Technology's Child | Gutman Book Talks
MYANNE KRIVOSHEY: Hi, everyone. Welcome to Technology's Child, digital media's role in the ages and stages of growing up. Thank you for being here. My name is Myanne Krivoshey. And I am the Communications and Administration Coordinator over at Gutman Library.
I would like to begin by briefly introducing Howard Gardner, the John H. And Elisabeth A. Hobbs Research Professor of Cognition and Education here at HGSE. He's also the senior director of Harvard's Project Zero at Harvard. Thank you.
[APPLAUSE] HOWARD GARDNER: Thanks, everybody. Can you hear me? Well, about 20 years ago, Katie Davis came to Cambridge. She had grown up in [INAUDIBLE],, attended [INAUDIBLE] College, [INAUDIBLE] grade school teacher. And first, she had a distinct literary gift and flair. For whatever reasons, like many of us, Kate decided to pursue her Masters [INAUDIBLE].. I don't think that she thought she was uniquely gifted.
But her teachers who knew Katie did think so. They strongly encouraged her to apply for a doctorate. She had all the interest and skills to be a successful [INAUDIBLE] and a first rate researcher, teacher, and writer.
We never regretted committing to Katie for a mini-second. Indeed, I think it's one of the best moves the school has made. Katie was recognized as a star, a master of literature, filled with ideas for investigation, a gifted teacher, and a great team member. She joined our research group at Harvard [INAUDIBLE],, stayed with us for a decade. And then we made her an honorary life member of our group.
It's never been done before, or since, a lifetime [INAUDIBLE].. As you'll soon learn, Katie's written a remarkable book, Technology's Child. It connects and intertwines her mastery of developmental psychology and ideas and findings with the acknowledgment of technology. [INAUDIBLE] of technology without [INAUDIBLE] a lot of children, including Oliver, her own son, who makes more than a cameo appearance for the book.
The result is a masterpiece of thought, writing, timeliness, and [INAUDIBLE]. Katie left Cambridge about a decade ago. We miss you, Katie. I don't know how Katie does it. She somehow managed to divide her time between Seattle, where she has a professorship, as well as Berlin, Bermuda, and Nova Scotia.
I nicknamed this the Bermuda [INAUDIBLE] Triangle. I had a dream that Katie returned to Cambridge, to HGSE. And hence, [INAUDIBLE] departure in her home.
Meanwhile, while we're waiting, let's give a warm greeting and welcome back Katie [INAUDIBLE].. [APPLAUSE] KATIE DAVIS: Well, I feel like I could go home and just be happy for the rest of the week. That was so nice. Thank you so much. And it is great to be here back on Appian Way. It's just a real treasure for me.
But I am here not to reflect on my past, but to talk about my book, Technology's Child. And I want to begin with my two hats, which Howard sort of alluded to. So the two hats that I bring to this book are my researcher hat and my parent hat.
And I invite you right now just to consider hats that you're bringing into this conversation. So I imagine several of you are researchers. I think I see a parent or two, definitely grandparents, maybe siblings and so forth. So I encourage you to just reflect on these roles that you're bringing and see what sorts of ideas this [INAUDIBLE] brings for you. So for myself as a researcher, I direct a Digital Youth Lab at the University of Washington, where I've been for nearly 11 years now since I left Appian Way. And as a parent, as Howard referred to, I'm raising my six-year-old son Oliver.
And for about 18 years now, I can't believe it, I have been studying young people's digital experiences. So this is from-- the left hand side, this is mostly what I did when I was at Harvard, typical social scientist, studying what people are doing with technologies. And then I moved over to the Information School. And I remember when I was on the job market, Howard noted that I was applying to a few information schools. And so what is an information school? And I didn't really know until I got there.
But basically, it has a similar feel to an ed School. But instead of the core focus being education, the core focus tends to be technology, how people use technology. So I've been surrounded by computer scientists for the last 11 years. And a lot of my work has moved into designing positive experiences with and for youth in various aspects of their lives-- so learning, development, and well-being. And throughout this time, I've grown very comfortable with statements like this. When I was researching a topic about youth and technology, I really embraced the fact that it's very complicated.
There's not one answer that's going to fit your child. And when I've been asked by people outside of my field, my friends, my family, I often get the question, so what's the verdict? Is this good or is this bad? And typically, for a long time, I would give one of these answers. And I felt pretty good about that. That's honest. And then six years ago, I became a parent. And I realized that all of that complexity and the nuance was not helping me make concrete decisions about how many episodes of Paw Patrol are too many for Oliver? When should I introduce him to video games? I haven't done that yet.
