One of the dominant opinions by youngsters (aged 8-14) during the CDEI pilot lessons was that they did not think that adults would be as open (and as technically skilled) as young individuals were when playing the Augmented Reality game that was developed for that project. A majority thought that adults would either try to avoid being open or would just lie when answering the game’s questions on online activities, friendship and love.
During the game many youngsters revealed that even though they were open while playing the game they were hiding information about their online activities from their parents. Many said they tried to avoid being friends with their parents on social networks online and, when they felt that they had to be friends, would censor themselves or start a second, hidden account to communicate with their peers. Many stated that they wanted privacy from their parents and at the same time assumed that their parents – or any other adult – would not be interested in their online activities and would condone whatever it was that they did online. For many of them, the online world was their domain from which adults should stay far. Ofcom research (2015) found for the UK: “Close to half of 12-15s (47%) agree: “I should be free to say and do what I want online”, with the remainder fairly equally split between those who disagree (28%) and those who are neutral or unsure (25%).”
The apparent reluctance by many youngsters to communicate with adults about their online activities as vented during the project pilots stood in great contrast to the willingness and need of the great majority of the participants in the pilots to talk about even the most intimate experiences they had online – see outcome 5. This situation was both intriguing and very relevant since one of the important outcomes of the large EU Kids Online II research (2011) is that the most effective instrument to further child Internet safety is an adult who spends time together with youngsters online and has conversations with youngsters about their online experiences. Therefore, communication between generations became a dominant theme in the projects following CDEI.
For the 2011 Dynamiczna Tozsamosc pilots a questionnaire was devised to test whether the sparse adult-youngster communication about online experiences was caused by trust issues. In the questionnaire youngsters (age group 11-14) were asked the same question as the first groups in CDEI: What would adults do differently when playing the Augmented Reality game? To that open question many students suggested as well that maybe adults would not be as open and honest and youngsters – a suggestion that was accepted by the majority of adults we asked later on at workshops and in questionnaires during conferences.
Another question in the questionnaire enquired what these youngsters would need to open up to an adult. All students answered that question by writing down a list of at least five criteria stating that they would need to feel trust, they would want to feel respected, that there should be a subject at hand that interested both them and the adult, that they would want to have a guarantee that they would not be punished for what they had to say, or that their words would be used against them at a later stage, and that there would be time available to communicate. To the question what students would need to open up online most students entered only one or two criteria, all of them boiling down to: an Internet connection and the right app – for this effect of technology: see outcome 5.
During the 2012 Dynamiczna Tozsamosc project and the Dynamic Identity project (age group 11-18) a module was dedicated to the question: To whom would you go when you experience something negative online? The question was asked in class rooms in Poland, the Netherlands and Greece. It turned out that in every class there are one to three students who would go to their parents. When asked why, the dominant answers were: “because my parents are smart/ understanding”, “because my father works in the ICT sector”, and “because we are really close”. Most students in every class room, on the other hand, stated that they would not go to their parents but would discuss their online experiences exclusively with their peers. No student mentioned that they would go to a teacher.
These findings are at odds with Ofcom research (2015) outcomes for the UK: “Eight to eleven year olds (94%) are as likely as 12-15s (91%) to say they would tell someone. The majority of both age groups would tell a family member (parent/ sibling or other family member), with younger children more likely than older children to do this (88% vs. 78%). Younger children would also be more likely to tell a teacher (18% vs. 13%). Twelve to fifteen year olds would be more likely than 8-11s to tell a friend (28% vs. 10%) or the website (6% vs. 0%).”
When asked why they would not go to their parents, many students explained that their parents were born in another era and therefore would not understand their problems. As one girl stated: “There was no WhatsApp when my mother was 15.” Many others said that the bad language and the rough jokes they used online would be a reason for parents to feel offended so that, when there was a problem, their parents would only focus on the language and jokes, and not on the issue at hand. As a result, according to them, parents would probably punish them by forbidding them to go online for an extended period. And this they wanted to avoid. A third, often mentioned, argument was that the students’ parents were simply not interested to hear about online experiences. A fourth argument was that, according to almost all students present during the pilots, adults played roles and were not honest. In their eyes adults mostly calculated. This argument will be looked into further in outcome 4.
