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Co-constructing Digital Futures: Parents and Children Becoming Thoughtful, Connected, and Critical Users of Digital Technologies

Published onMay 05, 2019
Co-constructing Digital Futures: Parents and Children Becoming Thoughtful, Connected, and Critical Users of Digital Technologies

We are literacy researchers who understand that children live in and shape a connected world where they have the ability to consume and create literally at their fingertips. We care deeply about preparing them to be lifelong learners with the skills they need to access, analyze, evaluate, create, and participate through digital technologies (Ito et al., 2013). We are also parents who must navigate the realities of a digital world: every time our children log into an app on a device they are using at school, they leave a data trail. We also know they engage in the affordances of digital technologies often through the price of their privacy (Berson & Berson, 2006). At the same time, we know that developing digital literacy includes the understanding that algorithms drive users to particular content (Burrell, 2016). Children’s worldviews can be limited by geofencing and other algorithmic tools that are driven by for-profit purposes. How can parents help their children to understand the challenges and opportunities in these trends/forces/tensions? How can parents help children to be more reflective about the activities in which they engage? This proposed article will explore these questions through dual perspectives: those of parents (literacy researchers) and youth.

As we look to future-proof digital rights for ourselves, and our children, we must understand and contest how these technologies impact our privacy, autonomy, security, human dignity, justice, and power structures. Furthermore, our interactions in all areas of this digitized society, helps feed algorithms that track, learn, and predict our current and future behaviors (Wilson, 2018). In order to safeguard our children and their agency in future contexts, we need to contextualize current and future technologies, while at the same time preparing youth to be both hypervisible and invisible as they interact with these digital texts, tools, and spaces (Emejulu, & Mcgregor, 2019). It is within these complex informational ecosystems in which our children will grow up, and one-size-fits all privacy, security, and literacy solutions do not equitably support all (Bertot, Jaeger, & Hansen, 2012). More marginalized and vulnerable populations bear the burden of more harm as the ethics of these digitization practices must be called into question (Dillon, 2010), as well as the entities that collect and curate our data.

As parents with, perhaps, more knowledge about how algorithms and privacy work in a digital world, we sit at an interesting intersection (Garcia, Cantrill, Filipiak, Hunt, Lee, Mirra, & Peppler, 2014). This article will offer insight into how each of us navigated conversations with our own children, ages 3 - 12, about the realities of the digital world, both the affordances and limitations, particularly those associated with the interactions between algorithms and privacy. Our research documents four case studies and includes methods such as stimulated response, individual interviewing, and focus group interviewing.

In this writing, we propose a more collaborative approach than what has typically been adopted when thinking about children and technology. Rather than framing the problem as technology doing harm to children, we suggest that we can empower children to advocate for their own rights in an age of screentime (Turner, Jolls, Hagerman, O’Byrne, Hicks, Eisenstock, & Pytash, 2017). Our chapter will be co-authored with our children, who are certainly stakeholders - and potentially experts - in digital and social technologies. We believe that the voice of youth is often ignored in discussions about technology use and practice. In this article we seek to empower children to share their perceptions on these elements in order to identify and amplify their beliefs about privacy, security, and potential future threats as a result of these algorithmic methods. Our children’s perceptions may differ from an adult perspective, and it will be important for their voices to be heard throughout this process, including as contributors to the chapter.

Collaboratively with our children, we will outline activities that parents (and educators) can use in their own contexts in order to prepare youth to be thoughtful, perhaps skeptical, users of tools and spaces. We approach this work as educators, researchers, and most importantly parents. We hope that by documenting our collective strategies to learn more with our children about the ways algorithms drive and focus our digital experiences that we can empower other parents, educators, and researchers to do the same and, in turn, work to develop youth that are more critical and aware in their roles as consumers and creators of content.


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Turner, K. H., Jolls, T., Hagerman, M. S., O’Byrne, W., Hicks, T., Eisenstock, B., & Pytash, K. E. (2017). Developing digital and media literacies in children and adolescents. Pediatrics, 140(Supplement 2), S122-S126.

Willson, M. (2018). Raising the ideal child? Algorithms, quantification and prediction. Media, Culture & Society. doi: 10.1177/0163443718798901

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