When should he have a phone? And so I started to wonder, is there anything useful that I've learned as a researcher to help me as a parent? And so it's really that tension between my role as a researcher and my role as a parent that motivated me to write Technology's Child. And I wanted to explore whether there was anything concrete that I could distill from the complexity of the research that could help parents like me, and also others-- teachers, tech designers, policymakers. And so this book is my attempt to bring these two roles together and in the process, try to figure out, is there anything concrete? I also, as Howard mentioned, I have other roles. So I do bring in my role as a teacher.
I started off as an elementary school teacher. And I also bring my role as a big sister, which I will talk about a little bit later on. So as a developmental scientist, I wanted to look at the full arc of child development, from early childhood all the way through to emerging adults. And that's a lot of training-- excuse me-- to cover. So I decided to zoom in on one or two areas that are particularly important at each stage of development.
So in early childhood, I looked at the development of executive function and early literacy. As I've moved in from early to middle childhood, I looked at children's play and their learning. As we move into the tween and teen years, I looked at changing family relationships, peer relationships, and identity development.
And then into emerging adulthood, I considered civic engagement. For each of these areas, I pulled out what research tells us about what kids need to thrive at each stage of development. And for each stage and area of development, I examined existing research on kids and technology, the latest research that has been published, including my own. And I looked broadly across disciplines. And I think I come to this broad look honestly from my mentor, who is a great synthesizer. And I have always considered myself somewhat of a synthesizer.
But I don't pretend to be as good as Howard. But I really wanted to look broadly at, what are computer scientists finding? And what are developmental scientists finding? What are they finding in the learning sciences? And is there anything that we can pull from there to make some sort of a throughline story? So needless to say, I covered a lot of ground work-- 672 footnotes, over 1,000 citations. It was a lot. And as I was writing this, I would often get the feedback, that's a lot that you're telling. What shape is it taking? And one thing that kept me focused throughout was this question.
When does technology support child development? And when does it not? And I found that although the research is certainly complex, there are a lot of, it depends, kind of answers. I found that even so, I was able to detect a signal when I focused on this question. And I developed that signal into a two-part framework that can be stated in a single sentence.
Self-directed, community-supported digital experiences are best for children's development. So in my talk, I'm going to dig into each of these areas, self-directed, community-supported, and bring in a few examples from the book. And if you're interested, you can read other examples from the book.
So starting with self-directed, which Howard and I talk a lot about, we don't use that term. But in our book, The App Generation, we talk about app enablement, which is very similar to this idea, the idea that technology creates experiences that place children in the driver's seat of their digital experiences. So really, children rather than the technology are calling the shots. And they're in control. So let's take an example from early childhood.
This is one of the examples of exploring children's digital play. And as I do remember, I first start off with, what's happening developmentally? What role does play, play in children's development? And so these are just a few of the many skills that kids are acquiring when they engage in play, particularly open-ended play. So they're learning symbolic thinking.
They're learning to try things out and see their response and adjust. So they're being little scientists. They're learning theory of mind, that other people have points of view that may be different from theirs. They're learning interpersonal skills.
If things don't go well in interpersonal interaction, they're learning to regulate their emotions. And through these interpersonal interactions, they're learning a sense of what's right, what's wrong, what's fair and what's not-- their moral sensibility. But not all play is created equal. And not all experiences are equally supportive of these kinds of skills. So the question is, what kinds of play experiences are best for children to develop? So here, we come to Oliver and his stepsister, Philippa. And if you are anything like me, during the pandemic, you were home, speaking for cardboard boxes.
And so Oliver and Philippa loved playing with cardboard boxes. I mean, they still do. But if you can imagine, what are the kinds of things that they're doing as they play with these cardboard boxes? And actually, now I remember, last year, when Oliver and I were visiting Howard and Ellen, Ellen has a pile of cardboard boxes on hand for kids to play with. And Oliver took advantage of that. But as Oliver and Phillipa are playing here, it's very much they're coming up with their own plot lines. They are the masters of their own experience.
They're determining how long they play, what they play. They're negotiating questions of fairness. They're really doing a lot with these cardboard boxes, not so much with what's inside of them, but the actual boxes. And one way of thinking about the affordances of playing with things like cardboard boxes or little pebbles, even paper clips, sand-- sand is the ultimate of what I would call-- not what I just called, but this idea of loose parts.
