relaitons to mass and digital media. In many cases, even a little bit of information will calm their fears and offer them another way of thinking about these issues.
One of the best places for parents to turn for information about the world young people are encountering and creating for themselves online is a site called NetFamilyNews.com. Here's how the site describes its beat:
* Online safety and privacy news and tools
* New technologies and Web resources for kids
* Research about the impact of digital media on kids
* Legislation affecting children's online experience
* School and library Net-use policy
* How Web-literate kids, parents, and teachers are using the Internet.
Today and tomorrow, I am going to be sharing an interview with Anne Collier, who identifies herself as a journalist and children's advocate. Collier offers a sensible middle ground perspective on the issues which concern contemporary parents: she recognizes both the risks and potentials of these new media, helping parents to see past the sensationalism and focus on the matters they need to really be concerned about. Collier also recently published a significant book dealing specifically with social network sites and young people, MySpace Unraveled: What It Is and How to Use it Safely, and so many of my questions here are designed to draw her out about the specific issues surrounding children's involvement with Web 2.0.
I am excited to call this important online resource to the attention of this blog's readers. I hope you enjoy her down to earth perspective on youth and media as refreshing as I do.