In the Dynamiczna Tozsamosc 2013 workshops students (aged 14-18) were asked the following question: What would you want your parents to ask you about your online activities? About one third of the students answered by saying: “How can we help?” Others wanted their parents to ask them why they spend so much time online, or on a specific app, or why they publish so much about themselves. In conferences and workshops since 2013 the question was asked many times and the pattern of answers was always similar to the first round of answers.
During the Dynamiczna Tozsamosc 2014-2016 pilots (all age groups) instructors talked to parents who were convinced that their children were addicted to online gaming. When their children in a follow-up session were asked how much time they spend on average with their parents, not counting preparing homework for school, the answer by almost all youngsters was that they did not spend quality time with their parents at all. Their parents were either absent or busy working and even playing themselves on their smartphone, tablet or laptop.
In the Dynamiczna Tozsamosc 2013 workshop there was a focus on nonverbal communication. The reason behind this was that according to some researchers youngsters were losing the ability to interpret nonverbal cues because they communicate online so often. Ironically at the same time artificial intelligence is getting better in interpreting nonverbal communication.
Nonverbal communication abilities have no value online. But they are dearly missed (although the lack is somewhat remedied by emojis). Take for instance online magazine Mashable’s take on the subject: “up to 65% of our communication is nonverbal — which means it can’t be shared over Facebook. Larry Rosen is a psychology professor at California State University, Dominguez Hill who studies social media conversations. According to him, not only do we often feel disinhibited behind our screens, our bodies often simply don’t know what’s going on. “You don’t understand their context, their feelings, their emotions, all you have to go on see is reflected in your screen,” Rosen told Mashable. So when we can’t see what the other person is thinking or feeling, our brains do what they do best — make sh*t up. “We imagine they’re enjoying the conversation as much we are,” Rosen said. We imagine they’re enjoying this. … When our brains don’t know the context, they fill it in in self-serving ways — even when opposing evidence is tap-dancing naked in our face.” This could be one of the underlying reasons for the preference many youngsters have for asynchronous, online communication as was seen in outcome 1.
For every hour that youngsters spend online half an hour of contact offline is lost (Nie/ Hillygus, The impact of Internet use on sociability, 2002). Youngsters do not practice nonverbal communication online – only offline contact would train youngsters in picking up online cues (John Mullen, Digital natives are slow to pick up nonverbal cues, 2012; Mark Bauerlein, Why GenY Johnny can’t read nonverbal cues, 2009). Since youngsters have far less offline contact with their peers and their parents, youngsters do not learn to interpret nonverbal communication in detail and are therefore missing out on over half of human communication (Mullen, 2012; Bauerlein, 2009).
The results of this situation are potentially very serious. After having been online for longer periods of time, youngsters are observed to not look their conversation partner(s) in the eye in reality and to rather avoid interactive contacts (Mathiak/ Weber, Toward brain correlates of natural behavior, 2006). This is in line with outcome 1. In addition, some researchers do not exclude the possibility that the ability of youngsters to feel empathy is affected (Small/ Vorgan, iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind, 2008). And, according to Simon Rego, youngsters feel more threatened by reality – and react to this threat by showing more aggression.
At least some of these effects are noted by teachers. In an American survey in 2012 for instance 60% of the teacher participants stated that Internet causes students to have worse communication skills in real life (Common Sense Media survey quoted in: I. Quillen, Teachers report mixed impact of digital media, 2012). It is also noted by Dutch employers (Jolan Douwes in de Volkskrant, 2015 and a newsitem on the Dutch commercial station RTL, 2015 – both items directly inspired by outcome 1).
In the 2013 Dynamiczna Tozsamosc workshop instructors noted that youngsters, possibly as a result of being online often, interpreted adult nonverbal cues associated with shame mistakenly as signals of lying. This interpretation of adults lying then was a showstopper for many youngsters to maintain an open contact with adults, especially since many see themselves as striving to be honest and avoiding to calculate or to play roles (see outcome 4).
In the project Dynamiczna Tozsamosc 2014-2016 adults are currently asked in a questionnaire what they would want to ask youngsters about their online behavior but find hard to ask. The outcome of this research is expected in the first half of 2016.
From the projects an image arises that youngsters would want to open up to adults about what they do online. This assessment is confirmed by danah boyd (it’s complicated, 2014), a long-standing researcher of the online behaviour of youngsters: “By and large, the kids are all right. But they want to be understood.” Inc. writes: “Once you get them talking about something they care about, it’ll be impossible to get them to stop.”
Unfortunately, youngsters are held back in their contact with adults because of their, sometimes faulty, assessments of adults and by a perceived lack of interest in the subject by adults. In 2016 more insights are to follow on the adult perspective on this subject and on adult shame.
What is known already now about parents from research (Ofcom, 2015) is that parents think that they possess enough knowledge to help their children to manage online risks (around four in five parents in the UK) while more than half of the parents go online to look for information online or receive information on how they can help their children manage online risks. In the US 64% of the parents is quite confident in their ability to keep track of their child’s technology use. (USA – FOSI, 2014) 61% of parents think they know more than their child does about technology and being online, while 27% think their child knows more.
A (vast) majority of parents do not trust their children to stay online safely in the UK – in the US 93% of the parents belief that their child is somewhat safe online while 37% says their child is very safe online. Over 90% of the parents in some way manage their children’s use of the Internet, both in the UK and in the USA. A majority does so by technical means.
Ofcom describes the parents who consciously do not use technical means: “In 2005 the main spontaneous reason given by parents whose child used the internet and who did not have blocking controls or software was that they trusted their child, given by 48% of parents of 8-11s and 79% of 12-15s. In 2015 the main reason, from a prompted list, given by parents who have heard of but do not use the tools asked about, is that they prefer to talk to their child and use other methods of mediation, given by around half of parents. However, trust is still very important, with around four in ten saying they trust their child to be sensible/ responsible.” In the US 94% of the parents state that they have talked with their children about the pros and cons of Internet. According to 65% this is a regular recurring conversation. The Economist notes that as result a generation has sprung up “that is more closely watched and less free to screw up. “
Unfortunately, parents are not very good at assessing their children as Belén López-Pérez and Ellie L. Wilson found. “Parents of 10- and 11-year-olds significantly overestimated children’s happiness, supporting previous literature on the parents’ positivity bias effect. However, parents of 15- and 16-year-olds showed the reverse pattern by underestimating adolescents’ happiness. Furthermore, parents’ self-reported happiness or well-being (reported 6 months later) significantly correlated with their estimations of children’s and adolescents’ happiness. Therefore, these results suggest a potential parents’ “egocentric bias” when estimating their children’s happiness.” This bias seems part of a more general human brain bias – attribution error.
What is also clear is that parents are far from open-minded or positive about the Internet, at least when looking from the perspective of their children. Parents are mostly worried and stress the dangers of being online (Mediawijzer, 2015). And thus their messages are not taken too seriously as the International Telecommunication Union explains: “An approach that deals only or largely with the negative aspects of the technology is very unlikely to be taken seriously by children and young people because hundreds of millions of them are already using it everyday and they therefore know a great deal about what it is and what it can be.”
Many youngsters, on the other hand, are very sensitive with regard to criticism. Inc. states: “They look out for each other and their colleagues, making sure that nobody gets hurt unnecessarily. Unfortunately, this trait sometimes impedes upwards growth that needs to happen. Millennials need to work toward taking things less personally and thinking in terms of the bigger picture rather than on an individual level. As important as people are, we also have to keep in mind that, sometimes, constructive criticism is the impetus needed to move things forward.”
danah boyd (it’s complicated, 2014) sums the situation up in the following scene that illustrates her motivation to write her book on youngsters online: “As we were talking and laughing and exploring Mike’s online videos, Mike paused and turned to me with a serious look on his face. “Can you do me a favor?” he asked, “Can you talk to my mom? Can you tell her that I’m not doing anything wrong on the internet?” I didn’t immediately respond, and so he jumped in to clarify. “I mean, she thinks that everything online is bad, and you seem to get it, and you’re an adult. Will you talk to her?” I smiled and promised him that I would.”