Adults: Lagging in Internet Understanding2

Most of your teachers, parents or trusted adults, and “authorities” are Gen Xers, Baby Boomers, and a few Millennials. In 1991, Marc Prensky described these adults as “Digital Immigrants” because they were not raised with smartphones or 24/7 internet like your generation. As a result, some adults adapt to new technology with ease, while others struggle to achieve digital proficiency.

Adults warn young people about dangers and say, “Kids today think they know everything.” Adults have forgotten when they once had a “teen brain” filled with hormones, cognitive biases (we will talk about these in the next module), and a half-formed prefrontal cortex long before “life” happened (i.e., experience) making them more aware of suspicious people and situations. A big difference between when adults were young and today is back then all of the bad decisions they made were not captured forever on the internet.

Young People: Pioneers of a Whole New World

Dr. Jean Twenge Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University, and author of more than 140 scientific publications, has labeled those born between 1995 and 2012 as the “iGen” generation3 because those born during these years have grown up with smartphones.

Marc Prensky, who we referred to above, also states that there is already evidence that young peoples’ brains are forming differently resulting in a generation that is learning differently. As the pioneers of this new frontier, today’s young people will be the ones to change schools, laws, communication equipment, and business. Because of the technology that has existed since your birth, you have unlimited access to information and people around the world. As a result, you have been exposed to more than any other generation before you.

The Downside…

Previously, predators had to be in the same place as the victim to hurt them, but instant access to the internet has changed that. Now, as connected members of the global village, our entire lives happen online with no training or history to guide us. The internet is not bad, but like any tool, it can be used for good or evil. Right now, it is a predators’ paradise. Parents and trusted adults want to believe children are safe when they are home, but predators can access anyone at any time and in any location thanks to the internet.

You are young, enthusiastic risk-takers and you can go places on the internet most adults do not even know exist. What you may not understand is that predators also understand this, and much more. Real-world experience and knowledge come with age and time. Think about what you believed and thought you knew five years ago. Looking back, you will likely see that you thought you knew so much, and now you know so much more than that. When graduating middle school, young people may think, “Now, I know it all.” Then they graduate high school, and may think, “Okay, I thought I knew everything in middle school, but now I am an adult, and now I know all there is to know.” But then, they go on to college, or they have a few additional years of adult experience in the world, and then they realize, “I now realize that I know very little at all.”

With age and experience comes wisdom. Part of that wisdom is recognizing that there is a vast world of knowledge and expertise out there, and you only know a portion of it. That is where some parents and trusted adults are coming from when they talk about knowing more than you and to beware, for example, of predators online. It comes from a place of experienced-adult-understanding that there is so much more knowledge and experience that you have yet to possess. Although you may know more than some adults about the internet, adults know more about the dangers that are on the internet. While you can help adults understand the internet better, it is important to recognize that you have more to learn from adults before you become one yourself, and that you are sometimes making decisions based on cognitive biases, and without real-world exposure and experience.