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Your Digital Kids

What Da Ya Know? Facebook Time Could be Time Well Spent

“Living and Learning With New Media,” a three-year study by the MacArthur Foundation-funded Digital Youth Project, posted its findings in a report on social media and kids. The bottom line? There’s a lot to be learned by spending time on social network sites. Despite what parents and educators may think, online time for teens is not wasted time. Think of it as practice for a set of social and creative skills—skills that are going to be paramount in the 21st century workplace.

One of the findings suggests that teens on the Internet come in two basic varieties. There are those who are friend-driven (they like to hang out and chat—the equivalent of the old-fashioned phone call) and those who are interest-driven (geeking out in pursuit of knowledge). The study also found that most teens understand the public nature of time spent online and that the majority prefer to stick to communicating with the friends they know in the real world. The ubiquity of the Internet is not lost on them either. It’s natural for them to be always connected via numerous consumer electronic devices and to expect multimedia information (video, photos, audio, and more) as a regular part of their communications.

The kicker to the report is what it means to parents and educators. In order to remain relevant in the 21st century, educational institutions need to keep pace and embrace digital media. “What,” the authors ask, “would it mean to really exploit the potential of the learning opportunities available through online resources and networks? What would it mean to reach beyond traditional education and civic institutions and enlist the help of others in young people’s learning?”

Over the coming months, parents and educators are going to rethink their stereotypes about social networking and its dangers. I suspect there’s going to be some attitude readjustment. Regardless of how you cast your vote in the last presidential election, there’s no denying that we watched the power of social networking at its finest. We can all take something away from that experience.

You can read the executive summary, a white paper, and the full report broken down by chapters (friendship, intimacy, families, gaming, creative production, and work). There’s also a video interview with principal author Mizuko Ito. To keep up with the conversation, see Spotlight on the MacArthur Foundation website.