Raising Generation Tech: Preparing Your Children for a Media-fueled World

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Sourcebooks, 2012 - Computers - 291 pages
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Today's children are being raised as 'digital natives' in a world dominated by popular culture and technology. TV shows, computers, video games, social networking sites, advertisements, and cell phones too often have an unnecessarily strong-and negative- influence on children. But pulling the plug just isn't an option in a world where being connected is essential for success.

In Raising Generation Tech, noted parenting and new-media expert Dr. Jim Taylor explores how popular culture and technology shape children's lives. The essential message from Raising Generation Techis that excessive or unguided exposure to popular culture and technology is not good for children. Rather than offering the usual 'end of days' scenario, Dr. Taylor offers a balanced and optimistic perspective that offers parents insights and practical information they need to ensure that popular culture and technology are tools that benefit their children rather than weapons that hurt them.

Six Messages FromRaising Generation Tech:

  • Popular culture may be the powerful influence on children today and most of that influence is not healthy to children.
  • Children are being exposed to technology earlier than ever without proper limits or guidance.
  • Excessive exposure to popular culture and technology has been linked to many childhood problems including shorter attention spans, lower grades in school, increased sexual activity and drug use, and obesity.
  • Too early and unguided immersion in popular culture and technology will actually hinder rather than better prepare children for life in the digital world.
  • Key areas in which parents should focus their child-rearing attention include their children's self-identity, values, thinking, relationships, and physical and mental health.
  • The goal for parents is not to disconnect their children, but rather to expose them to popular culture and technology when they are developmentally ready and then give them the perspectives, attitudes, and tools they need to thrive in this digital age.

"Raising Generation Tech argues convincingly that children should be raised by their parents, not by popular culture or technology. Dr. Taylor tackles this difficult task with state-of-the-art psychological theory, the latest research, engaging anecdotes, and a healthy dose of sensitivity and humor. Raising Generation Tech is a must read for parents who want their children to thrive in this media-fueled world (which means all parents!). Larry Rosen, Ph.D., author of iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession With Technology and Overcoming its Hold on Us

"Raising Generation Tech will be an eye opener for parents! Rather than offering the usual 'end of the world' scenario, Dr. Jim Taylor offers a balanced perspective that gives parents the insights and practical information they need to ensure that popular culture and technology are tools that benefit their children rather than weapons that harm them." Michele Borba, Ed.D., TODAY show contributor and author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries

"The essential message of Raising Generation Tech is that excessive or unguided exposure to popular culture and technology is not good for children. In today's world, parents can't just sit back and play defense. Dr. Jim Taylor empowers parents to prepare their children for life in this digital age." Michelle LaRowe, Author of A Mom's Ultimate Book of Lists,Working Mom's 411 and the Nanny to the Rescue! parenting series

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About the author (2012)


Our children are growing up in a world that is vastly different from the one in which we were raised. Economically, politically, socially, culturally, and technologically, the world that we live in hardly resembles the world of just a few decades ago. Consider this: Facebook and text messaging, two of the most popular and powerful forces in the lives of young people today, didn''t even exist ten years ago. The Internet itself has only been in widespread use for around fifteen years.

The vast changes that we have observed over the past few decades are certainly unsettling for us "digital immigrants." We may worry about what the world will look like in the coming years and long for a simpler and slower time (although the "good old days" were probably not as good as we remember them). At the same time, for our children--the "digital natives"--this crazy new world is neither crazy nor new; it''s just their world, and it''s filled with excitement and possibilities. Regardless of where you are standing, one thing is certain: there is no going back. Technology is an inexorable force that can''t be stopped, nor should we want it to be.

People, however, haven''t changed much. Despite the immense changes that have transpired throughout time, we humans are little different from our ancestors of thousands of years ago. That seemingly obvious fact may no longer be fact from here on in. New technology is altering us as individuals, changing our brain development and functioning, and as a society, reweaving the social and cultural webs (no pun intended) that encircle our lives.

The challenge for us as parents is to ensure that these dramatic changes help foster a better world for our children and that our children are well equipped to master the increasingly complex world that they will inhabit. This challenge is no small matter. As the visionary educator and philosopher Marshall McLuhan said almost half a century ago, "We shape our tools and afterwards our tools shape us." That sentiment predated computers, mobile phones, and the Internet. As if looking into a crystal ball, McLuhan saw the future. For us and especially for our children, that future is now.

The speed at which technological advancement is occurring is so breakneck that we have little time to consider the implications of each new development before the latest technology takes root in our collective psyches. Only looking in our rearview mirror can we begin to understand how these new technologies have altered the way we think, the way we connect, and ultimately who we are. Only then are we able to judge whether those changes are beneficial or detrimental, but by then, it''s too late to undo the changes. The relentless pace of innovation forces us to play a constant game of catch-up that we have little chance of winning.

