What do kids use technology for?


There are several factors which influence what children you technology for. While it is easy to be critical of what they are doing right now, it’s important to understand each technology has a particular significance in their lives and is subject to ongoing efforts by parents, teachers and others with a vested interest to sway them in particular directions or to adopt particular behaviours. A decade ago, people were arguing Web2.0 would reform how children learn despite those technologies having no social history to speak of – aside from video games. A few did make videos or write a blog in the modality that made early adoptor teacher get excited, but most kids didn’t – and they still don’t.

There are four uses for technology in the lives of children. Each of these contribute to the over-used and under-developed concept of screen time: passive consumption (binging on Netflix, swiping through miles of Insta posts from streamers and pop-culture influencers etc.,); interactive consumption (video games mostly); communication (maintaining ‘your story’ on social media, tagging friends and belonging and content creation (streaming, recording, sharing and managing audience channels – Twitch, YouTube etc.

In school, I’d argue that very few children would conceptualise their use of technology in the classroom in any of the four, but instead tend to describe themselves as ‘doing work on the laptop’ or ‘going on Google Docs’ meaning that they still don’t connect the activities they are directed (required) to do at school with any of the things they would choose to do if left to their devices. Of course, I accept there are exceptions – however, my point is that ‘screen time’ is a term used to demonise children’s use of technology by a cadre of adults including parents and teachers who, for their own reasons prefer children simply did what children are ‘supposed to do’ with technology. As they appear to be unable to define what this is, we are left with headlines about ‘too much screen time’ and how personalisation will, in the future, make learning with technology more fun, engaging and effective.

From my stance – as a teacher – I’m willing to accept that the four things which make up just about all of their screentime usage stand well outside the activities I’m asking them to do. I am simply fortunate enough to be leeching off some digital skills and literacies that they have picked up so far, but this is far from uniform or consistent. I have to, therefore, accept that I am teaching them how to do things with technology that remain alien to them in their personal lives.

Most importantly, when they can’t do something (school tech task vs personal tech task) it is always MY problem and it’s a cop-out to hear people blame screen time. The school has never been in sync with children’s media preferences and technological practices in society – not before Web2.0, not during and certainly not now. As new tools arrive in schools, each teacher has to both learn the tool and figure out how to teach them to use towards any given learning episode. It’s rather ignorant to believe teachers are creating ‘digital citizens’ and that what happens in school should/could be transferred to ‘real life’.  What good teachers do is show students how to use technology well inside systems that increasingly measure thier ‘digital studentship’ while recognising children have a right to their own digital life and use technology in a modality that they find interesting or valuable – even if I don’t for second understand the humour in a meme or want to play a game that has little appeal to me.