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From Goo-Goo to Google

Matt Guevara

Meet the tech-savvy kids in your ministry -- and discover what they need from you.

Battery manufacturer Duracell compiles a list every year of the toys children want for Christmas the most. Of the top 10 most coveted gifts in 2010, only two were traditional toys. The other eight were tech "gadgets," ranging in size and price: iPhone 4, iPod touch, iPad, Xbox Kinect, Flip cam, PlayStation Move, Lego Harry Potter Years 1-4 video game, and the Barbie Video Girl.

Statistics paint a picture of digital saturation in childhood. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, kids (ages 2 to 18) spend an average of five hours and 29 minutes per day using media. Larry D. Rosen, professor and research psychologist at California State University (Dominguez Hills), found 35 percent of children ages 6 months to 3 years have a TV set in their bedroom; 10 percent of kids ages 4 to 8 have a computer in their bedroom; and 51 percent of those ages 9 to 12 have a cell phone.

Children ages 2 to 6 are just as wired as their older siblings. Market data firm NPD concluded in their 2007 report, "Kids & Digital Content," that close to 15 percent of 2- to 5-year-olds use cell phones. Children in this age group don't own these portable devices; they share them with a parent or older sibling. Soon-to-be tech-savvy toddlers are crawling through the nursery at a church near you.

Today's children, regardless of location, class, or education, are the most digitized generation in history. This "reformatted" generation, which spends countless hours in front of a digital screen each week, has developed a reformatted worldview with several distinct characteristics. Understanding these characteristics will make us more effective in reaching their generation.

 

TECH-SAVVY KIDS COLLABORATE

Today's kids share what they create because they love to collaborate. Take a look at the PlayStation game, Little Big Planet, which allows players to create and share their own game levels and play the game levels created by others. Little Big Planet players have created over 10 million pieces of game-related levels, challenges, and music in the past three years.

With all that sharing online, kids need a clearer understanding of the permanence of content. For today's kids, whatever is shared digitally (comments, opinions, ratings, artwork, video, status updates) resides online forever, and there's a certain level of risk associated with that longevity.

KIDMINTIP Kids need to share meaningful creative work with more people than just their parents. And adults still need to provide caring oversight to ensure appropriate things are shared.

 

TECH-SAVVY KIDS CREATE MEDIA

Jay Rosen correctly identifies this generation as "the people formerly known as the audience." When YouTube was launched, a generation of content creators was born. And create they have. YouTube boasts 24 hours of content uploaded to its servers every minute, the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of videos per day. Once the Flip cam came to the market, media production became financially accessible to more children. Whether at home or working in a classroom, children are geared to actively respond to the media they view. Unfortunately much of children's ministry resources are lecture-based. Because kids are no longer passive learners, they've become far less responsive to traditional teaching methods.

KIDMINTIP Experiment with video in your ministry context. Invite tech-savvy kids to help produce the content. Upload it to YouTube with parents' permission.

 

TECH-SAVVY KIDS SOCIALIZE ONLINE

Social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and Togetherville aren't separated from reality; they're integrated into it. Everloop, a social networking site for kids ages 8 to 13, has developed partnerships with 56,000 schools across the country. Social networking in virtual space is connected with education in physical space.

This connection is a premise in Clay Shirky's book Cognitive Surplus. "Social media tools are being used to coordinate human contact and real-world activity," he writes. In other words, kids aren't going online to waste time. They use social networking tools to maintain and build relationships and to make a positive change in the world. Consequently new generations have developed changing definitions of relationships that clash with older generations who are unaccustomed to nurturing friendships in digital spaces, a skill tech-savvy kids use almost daily.

KIDMINTIP Leverage the power of social media tools to connect tech-savvy kids to your community of faith.

 

TECH-SAVVY KIDS ARE WIRED FOR GAMES

Technology, most commonly in the form of gaming, is deeply integrated into the life of a tech-savvy kid. Research from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, part of the Sesame Street Workshop, confirms findings that up to 84 percent of children ages 2 to14 are gaming on a computer, video game system, portable digital music player, or cell phone.

Jane McGonigal, a video game designer and author of the book Reality Is Broken, advocates the power of video games to change the world. Video games are tied to the gamer's confidence and feelings of control. So according to McGonigal, "When we play games, we are tapping into our best qualities, our ability to be motivated, to be optimistic, to collaborate with others, to be resilient in the face of failure." Screen time, outside of video game addiction, is fostering the real-world application of these skills learned in digital space.

KIDMINTIP Use games and the principles behind game design as powerful teaching tools, not just mindless entertainment.

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