So this is an idea, the idea of loose parts of play, comes from a late sculpture professor, Simon Nicholson. But I first learned about it from an amazing book by Alexandra Lange called The Design of Childhood. And so what I really like about this idea of loose parts is that it says it all.
It doesn't require a lot of explanation. The idea is that if kids have a lot of loose parts in their environment, that's the best thing for them to engage in open-ended, self-directed play experience. So with loose parts, if you think about what kids can do, they're really the ones who can design their own worlds and direct their own play, rather than playing within the boundaries of someone else's design. And so this open-ended, self-directed play is critical to development. And it supports a lot of the skills that I talked about on the previous slide.
Now, the question that I explore in the book is, do loose parts come in digital form? And so to answer this question, let's take a look at two very different play experiences, both of which are on my son Oliver's tablet right now. So Peppa's Paintbox and PAW Patrol Rescue World. So as I mentioned, Oliver has both of these. He enjoys both of them, especially when he was around three or four. He's outgrown them a little bit. But as I'll show, the kind of play experiences they offer are actually pretty different.
So if we start with Peppa's Paintbox, so you'll see Oliver opens up the app. He presses it. And he's immediately taken to a blank canvas.
So you can think of the blank canvas actually as a loose part. He can do whatever he wants within reason. He decides that he wants to change that white background to blue, which is his favorite color.
So that's not surprising. So he chooses-- the implement he uses is a [INAUDIBLE] pen. He [INAUDIBLE] blue. He chooses an instrument. Here, he chooses a multi-color paintbrush. And he draws free-form.
He can choose little stamps if he wants to that are related to the story of Peppa Pig. And he really likes these flowers that are animated. He presses them. And they grow out of the flower plot. And then he-- fast forward a little bit. He adds a lot more stamps.
And then all of the characters ooh and aww. The sound isn't on. But they do ooh and aww at the end. So it's not exactly going to make it to the Louvre, I don't think. But he's had fun. And importantly, he is in control.
Now, I'm not going to show you a video of him playing PAW Patrol because honestly, it's a little bit boring. But I am going to point out certain features of playing PAW Patrol. So when he opens up PAW Patrol, he is given the choice of different missions. And basically, they have sort of different story-lines. But the idea is you go from point a to point b in a linear fashion. And there's only one direction to go.
You do it as efficiently as you can and by collecting as many pup treats as you possibly can collect, as well as earning badges. And it's really those collecting pup treats and earning badges that keeps Oliver playing, and playing for probably longer than he would have if he didn't have all those pup treats and badges to collect. And so this experience of playing with PAW Patrol versus Peppa's Paintbox feels very different. For instance, when I was watching Oliver engaged with Peppa's Paintbox, it's very-- he's able to maintain a conversation with me. He's very much in control.
PAW Patrol, that's different. It's extremely hard for me even get his attention, let alone hold a conversation. So when we put these two digital play experiences side by side, I asked, who's in control, the child or the app? I would argue that Peppa's Paintbox allows for a more self-directed experience. If you think about why, what makes this self-directed, it's open-ended. It's self-paced rather than system-paced. It has a ton of [INAUDIBLE] in it.
And importantly, there's an absence of dark patterns. And so in the context of children's technology, dark patterns are designs that are intentionally designed to keep kids engaged on a platform for as long as possible-- so things like time pressures, game characters who cry if you exit the platform, virtual rewards like pup treats, navigation constraints, making it really difficult to find your way home so that you'll stay actually in the platforms, all of these things are examples of dark patterns that emphasize engagement over [INAUDIBLE]. Generally speaking, this question of who's in control, the child or the technology, is core to determining whether digital experience is self-directed or not. And it can be applied to a range of tech experiences, not just digital play, across many different stages of development.
And hopefully, the two examples I showed really reinforce the idea of how important design is to all of us. So the presence or absence of loose parts, the presence or absence of dark patterns, whether something is system-paced or self-paced, all of these things, all of these design decisions will determine whether a digital experience is more or less self-directed. Now, before I move on to the older kids, I want to offer one coda, a small coda that I think is worth noting when it comes to digital loose parts.
As I note in the book, it may be that digital loose parts are not quite as loose as analog loose parts. So if you consider Peppa's Paintbox, it is very open-ended. It's self-paced. But still, when it comes to painting, there are limits to what Oliver can do. There are only about five or six different color options. There's no option to blend colors the way he and Phillipa are doing in the analog world.
And they can actually blend colors to their heart's content. And there's really no limit to the nuance of what they can do in the analog world. And so I just want to offer that little coda to say that, yes, digital loose parts exist. But they may not be quite as loose as they are in analog world. OK, so moving on, now that we've got a sense of what a self-directed experience looks like at least in early childhood, let's take a look at what a self-directed experience might look like for teens during adolescence.
And here again, I'm going to focus on the importance of design. I'm also going to dig a little bit deeper because in the book, it's not just design that I argue is important. It's individual children and what they bring to a digital experience as well as their surrounding context. And all of these things are important when it comes to whether or not a technology experience is going to be more or less self-directed, more or less community-supported. So as I did with play, think about what's going on in adolescents. So we've got a lot going on-- changing family relationships, as many tweens and teens start to move away from their parents but not completely disconnected-- so figuring out the right level of autonomy, the right level of connection through an individuation process.
Figuring out where you stand in your peer relationships purely just become central basis for not just social interaction but identity development, which is really core during adolescence. And then also as adolescents become older, starting to think about, what are the sort of roles I'm going to take on as I get older? What are the career and civic roles that I'm interested in taking on? So within this developmental context, digital experiences tend to center unsurprisingly around peer interactions, identity development, civic expression, and so on. So what makes digital experiences more or less self-directed? So the idea of loose parts may not translate perfectly into this context of social media. But the idea of agency certainly does.
And again, it comes down to who's in the driver's seat. So first, I want to focus on the good stuff because there is a lot of good stuff. And I've just offered a couple of citations from my earlier work, my book that I wrote immediately before this. Writers in the Secret Garden really focuses on a lot of the good stuff. My co-author Cecilia Aragon and I explore what young people are getting out of their participation in fiction communities.
They're not just learning to write. They're learning about their identities. They're exploring often marginalized identities. They are experiencing a sense of community that often eludes them and offering context.
So there's a lot of opportunities to develop your interests, your skills, whether that's cooking or music or whatever you can imagine, exploring emerging identities, particularly those that are marginalized in one way or the other in offline contexts and then finding connection in community. And so many teens are having these kinds of experiences, including my younger sibling Molly, who I talk about in chapter seven. And I feel like I need to preface this by saying Molly is my much younger sibling. So they were born when I was a senior in high school. We have the same mother, which is pretty impressive for my mother. But we're in very distinct generations.
So Molly is really a Gen Z'er. And I am Gen X-- so I would say young Gen X. But still, we're in different generations. And actually, Molly had a little bit of a starring role in The App Generation.
And soon after Howard and I published The App Generation, actually, Molly came out to me as liking girls more than boys. And then when I was writing Technology's Child, they came out to me as using they/them pronouns and exploring a trans identity. And as I was writing this book, we've had many conversations, many formal interview conversations. And Molly explained to me how central the internet was as they were growing up as early adolescence, all the way through their teen years and into emerging adulthood. It was really centered particularly in fiction, which I actually hadn't known about, and the site Tumblr, which is a site that often attracts people who are really into different kind of cultures.
It has a sort of social justice sensibility. And on that site, Molly really found a sense of connection and validation for the identity that they were experiencing and feeling inside but also just a cognitive framework for how to think about how they were feeling. And this is something that really eluded that offline. We both went to the same school in Bermuda, a tiny island that's very British. We both went to an all girls school.
And Molly really didn't feel like they could express their identity at all in their authentic way in that school. So online, on Tumblr in particular, they felt much more self-directed. So that's just one specific example.
And I want to underscore that Molly's story is distinct. Like every team in my research, their experience is distinct. But there are themes that resonate and connect across teens.
And I think that part is the important part here. But even so, the internet was not an unmitigated positive for Molly. I won't go into the details.
But for too many teens like Molly and others, their network experiences are a source of stress in their lives. Yes, they can often be great. They often include introduced stressors. So my research and research with others, including Kerry and Emily Weinstein, who wrote an amazing book, too, really explores the stress that teens often experience when they're on their phones, when they're communicating through social media or one-to-one text messaging. And it's often difficult for teens to feel in the driver's seat of these kinds of digital experiences.
It's difficult for them to experience a sense of self-direction. And part of the reason for this, although certainly not the whole reason, can be found in the way technologies are designed. So here, again, design matters.
So let's consider some specific features that are common across many social media platforms and how they might undermine a sense of self-direction. So if we take these two companion features, infinite scroll, the ability to go through your feed for as long as you want. We weren't always able to do that. That was a specific design that was introduced at some point in this whole social media landscape that we have now-- the ability to scroll through infinitely through a curated feed that is curated not chronologically, but algorithmically.
