I was first introduced to the work of Marc Prensky on Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives by Rob Weiss. As we continue to advance in the digital age, this work continues to be relevant. In particular to The New Age of Sex Education, it is very relevant to how parents relate to their more tech savvy children.
Mark Prensky is a world renowned expert and leader in the field of education. At the beginning of the 21st century he started writing about changes in students and learning that occur based on technological advances. His work has been extrapolated to other fields and I find it a great frame of reference for speaking to parents about their children’s digital lives.
So what is a digital native or a digital immigrant? Digital natives are those individuals who were born after 1980 but can be broken down into Generation Y (born up to 2000) and Generation Z (born after 2001). Generation Z has never experienced life without technology as a main staple. One of the defining characteristics of Generation Z is their use of digital technology as their primary source of communication, interaction and information gathering. A Digital Immigrant is someone who is a Gen X or older. We were born in a time without the current technologies. We had landline phones. We went to the library and used things like the encyclopedia to do research. We remember life either before the internet or with dial up internet. We communicate through phone calls or other “old school” methods that Digital Natives don’t employ.
According to Prensky, Digital Natives are used to getting their information extremely quickly. Digital Natives can multi-task and like to parallel process. Digital Natives work best when networked and thrive on instant gratification and rewards. Fundamentally Digital Natives think differently from the rest of us.
How does this relate to sexuality and sex education? Prensky points out that, as young people always have, Digital Natives will test the limits of their spaces. In the case of cybersexuality, these sexual limits get tested online or in the digital realm. Where a Digital Immigrant may have had less access to information to explore their sexuality, a Digital Native has access to anything and everything at their fingertips. They can interact with digital sexual material in a manner that fits how their brains have been molded. Access to online pornography or other cybersex mediums is all about instant gratification, instant reward and the ability to be networked.
As a Digital Immigrant parent, how do you manage this disconnect? The first is to understand the world of the Digital Native to the best of your abilities. One of the biggest issues I see in “Immigrant” parents is that they have no idea what their children are doing online. They are in denial. Parents do not think that their children are looking at online pornography, even at the age of 15 years old. The reality is that nearly every 15 year old has been exposed to online pornography. That does not mean that they are intentionally seeking it out or looking at pornography in a compulsive manner. They have been exposed and likely were exposed by the time they were 10 or 11 years old. It is highly likely that your child has seen online pornography.
The second thing a Digital Immigrant parent can start to do is to talk to their children about their online lives. You don’t have to jump into talking about online pornography exposure. Show some interest in the apps they use or what they like to do in their digital world. Not only does this educate you about what your children are doing online, it opens up the line of communication. You are trying to come into their world in a non-judgmental manner. If you start to understand what they do online and how they interact online, discussions about digital sexuality can be a natural extension of the conversations you have already had about the world of a Digital Native.