Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

Parent, Teacher, Author

Children and Technology: Issues of Identity

Copyright - © PictureYouth.com

Copyright – © PictureYouth.com

It’s very important that parents and caregivers consider the issue of identity when children begin to get involved with technology. This is especially applicable to social media. Two questions that we need to think about are these:

  • How are identities formed and experienced?
  • Is the “virtual” experienced as different from the “real?”

The majority of internet users do not construct radically different online personae, but some of them do. What we tend to see most often is the subtle shaping of identity through things like self-presentation and behavioral confirmation.

Self-Presentation is how we present ourselves, and both online and face to face, it is designed to communicate a particular impression, to focus certain characteristics and hide others. As Dr. Sherry Turkle says in Life on the Screen: Identity in the age of the Internet, “People expend a considerable amount of social energy attempting to get others to like and appreciate them.” This includes choosing to represent oneself in a way that leads to acceptance and praise from one’s peers.

But how do kids know if their peers like and appreciate them? Here’s where social media can get tricky in shaping identity and self-presentation. Whether an adolescent is connecting with peers through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or another form of social media, there are ways for their peers to communicate acceptance. Everyone who uses social media loves to get “likes” or “shares” or “favorites.” But what happens when the peers that one is connecting with over social media start expressing appreciation for unhealthy behavior?

In all communication, there is a feedback loop between the people involved in the communication, and when a certain behavior keeps getting positive feedback, we tend to repeat it. That’s called Behavioral Confirmation, and it tells us what will get us applause and what will get us boos and hisses. Now, what kind of behavior gets confirmed depends on the audience. If an adolescent starts posting sexy selfies and gets a lot of positive feedback from it, he or she is likely to continue. If an adolescent engages in online bullying or hate speech and gets a lot of favorites or likes, he or she is likely to continue. If, on the other hand, those with whom the teen is connecting provide negative feedback, that will also shape the behavior, and he or she may stop or at least lessen the behavior.

Caring adults need to be involved in helping kids think about what kind of self they are presenting to the world through social media.Here are some questions that you might ask:

  • Is this a self that’s consistent with you off-line identity?
  • Would you feel comfortable in sharing the identity with close relatives?
  • What do you like about your online identity?
  • What don’t you like about it?

Helping a child begin to think through how they are presenting themselves on-line is key to helping them develop healthy online behaviors. In our next post, I’ll share an activity that can be used with teens and tweens to aid them in thinking about their own digital identity.

Turkle, S. (1995). Life on the screen : identity in the age of the Internet. New York : Simon & Schuster, c1995.

3 comments on “Children and Technology: Issues of Identity

  1. Pingback: Bradley Little Blog . – Site Title

  2. Nancy Gruver
    April 20, 2015

    Thanks for working on this – it’s a crucial topic for parents of tweens and teens! Would make a great webinar.

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This entry was posted on April 20, 2015 by in Acting and tagged , , , .
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