Raising the Digital Generation: What Parents Need to Know About Digital Media and Learning

A few weeks ago, I was asked to represent the School of Communications by giving a talk for Trojans Parent Weekend at USC. (For those who do not follow American universities and their team mascots, the Trojans is the name for the USC sports team and thus, the name that is attached to anyone affiliated with the university.)

Below, you can find the webcast version of my remarks, which sought to congratulate parents on their obvious success in raising a child smart enough to become part of our student body and to challenge some of their preconceptions about the forms of informal learning their offspring may have encountered in the course of their interactions with new media platforms and practices.

I felt that this talk might be of interest to my readers, many of whom are educators and/or parents, and who have displayed in the past great interest in my posts on new media and learning. Parents receive so little advice about how to confront the real challenges of navigating the digital environment which is unfamiliar to them and often to their children. Most often, they are told just say no. The more you restrict media use, the better parent you are. And for God’s sake, keep the computer out of the kid’s bedroom. But none of that feels adequate for a world where there is real learning taking place on line, where learning to navigate the new media environment is going to be key for your offspring’s future success. Our schools are already blocking access to many of these core technologies and often refusing to advise youth about how to use them ethically, safely, and creatively. If parents start shutting off computers in the home, they really do close down potentials for their children’s growth and development. And if they start snooping through their young person’s internet accounts, they run the risk of damaging trust that is going to be vital for their long term relationship. My core advice to parents: Kids need someone to watch their back and not snoop over their shoulders. They need adults who are as engaged in their online lives as they are with their off-line lives — not less and not more.

Some of what you hear here will be familiar, reflecting other talks and essays I’ve published on the work of Project New Media Literacies. Some will be newer, having to do with my ongoing projects in the area of youth, new media, and civic engagement.

I mentioned there in passing that we are in the process of creating the Participatory Culture and Learning Lab in the Annenberg School. Participatory Culture has long been the over-arching theme of my work, whether applied to think about creative industries and consumer/fan culture, new media literacies and education, or civic engagement. Over the past year, I have been transitioning out of many of the research roles I played through the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program and consolidating my research efforts here at USC. I have been lucky to draw several key members of my research staff on the East coast to join me here in sunny California — including Erin Reilly who has long been the research director of the New Media Literacies team (and now is building affiliations with the Annenberg Innovation Lab) — and I have reunited with Sangita Shreshtova, a CMS alum, who is now Research Director for the work we are doing on civic engagement with the MacArthur and Spencer Foundations. PCL (which people are already calling Pickle) represents an umbrella organization which will sustain these efforts while opening up a space for new research initiatives down the line.


  1. In this digital age, the kids are educating themselves. The unparalleled impact of social media on the young means we need to try harder to educate the parents.

  2. I agree. Whilst our kids are teaching themselves, parents are falling behind and losing touch. Parents cannot fully understand their kids’ lives if they don’t understand the enormous impact social media has on their everyday lives.

  3. Thank you Henry. I accidentally watched this with my kids. My 20-month old loved reproducing your hand gestures while my 4-year old… well, I will let him tell you in his own words (if the YouTube embed works):

  4. I guess not. You can watch it here:


    Btw, after posting this I kept watching and saw me and my staff in your presentation! What a nice surprise. We always love working with you and your amazing crew and hope we can do more together in the coming year.

  5. How young is too young when it comes to social media anyways?

    It’s such a fine line between letting your child do as they wish and being a negligent parent. Luckily technology is also there to help us improve our quality of life and for every danger, a preventative measure is not far behind.

    It’s us oldies that have to keep up with the times if we want any chance of influencing our kids.

  6. I agree that the role of a teacher in modern and future education will be slowly but surely replaced by social networking and participation culture. I just hope that schools will attempt to incorporate more multimedia and online teaching solutions for everyday classes. There is already a huge technological gap between teachers and their pupils and it’s not going to get any narrower. I wrote some remarks on the subjects on my payday loan online blog. If you’re interested in cutting edge approaches to education you might want to check it out.

  7. Thank you for sharing with us,I too always learn something new from your post!

    Great article. I wish I could write so well

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