Topic 1: Growing Up Digital

Digital technologies that are socially interactive have the capacity to broaden social interaction between youth. Many students participate in online communities and are knowledgeable about new literacies, often to the detriment of traditional literacies. For example, text messaging – ‘texting’ is an inexpensive and instant way for students to communicate with their friends to maintain social interaction. Through conversations with my students I have found that the low cost of mobile phones and the ability to text their mates for nothing (0 cent or ‘free texts’) has lead to increased usage. Many mobile phone network providers offer post- and pre-paid mobile phone plans that include data allowance so access to social networking sites is ‘free’ and easy. Telstra, for example, provides their Tribe application, which allows unmetered access to Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. In their article ‘Instant Messaging, Text Messaging, and Adolescent Social Networks’ Bryant, Sanders-Jackson & Smallwood (2006) state that “many youth consciously use the Internet and SITs [Socially Interactive Technologies] to influence their peer networks… [In other words] online communication promotes social support and expanded social interaction [between youth]” (p. 577). Many, maybe even most, of my students are ‘permanently attached’ to their mobile phones – their mobile phones are literally a lifeline that allows them to instantly connect with people (possibly to the detriment of other forms of communication such as a verbal conversation).

New media literacies are valuable, but they cannot be used effectively if the individual does not have the ability to read (gain understanding and meaning from texts) and write. Researchers Black (2005) and Henry Jenkins (2006a) (cited in Bennett, 2009) argued that “the new digital cultures provide support systems to help youth improve their core competencies as readers and writers. They may provide opportunities, for example, through blogs or live journals, for young people to receive feedback on their writing and to gain experience in communicating with a larger public, experiences that might once have been restricted to student journalists. Even traditional literacies must change to reflect the media change taking place. Youth must expand their required competencies, not push aside old skills to make room for the new” (p. 19).

 There are several issues relating to having students in classrooms who have grown up digitally: interactions between teens and people soliciting sexual behaviour, exposure to unwanted sexual material (for example, through obscene spam) and increased nonsexual harassment (for example, through cyber bullying from peers).

These online networks can affect the offline social and friendship networks in which youth are immersed. Digital technologies can also have the capacity to foster antisocial behaviour.

Some youth consciously choose not to participate in online communities, these youth are either ‘conscientious objectors’ (individuals who are politically minded) or ‘disenfranchised teens’ (those teens who do not have Internet access, whose parents ban them from participation and those teens who access the Internet through school and other public venues where social networking sites are banned).

A worrying trend (described by Cassell and Cramer, 2008) may also be that as students become more technologically minded and increase their participation in online communities that face-to-face social contacts will become increasingly brief and impersonal. As well as this there are concerns about privacy – students (children) taking risks by putting private information about themselves ‘out there’ on the WWW (World Wide Web) for anyone to view.

“As youth negotiate group structures and their own behaviour according to the social conditions, they are likely to explore and test out adult scenarios. Youth may be more daring in groups and they also may be more self-regulated” (Cassell and Cramer, 2008, p. 58).


Bennett, W.L. (2009). Changing citizenship in the digital age. in W. Lance Bennett (ed.), Civic life online: learning how digital media can engage youth. Cambridge: MIT Press/MacArthur Foundation. pp. 1-24. Available:

Bryant, J., Sanders-Jackson, A. & Smallwood, A. 2006. IMing, Text Messaging, and Adolescent Social Networks. Journal of Mediated-Computer Communication, 11, 2, pp. 577–592. Available:

 Cassell, J. and Cramer, M. (2008). High tech or high risk: moral panics about girls online. in Tara McPherson (ed.), Digital youth, innovation and the unexpected. Cambridge:MIT Press/MacArthur Foundation. pp. 53-76. Available: