As part of an assignment I am doing for my Masters degree, I am reading The App Generation by Howard Gardner and Katie Davis. I am finding it really interesting that their evidence-based, American research certainly reflects my experience and the many conversations I have here in Australia with other teachers and parents.
When discussing the effect technology is having on today’s youth, a heightened sense of individualism, increased aversion to take risks and the need for constant endorsement are key concerns raised by Gardner and Davis (2013). This, they say, is the result of broad societal trends and modern parenting and is facilitated by mobile devices, apps and social media.
With the emergence of mobile devices and social media, participation in online environments has increased exponentially and an online identity is now mainstream, not just the domain of the “computer geeks”. It also means that one’s followers online are likely to be friends and family known to you in the offline world. Because of this, young people are identifiable and there is no such thing as being anonymous. Evidence suggests young people are very aware of this lack of anonymity and consequently are carefully crafting polished online presentations of their lives. The prudently edited photos, positive posts and frequent omissions are all selected to present a “glammed up” and positive presentation rather than the reality of a young person’s life.
It is of concern that these youth are much more self-focused and narcissistic than the youth of previous decades. Facebook and other social media sites fuel this behaviour by nature of their design – a profile is built on friend lists and inventories of personal tastes and activities. The prolific posts of “Selfies” are also an example of the growing narcissistic behaviour of young people and “likes” are examples of validating and receiving endorsement for these behaviours.
Another worry about digital youth is there seems to be a reduced capacity to take reasonable risks. This may be seen in connection with the growing trend toward individualism, if “one speaks about narcissism not to indicate people who love themselves, but a personality so fragile that it needs constant support” (Gardner & Davis, 2013 p. 76). There are a number of behaviours among youth that point to this need for constant reinforcement, validation and aversion to risk. Some of the examples include text messaging which takes away the discomfort of face-to-face conversations, information apps that take away the risk of getting the wrong answer & location apps that take away the risk of getting lost. It is suggested that one of the reasons for this increased fragility may be because failure “once might have been witnessed by a few peers and then forgotten but today might become part of one’s permanent digital footprint” (p. 77)
Finally, modern parenting is identified as one contributing factor to youth’s reduced ability to take risks and develop autonomy. It is suggested that the heightened fear of failure among teens is fuelled by helicopter parents (ever hovering with a watchful eye) who are so concerned for their children’s happiness that they don’t ask enough of their children and micromanage them so that mistakes and disappointments are avoided. The helicopter parent mentality is enabled by apps and technology and contact between parents and their children now takes place on a scale that was not possible in the pre-digital era. This high level of contact does seem to indicate that youth have a weakened ability to make their own choices and are constantly seeking reassurance and confirmation.
Gardner, H., & Davis, K. (2013). The app generation: How today’s youth navigate identity, intimacy, and imagination in a digital world. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Greg Williams, Helicopter Wikiworld, CC X 3.0