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New technologies’ effect on children’s interaction

Today’s children represent the first generation fully grown up in the era of the internet, new electronic media, and digital means of communication. Easily accessible and affordable, computers, the internet, mobile phones, and other forms of instant communication are all taken for granted in our homes, embedded in our daily routine.

A recent study was carried out by Shirley Zammit as part-fulfillment of an Master’s in Communications Studies with the University of Leicester to examine how Maltese children use new media in their daily lives. The study focused on a group of students aged seven to 11 who use media daily, to identify how this affects their social interaction and integration.

From the findings, it appears Maltese children are using various technologies, at par with their European counterparts. Children are exposed to ‘old’ media (television and radio), and use various ‘new’ technologies.

They are all familiar with technological jargon and have no problem using different media even without help from their parents. The results also show that children use media daily; they are used to using different media at the same time, and cannot imagine living in a world it.

Media use for the younger age group seems to be more controlled by parents, and mostly used for educational purposes, with limited access to social sites and to portable game consoles; they do not seem to be as dependent on media as the older children.

The latter group, on the other hand, use media more independently, use social sites more freely (sometimes even accessing their parent’s accounts on Facebook to play online games and chat to friends), and have their own mobile phones.

Media ownership, and more importantly owning the latest gadget (even if inherited from their parents), and letting others know about it, plays an important role for children when discussing their personal possessions with peers. The older participants – 10- and 11-year olds – seem to be using media simultaneously rather than sequentially. This helps to explain why children seem to be using more media, even though their time of exposure has not increased. Most of the older participants declared that they tend to leave the television set on in the background while they use a laptop or a game console.

Children have capitalised on the social aspect of new media to be able to get in touch with their friends, over and above meeting them face-to-face. They have integrated these new technologies in their life so that they are able to use them as communication tools and the media (and related activities) have become part of their conversations with their friends.

Children also agreed that friends influence their choice of media use, as this gives a common ground for discussion with their friends – the latest programmes viewed, their most recently purchased games or online games played, their level of skill and mastery with a specific medium. Children also tend to use the same media as their friends, in order to be able to discuss progress and even share tips about particular games.

All respondents admitted to spending (long) hours using different types of media, with the length of time becoming longer as they grow older.

It seems children move from one media form to another throughout the day. An interesting factor is that while children seem to have restrictions on the time spent using one particular medium, they do not seem to have any restriction on the number of hours spent using media.

The results of the study show that children see media as a beneficial tool in their life, helping them acquire the skills necessary for them to grow up in a media-saturated environment.

The research was partially funded by the Strategic Educational Pathways Scholarship Scheme (Malta). The scholarship is part-financed by the European Union – European Social Fund (ESF) under Operational Programme II – Cohesion Policy 2007-2013, “Empowering People for More Jobs and Better Quality of Life”.

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