Both of these two features in combination with each other can be an extremely powerful pull on a teen's attention. It can be extremely powerful on our attention, but especially for teens, whose executive function development is still very much a work in progress. It's very hard to feel like you're in the driver's seat in the face of these kinds of features. So consider also features like likes, comments, tagging. These kinds of metrics are what really feed the algorithm and decide and then determine what you're going to see on your feed. They're also a very visible and very quantifiable way to signal peer group affiliation-- who's in, who's out, who's popular, who's not.
And the notifications that are delivered to your phone whenever you get a like or a comment or if you're tagged in a post, those are sort of an incessant reminder that these metrics are important. They're salient. You need to pay attention to them. So all of these features and others, like filters and other types of things, they shape what you can do on a social media platform.
They shape what gets seen through the feed. And they also shape what is and what is not valued. And importantly, what is done, what is seen, what is valued is very much emphasizing content that attracts and maintains attention rather than content that supports feelings of self-direction. So if you recall PAW Patrol Rescue, you might think of these kinds of features, especially things like likes and comments, as sort of social media pup treats, if you will.
And so these features are hard enough for adults to manage but even harder, as I said, for teens, whose self control toolbox is still developing, as well as their sensitivity to social feedback is at an all time high. So those two things just make it a really difficult scenario for them. So here's one way that I offer in the book to think about how design interacts with human behavior and motivation. So I think about and I talk about in the book, the idea of three layers of technology. So on the bottom, the first layer, you've got the features. So things like likes and tagging and filters, those are individual design decisions that have been specifically programmed into a particular classification.
And these features make possible certain actions. And they prevent other actions. And so that leads up to the practice layer. And that sort of determines what you can and what you can't do, the possibilities for action.
And so this is where you find affordances, like visibility and persistence, [INAUDIBLE] and spreadability. It's because of the features on the bottom layer. But it's as they interact with people and their values and their motivations. And then these practices that get established through affordances, these possibilities for actions, eventually become specific cultures that end up being distinct across different platforms.
So here, we have the culture layer. And so the cultures that you tend to find on Instagram, BeReal, or Tumblr, they are quite different. And I say cultures because within each one, there are many different subcultures. But hopefully, this model helps to show how specific design decisions interact with human behavior and shape the kind of experiences that teens have online. This discussion also points to the fact that yes, design matters, but so do the individuals who are interacting with the design and their specific content.
So although there are clearly patterns to the challenges that teens face on social media, in large part because of the way these sites are designed, it doesn't quite work the same way for all teens. And that's because not all teens are the same. And not all contexts are the same. So just consider briefly. Let's say you have two hypothetical teens. They're looking at the exact same content on TikTok, which is probably unlikely given how hyper-personalized the algorithm is.
But let's just say they're generally looking at very attractive images on TikTok. One of the teens though has low body satisfaction. And the other one doesn't. Those two teens, although they're looking at the same content and they're interacting with the same features, they're going to react quite differently to the images they come across on their social media. Or you might have two teens with similar vulnerabilities to body dissatisfaction. But their surrounding contexts are quite different.
So maybe one teen has a supportive adult in their life or a friend. And maybe those supports, the supportive people help them to reframe what they're seeing online. Or maybe they help them to reframe how a friend reacts to one of their communications online. Maybe they encourage them to curate their feeds so that they're encountering body positive imagery rather than inspirational content. So in that sense, the surrounding context of support is very important. And then that brings us to the second part of the framework, community-supported.
So community support is essential for young people's positive digital experiences. And these are technology experiences that are supported by others, either during or surrounding a digital experience. So if we go back to Oliver and Peppa's Paintbox and younger children in general, a lot of the support that is provided for young people's digital experiences comes surrounding their experience, and particularly from caregivers. So as a caregiver to Oliver, I often will take the role of gatekeeper. I'll allow him to download certain apps and not other apps.
As he engages in a particular digital experience, I'll monitor what he's doing. I'll figure out, well, I think that's been a long enough time. [INAUDIBLE] on something else. Often, what I'll do is I'm often not the greatest gatekeeper because I don't have time to read all the reviews on Common Sense Media.
So we often will experiment with different apps. And I'll observe how he acts during, how he acts after. I'll really monitor that and then make a decision. Should we keep that app on? Or should we take it off? Sometimes, Oliver lets me engage in a digital experience with them.
So joint media engagement is a great way for parents to support their children's digital experiences. And so sometimes, Oliver has been known to let me contribute a picture on Peppa's Paintbox. He certainly likes to talk to me about what he's drawing. Sometimes, what he draws reminds me of an experience we've had, maybe a week or so ago. And so I start to make connections to other parts of his life and that way, support his digital experience.
