Teenagers spend an average of nine hours a day online, and many parents worry about the impact of screen time on their children. There is no need to worry, said digital experts Urs Gasser and John Palfrey, authors of the newly released book “The Connected Parent: An Expert Guide to Parenting in a Digital World.” The Gazette spoke with Gasser, professor of practice at Harvard Law School and executive director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, and Palfrey, president of the MacArthur Foundation and former faculty director of the center, on ways parents can embrace the philosophy of “connected parenting” and help children be safe online and make the most of new media and technology.
What changes have you seen in the landscape of the new media and technology over the past 12 years since you published your book “Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives” in 2008?
GASSER: A first change has to do with the types of technology young people are using to navigate the digital space. When we wrote “Born Digital,” smartphones were not a thing, and today they are the key device. Another change is the types of platforms young people are using and the issues that come up with these uses. Twelve years ago, for instance, there was a big challenge around music and entertainment; it was very hard for young people to find music online, and they got into trouble because they used file-sharing services to download their favorite tunes, which was illegal. Now that largely has been resolved by innovative business models, whether it’s Spotify or other platforms, where youth have music on the go, everywhere.
On the flip side, we’ve seen new issues emerging in the technology and business environments. One of the biggest concerns is around the use of [user behavioral] data, or what is called “surveillance capitalism.” Also, when we started our work, youth and technology was more like a niche topic, and that awareness has changed a lot. Parents are very concerned about issues such as screen time, and so are educators who are dealing with it in the face of COVID. It’s a general trend. Both policy- and lawmakers are thinking about youth and technology issues too — whether it’s about how we can mitigate some of the risks associated with it, but also how we can embrace the new opportunities that technologies offer to young people to engage in society and become participants in the digital economy.