The Language of the Internet

Google celebrated its 13th birthday this year. That means that all of our children at St. John’s below 7th grade were born in the Google age and our 12th graders were only four or five when Google was ‘born’ and cannot remember life without Google.

The World Wide Web has been with us for a miniscule amount of time in relation to the development of the human race. The industrial revolution lasted for approximately one hundred years and had an amazing impact on the socioeconomic and cultural conditions of the time. Today the internet revolution or knowledge revolution has lasted at most 15 years and is having an equally staggering impact economically and culturally as the industrial revolution did.

Such a fast cultural shift brings issues for us as parents and educators as we try to understand our ‘Google Generation’ kids.

A parent worrying about the impact of cultural changes on their children is not new. Our parents and their parents before struggled with understanding and accepting cultural shifts which were expressed by us as children.

MTV celebrated its 30th anniversary this year. Music videos brought a new expression into our living rooms back in the 1980s. MTV has reflected through music videos, 30 years of cultural change and the music video has become a powerful genre which includes common exploitation of women and a surge of language which is often violent.

It took computer games another 15 years after the introduction of MTV to start to incorporate similar worryingly violent content and raise concern about Kids aggression and addiction.

It needs to be noted thought that many music videos and computer games contain a wealth of excitement and non-violent content too.

A concern today is that kids seem to be becoming desensitized to some of the language and influences which surround them. It is common place for teenagers when communicating through text or social networks to use language and innuendos which are explicit and sometimes shocking to parents. Language all too common in their video and gaming lives which is often racist, misogynistic and sexual in content.

How worried should we be as parents about this? Is this just part of the cultural shift of our time? Are we just becoming our worried parents and grandparents?

I think there is a crucial element which is different this time with our kids. The use of expletives is whether we like it or not, becoming more common and children are able to contextualize, like adults, by not swearing in front of say their parents or teachers. But the way they often speak to each other, particularly online often reflects what they see and hear and they often don’t really understand the significance or potential to hurt each other when using this language.

What can we do about this as a parent?

The message we at school as well as countless internet awareness agencies give is be involved. Talking to our children about what they are saying online is vital. I would encourage parents to establish rules or expectations at home when it comes to social networking. Facebook, Skype, Google +, texting- all allow immediate conversations with sometimes multiple numbers of students at once.  I believe that conversations kids have with their friends at home on social networking sites need not be private especially up to the end of Middle School age. Having secrets at Elementary or Middle school age can lead to misunderstandings and having rules in place that allow for a parent to look over the shoulder of a child can be helpful.  Discussing what they are doing and saying online leads to open understanding and an open, supportive and caring environment.

A feeling of ‘no secrets’ at home as a general policy will inevitably lead your children chatting to their friends in a respectful way. Remember using the phone to call your friends when you were young? Our parents heard at least our half of the conversation!

I would urge parents to encourage visible online time at home; surfing and chatting in a place where you can be there to talk, question and encourage.

As always the message here is not to fear and resist this cultural shift, but rather to embrace the technology and keep talking and understanding what your ‘Google generation’ children are experiencing.

They seek guidance and support from parents and educators to help them continue to explore and communicate in a caring and respectful way.

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