As someone who has serious concerns about the influence of technology on children (and on all of us), I''ll admit that I may sound like Chicken Little. Calls of "The sky is falling" have been heard throughout the history of technological advancement, for example, with the introduction of writing during the Bronze Age and the invention of the printing press in the 1400s. Yet, in most of these cases, these game changers have been boons to humanity rather than the end of days that those Chicken Littles predicted. Plus, we as humans have shown ourselves to be remarkably adaptable creatures who can readily adjust to the variety of changes with which we''ve been confronted.

The essential question is whether this pattern of Chicken Little reactions to technological changes is an appropriate response or whether simple acceptance of the inevitable is perfectly reasonable. If the metaphor holds true to form, then I would argue that, given the poor track record of calls about the end of the world, Chicken Little should be kept in his coop. At the other end of the continuum, though, blithe submission also seems misguided, particularly given the growing body of research showing that technology can have a negative impact on our lives. As with most things in life, the best answer usually lies somewhere in the middle of the two extremes. As the saying goes, better safe than sorry.

With this book, we can draw some compelling conclusions from emerging research and from what we see occurring before our very eyes. My intention is not to act as Chicken Little but rather to sound an alarm. My goal is not to repel technology; it''s to help you use technology and the culture it creates to your children''s greatest advantage.

The Power of Popular Culture

There has always been popular culture. Various media, however primitive by today''s standards, have always influenced the way we think, feel, and behave, and how we communicate and interact with others.

Popular culture has been defined as a reflection of the values, norms, and beliefs held by the people in a particular culture. When certain ideas, interests, or choices reach a critical mass within a society, they become widely accepted and proliferate throughout that society. Most people think of popular culture as the most common forms of entertainment, whether television, movies, music, or what''s on the Web. Those are really just the conduits through which popular culture is expressed.

Popular culture actually plays a vital role in maintaining a vigorous society and a healthy democracy. Collectively, a popular culture that is an expression of a society''s shared experiences has essential value and a beneficial function to that society. Perhaps as much as the rule of law, an authentic popular culture acts as a societal truth, a shared bond that holds societies together and communicates that "we are one." Maybe more powerfully than the top-down government-provided glue, a genuine popular culture, created "of the people, by the people, and for the people," acts as the real, bottom-up glue that unites diverse people into a cohesive society.

As individuals, a genuine popular culture instills a sense of ownership and empowerment in our society because each of us knows that we contribute to that culture. We are more likely to act in our society''s best interests because we know that those best interests are also our own. An authentic popular culture also gives us a sense of shared identity, meaning, and purpose that transcends differences in geography, race, ethnicity, religion, or politics. All of these then encourage us to lead a life in accordance with our culture''s values and norms because they are our own.

Popular culture was, until the electronic revolution, an organic expression of what the populace of a society found engaging and that had the unifying effect that I just described. Yes, forces outside of "the people" have always tried to sway the masses, whether through soapbox proselytizing or ads in early print media, but the influence of those forces was obviously tempered by their limited reach.

Then radio, television, and movies were invented, and the ability of inorganic forces to influence popular sentiment and, by extension, popular culture, grew exponentially. With this powerful new technology, this impact wasn''t restricted to face-to-face contact or small geographical regions in which newspapers and other print media were distributed. Its impact reached across miles and states, and now, of course, it extends nationwide and internationally. That reach has also changed what popular culturemeans.

With this ability to reach increasingly larger audiences, businesses saw these electronic media as conduits through which they could sell their goods and services. They also saw how they could directly influence a society''s values, norms, and beliefs in ways that would encourage sales and increase revenues. Advertising became more and more sophisticated in its ability to shape and, yes, manipulate the needs and wants of its audience. That impact has grown exponentially with the rise of the Internet to the point that, through the latest computer and communications technology, children (and all of us) can be exposed to these influences almost every hour of the waking day.

The result has been the loss of an authentic popular culture, one that is a reflection of what "the people" value, and the emergence of a synthetic culture that is driven by the forces of materialism and consumerism. As a commenter on one of my blogs observed, there is nothing popular about popular culture these days: "[Most] of what is considered popular culture is churned out by corporations...with the sole purpose...that we can be converted into voracious consumers." We didn''t demand, for example, American Idol, Grand Theft Auto,or Facebook. They were created to make money and then marketed as "must-haves," which, admittedly, the masses then embraced, and then they became a part of our so-called popular culture.

This synthetic culture not only has significant implications for our society as a whole but also has serious ramifications for how children develop. An essential purpose of popular culture is to enculturate children into society by communicating to them accepted values, norms, attitudes, and beliefs. The intent of this process is to prepare children to be functioning and contributing members of that society.

Yet, when children grow up in a synthetic culture that is far removed from the realities of society, they are prevented from learning what it takes to survive and thrive in that society. In addition, this synthetic culture isn''t nurturing, because it doesn''t care at all about children. It is downright disorienting to children because of the large chasm that lies between that artificial culture and the genuine and caring culture that they need to feel safe and secure. This unsettling experience is exacerbated by children''s inability to distinguish between what

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