Now, moving into older children and teens, these same roles are still important. So especially when you think of tweens and when they're going to get their first phone, what are they going to be allowed to do on it, parents have a really important role to play as gatekeeper, as monitor. Families who play video games together, for instance, are engaging in joint media engagement. But as children's interior lives become more complex, so do the roles that the people in their lives [INAUDIBLE] to support their digital experiences. So here, actually, I draw a lot on Carrie and Emily's book, Behind Their Screens.
One important role that they talk about for parents and others in teens' lives is to ask, just ask. And listen with empathy to what they have to say. And often, what caregivers can do is to help reframe what teens are seeing online. That can be really helpful. For instance, if you send a text to a friend and they don't respond immediately, maybe we can reframe that away from, they don't like you anymore, to maybe they have homework to do or their phone died or they're having dinner.
So there are ways to reframe and help to provide a bit of context and balance to how kids are interpreting their digital experiences. In one of my studies from a few years ago, we interviewed a group of parents and a group of teens of different ages. And we talked to them about their experiences with their phones, and particularly what they found challenging.
And in reading the transcripts, sometimes, it was hard to distinguish the two groups from each other because a lot of the challenges that they experienced were very similar. And so I think that that opens up an opportunity for parents to share their struggles and to connect with their teens by sharing, you know what? I struggled with these same things. And maybe together, we can help develop strategies. So maybe we both are struggling with checking our phones in the middle of the night. That's something that I'm really bad at.
So maybe we would come up with a strategy to put our phones in separate rooms. Now, as I've talked about these roles, I've been really focusing on the roles that caregivers can provide. But I do want to underscore that all of these roles can be taken on not just by caregivers but other people, like friends and teachers, siblings, extended family members, even people in the community. So it's not just parents. Sometimes, the support is not just coming from surrounding the technology experience, as it often is when we talk about parents.
But sometimes, it's actually coming from within the platform. So a great example of that is Molly and the experiences of support that they felt on Tumblr. That support was happening in the digital experience. So support can be surrounding.
It can also be within. And sometimes, the platform itself, including how it's structured, how it's governed, that platform can be a source. So for instance, platforms like TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, they've all recently introduced features such as time limits, take a break nudges, disabling autoplay for teen accounts, setting teen accounts as default private, all of these things are supports that hopefully will promote teens' well-being through social media use. And those examples that point close attention to the fact that, once again, design matters. So take a break nudges, setting privacy as a default, all of those are specific design decisions.
And also, and this is an important point I make especially towards the end of the book, is that community support is more than just individuals. It's more than just individual parents, peers, and teachers. And when it comes to supporting kids and their technology experiences, we've put so much onus on individuals, on individual families and teens themselves.
And so the examples from earlier, like take a break nudges and disabling autoplay and so forth, those features were introduced directly after an important piece of legislation was passed in the UK. So a couple of years ago, the UK passed their Age Appropriate Design Code. And that really spurred a lot of these companies to make concrete decisions to the way young people experience and interact with their platforms. So that's all to say that tech designers have a role to play. Government policy has a role to play.
Researchers I think have a really important role to play in helping policymakers figure out, what are the right kinds of regulations? And what may not be so effective? And that really brings me back to my two roles that I identify most closely with right now, parent and teacher. And so I just wanted to conclude my talk by reflecting on how I'm using this two-step framework to help guide what I do as the researcher and what I do as a parent. So as a researcher, my current work is focused on identifying specific designs. And sometimes, we're trying to exploring new interaction designs that support healthy development rather than undermine it, especially during the teen years.
My collaborators and I are also investigating ways to detect in as real time as possible when things are going well and when they're going not so well as teens are interacting with different social media platforms. And as a parent, I use the framework really, honestly, every day. It's a tool that I use to guide my decision making around all the various technologies. So by asking, is it self-directed, is it community-supported, I feel like I'm actually putting my research and the research of others to work for my specific situation and my individual child. And through that, the complex becomes concrete. And I have a better sense of when to turn on the PAW Patrol.
However, as this picture indicates, he's in an airport there. And when we're in an airport or in a plane, all bets are off. And there's no [INAUDIBLE] PAW Patrol [INAUDIBLE].. And so I'll leave you with this question of, what about you? What are the roles that you're coming to this topic with? And how might you incorporate the two-step framework to those roles? And I will conclude there. And for any parents in the audience, if you're interested, I do have a newsletter that you can sign up for.
