A New Look at Navigating Digital Technology with Young People

VIA MEDIA

Photo by Benjamin Caldwell.

Would you believe that the percentages of young people who report sexting, feeling bullied or harassed on social media, and having seen explicit images online are all declining?

Or that a large percentage of young people have told researchers that some of their happiest memories of time spent with their families have centered around things like creating music playlists, online family Christmas cards, and digital scrapbooks?

This is the first post in a series from FYI this summer called Via Media. In this series we’ll be taking an in-depth look at emerging research and strategies related to social media and digital technology. We chose our title, Via Media, for two reasons:

  1. Via Media is a Latin phrase that simply means “middle way.” So much of our talk about how digital technology is reshaping our world and impacting the lives of young people tends to skew towards the negative, and we we’ve all participated in some of those types of conversations. But if there is one thing that top researchers in this field seem to agree on, as we will see, it is that things are not nearly as bad as they are made to seem. That may not ring very true if one of your daughter’s close friends recently got caught sending provocative pictures of herself to a boy at school, or if your son hasn’t looked up from his smart phone for more than thirty seconds yet this summer. But on the whole, the research is finding that teenagers are not as out of control as we think. 

    That tendency of ours to focus on the concerns raised by digital technology also tends to make us oblivious to how these tools have potential to make life better, or can enrich our relationships with each other. There are great opportunities available to all of us, no matter what age, as a result of things like smart phones, tablets, and social media. The trick is figuring out that “middle way”—and that is what this series will be all about. How can we both thoughtfully address the potentially negative aspects and capitalize on the positive?
     
  2. Via Media also reminds us of something about the nature of technology in general. “Media” used to mean the middle, or something centered in between two sides. Today “media” often function as the center between people, connecting us with one another. Communication theorist and scholar Marshall McLuhan once famously described media as being “the extensions of [people]”—media amplifies our ability to do certain things, but what those things are and how we actually use technology remains up to us. For that reason one of McLuhan’s former colleagues, Neil Postman, told a group of researchers in 2000: “To be quite honest about it, I don’t see any point in studying media unless one does so within a moral or ethical context.” It is easy to forget that we still have control over how we choose to use the tools at our disposal. Our decision-making process, guided by our faith, is the heart of the matter, not the devices themselves or even expert-recommended “best practices.”

This series aims to adequately address the very genuine concerns so many parents, pastors, and youth leaders have with regard to digital technology and social media. Some of our anxieties are well founded. We’ll share tools and strategies for steering clear of the real threats and pitfalls. However, our hope is that you won’t just feel relieved but also encouraged! Things are not nearly as bad as they seem, and there are lots of exciting opportunities that tend to get overlooked amid the concerns.

So stay tuned and join us in trying to navigate this Via Media. Considering how fast things are changing, and new research findings continue to emerge, its tricky to stay ahead of the curve. If you have a burning question you hope we’ll answer, post it in the comments below. Let’s figure this out together.

VIA MEDIA Part 1: A New Look @ Navigating Digital Technology with Young People
VIA MEDIA Part 2: How Young is Too Young for Digital Technology and Social Media?

VIA MEDIA Part 3: Sticks and Phones: Preventing Digital Bullying
VIA MEDIA Part 4: My [Own] Space: Supervision vs. Surveillance