It's an occasional newsletter, just once a week. But if you're interested, you can sign up on katiedavisresearch.com. But thank you so much! [APPLAUSE] MYANNE KRIVOSHEY: Does anyone have any questions? Sorry, I'm-- any questions from anyone? AUDIENCE: Yes, I have a bit of a comment on [INAUDIBLE] individual [INAUDIBLE]. And it becomes this issue of, how do we control this when it's often done outside [INAUDIBLE]..
KATIE DAVIS: Yeah, that's a great question. And I assume that you're talking more about older teen years, where a lot of what teens are doing online, we don't necessarily see. And that's where I think it really comes down to-- and Carrie can also chime in here too, if she wants. But I do think it comes down to connection. The more you can find connection with a particular teen, the more likely it is they're going to share with you what's going well, what's not going so well.
And it can be hard, though. Some teens don't want to talk. And so I think there are some specific strategies that you can use to support that connection. So one is finding common ground and recognizing that we all have similar struggles, even if we might be using technology in different ways or having different experiences on different platforms. But then also, I think what's really important for adults to realize in particular is that yes, there might be some commonalities. But there are also some really important differences to how teens are experiencing these challenges.
And that has to do with where they are developmentally. And so I like to think of actually what kids are doing at every age and stage of development as a developmental job. It's a job that they're doing that's every bit as important as my job or your job. And hopefully, in the adolescent years, that job is to figure out who you are and to figure out who your friends are and to figure out social interaction.
And often, I think adults minimize the importance of that job. So I think keeping that front and centered, that is probably the most important job that teens have right now. It will help adults take what they're doing a little bit more seriously and hopefully support that connection. So I guess that just, for me, it comes down to connection.
The one other thing I'll add there is that I think also, having now been a parent but also having been an elementary school teacher, I'm familiar with the discomfort of taking on roles that are not roles where I'm completely in control. And that was particularly when I was a new teacher. I never wanted to admit that I didn't know something. But parents, I think, and teachers, really do have a role to play of learning alongside people. And it does take a little bit of vulnerability, though. It's tricky.
AUDIENCE: Hey, everyone. My name is [INAUDIBLE]. And [INAUDIBLE] case.
[INAUDIBLE] be able to participate. And so my question is, you [INAUDIBLE] in the book? I may be wrong [INAUDIBLE] because I want the children-- [INAUDIBLE] I run a children's organization called [INAUDIBLE] technology [INAUDIBLE] participate. So one thing I have noticed is children are very-- they teach themselves. You have emphasized on the role of teachers, parents.
But what about with-- what do we say, self-driven, and self-driven by your friends because that's what we are finding. Most of the kids, we are using TikTok all [INAUDIBLE].. With this generation, that's all of this challenge. So the drive is not coming from the [INAUDIBLE].. It's not coming from the platform.
It's coming from the kids. So what happens during that time? And I love the context bit because I think this is the first time I've gotten to talk [INAUDIBLE]. Thank you. KATIE DAVIS: No, I think that's a great point. I'm not sure if there's a specific question in there.
But I think the idea that a lot of the practices that young people are engaging in online, a lot of them are peer culture-driven. And that is a really important context, especially for teens, young teens, older teens, that peer culture. And that really drives a lot of what they're doing.
But still, it's interacting with the specific design features of the platform. And that combination I think is really interesting. And it's why what we see teens doing online can be so different from [INAUDIBLE]..
So there are some similarities because of the design. There are differences because of the context and the individual [INAUDIBLE]. AUDIENCE: Hi, Katie. Can you say a bit more about what you mean by community-supported [INAUDIBLE] young kids, playing things like PAW Patrol? And also, related to that, [INAUDIBLE] whether it is self-directed or not, [INAUDIBLE] support [INAUDIBLE] community support for [INAUDIBLE].
KATIE DAVIS: Yes, so the first part of that, community support-- so I went through the younger years. I talked about how really, the family context is the primary context for community support with the exception of the way different platforms are regulated. It does provide sort of a surrounding level of community support.
But really, when it comes to how a kid is interacting with PAW Patrol and Peppa's Paintbox, that support is generally coming from the caregiver or siblings. Siblings are very common, too-- sometimes from teachers. But that's really the context that I talk about. And then what is the second question? AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] have parents who are supporting [INAUDIBLE] that are not self-directed? KATIE DAVIS: Oh, sure. AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] community support for the wrong stuff. KATIE DAVIS: Right.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] together. KATIE DAVIS: Absolutely, yeah, that's really an interesting idea. I mean, certainly, there could be community support for non-self-directed experiences.
And I can't think of specific examples, but yeah, absolutely. There's also-- maybe I'll use that as an opportunity to note that what self-directed looks like for different kids is different. So I talk about kids with disabilities in one of my chapters. And their experience of a self-directed individual experience is going to be different. It doesn't mean that it's not relevant. I still think it's still very much possible for those who experience self-direction with the proper scaffolds.
It just looks different. And so the way community support looks, the way self-direction looks is going to be different. AUDIENCE: Hi, I have a similar question about parents and helper, in this case. You were mentioning parents or caregiver or siblings could be responsible for monitoring, helping, and joint media engagement. In some cases, parents are-- you are also a parent. How did you make yourself, or in a larger case, [INAUDIBLE] accountable for all this activity when we are busy catching up with our own businesses? KATIE DAVIS: Absolutely, so that comes to the idea that the onus should not just be on parents.
So there's certainly supportive roles that parents do play. But I do talk a lot in the book about how it should not be all on the parents. It should be much easier to change the default settings. One of my colleagues, Alexis Hiniker, wrote a piece recently where she asked us to think about, what would it look like to take a public health perspective to this and treat intervention as a universal intervention and just make all of the good stuff default right from the beginning? Then that would take a little bit of onus off of the parents to have to figure it all out because I should know how to do this. And still, it's sometimes hard for me to do.
But yeah, so I think that's one example. Unfortunately, the reason why the defaults are not all towards supporting well-being is because it doesn't always align with the bottom line, which is where government policy and regulation do. AUDIENCE: Hi, Katie. Thanks for a terrific talk.
And I also want to salute you for choosing to research the keys to distill so much to serve the behavior of parents [INAUDIBLE].. My question is, I was sort of surprised. I don't think you used the word "learning" once in this talk. And I would think that the conflict of your definition of healthy development would include learning.
And essentially, that introduces the possibility of structured experiences, not just exploring completely self-directed exploration. So I just wondered if you wanted to comment on that. KATIE DAVIS: Absolutely. So I do-- I have a chapter on learning in a more formal Montessori school. And in that chapter, I draw a lot-- I still think self-direction applies.
I think I talk about the promises of technology and how the technology is introduced in a careful, thoughtful way [INAUDIBLE] support from the administration. It can really support personalized and customized learning opportunities. However, I draw a lot on Justin Reich's book, Failure to Disrupt, about how, so often when you have new technologies, instead of introducing them into the school and they transform the way learning happens, they actually get domesticated by the school and its structures. And so yeah, in that chapter, I do talk a lot about the challenges of realizing this vision of self-directed, community-supported experiences in a learning context, just because of how schools are set up and how they're run in tradition. But I do still think, and I hope I prove and that I demonstrate in that chapter that the framework does very much apply to formal educational settings.
It's just [INAUDIBLE]. AUDIENCE: Can you hear me? Can you hear me? KATIE DAVIS: Barely. AUDIENCE: Yeah, [INAUDIBLE]. How's this? KATIE DAVIS: Oh, great. That's great.
AUDIENCE: OK, good. Thank you for a really engaging talk. My question is, you talked about how social media can help with identity development [INAUDIBLE].
I'm wondering how we can improve [INAUDIBLE].. And as a very superficial example, in middle school, [INAUDIBLE] going to become [INAUDIBLE].. So yeah, in that sort of level of [INAUDIBLE] interesting [INAUDIBLE]. How does that factor in [INAUDIBLE]?? KATIE DAVIS: Yeah, that's a great question. I guess maybe that's an opportunity for me to come back to the hearts of all these identity exploration that were not so easy.
And I think one challenge for Molly, at least, and other teens that I spoke with is that it may be that you have sort of a sense of validation for one identity in a particular context like Tumblr. But then in different parts of your life, you have to still keep that identity sort of hidden. And you can develop this feeling of fragmentation. And [INAUDIBLE] and authenticity is how Molly described it. And so it really wasn't until they brought that identity that they knew they had already and they were expressing on Tumblr out into more offline contexts that they started to feel more authentic and more like they're all of themselves or they're all these different contexts. But I do think because there is so much opportunity to express and explore different identities that it can sometimes be challenging to bring them all into conversation with each other and to figure out, what's the authentic? MYANNE KRIVOSHEY: All right, if there are no other questions, thank you so much, Katie.
And we have books here available for sale. Thank you, everyone, for attending. [APPLAUSE]