MediaSmarts research suggests savvy, connected youth are deeply aware of the pitfalls and benefits of technology use

Digital literacy report highlights youth perspectives on device use in the classroom and negotiating trust with parents

February 5, 2020 - A new Canadian report highlights the need for more research and resources to help parents, educators, and policymakers work with youth to develop the skills they need to thrive in today’s digital world.

The report, Talking to Youth and Parents about Online Resiliency, is part of MediaSmarts’ landmark study Young Canadians in a Wireless World (YCWW) which began 20 years ago. The study is a comprehensive investigation into the role of the internet and technology in the lives of young people across Canada.

The report highlights what we heard during focus groups with young people in Halifax, Toronto, and Ottawa about their experiences with technology at home and in the classroom. Participants’ experiences showed they are aware of both the positive and negative aspects of technology – while their devices and computers help them connect with their friends and do their schoolwork, they are often fighting external factors beyond their control:

  • Youth use social media to connect with peers and get involved in popular culture, but they fear becoming ‘addicted’ to their devices and actually prefer face-to-face interactions.
  • There is a vast amount of information at their fingertips, but the amount of inaccurate content online makes it difficult for youth to use technology to learn.
  • Schools provide opportunities to use tech to advance learning, which youth enjoy and appreciate, but sometimes require that students use a device when they would have preferred to use pen and paper.  
  • Surveillance in the classroom erodes the trust youth have in the adults who are there to help them learn, and the “creepiness” factor of surveillance was mentioned often.
  • Filters, blockers and monitoring software help show the line between appropriate and inappropriate online behaviour, but youth are able to get around those types of controls when they want to.
  • Although youth understand their parents’ fears about the online world, the controls they are placed under make it difficult to use technology for creative self-expression or community engagement. 
  • Controls also take away from a sense of trust between young people and adults, making it less likely for youth to make mistakes and learn from them (and for youth to turn to adults when they encounter problems).

A lot has changed since the previous phase of YCWW, which took place in 2013 – namely the prevalence of portable digital devices, such as smartphones. Even for youth who are often referred to as ‘digital natives’, navigating the ever-changing digital landscape is still tricky.

 “Alongside the positive benefits of having access to infinite amounts of information and opportunities to be creative, young people continue to encounter cyberbullying, online hate, misinformation and privacy issues,” said Kathryn Ann Hill, Executive Director of MediaSmarts. “In our constantly evolving digital environment it’s important that we continue to listen to young people who are uniquely positioned to let adults know what the online world looks like and how we can help them make the most of it.”

The new findings from these focus groups will form the foundation for Phase IV of YCWW, a national survey of approximately 5,000 youth to take place in late 2020.

The 2019 Young Canadians in Wireless World: Talking to Youth and Parents about Online Resiliency study was possible thanks to funding from CIRA, the Canadian Internet Registration Authority.

When it comes to kids and the internet, it’s not all doom and gloom. It seems like every day we read headlines about the challenges young people face online, but this new research from MediaSmarts suggests today’s youth are conscientious and savvy, and are setting boundaries with technology so they can participate in what’s happening in real life,” said CIRA vice-president, marketing and communications, David Fowler. “We’re happy to support this research and are keen to see MediaSmarts move this project forward.”

More information and the full report can viewed here.

Key facts:

  • In 2019, MediaSmarts conducted 12 focus group discussions with 34 young people aged 11 to 17, and eight parents with children aged 11 to 17, in Ottawa, Toronto and Halifax.
  • YCWW findings are used to create evidence-informed internet policies in Canadian schools and public libraries, and to inform public policy and standards such as the Canadian Paediatric Society’s screen time recommendations.

About MediaSmarts

MediaSmarts is the national, bilingual, not-for-profit centre for digital and media literacy. For the past 25 years MediaSmarts has advanced digital and media literacy in Canadian schools, homes and communities, delivered high-quality digital and media literacy programs and resources, and conducted vital research that contributes to the development of informed public policy on issues related to media.

Tricia Grant, Manager of Marketing and Communications
613-224-7721 ext. 231

About CIRA’s Community Investment Program

CIRA is building a better online Canada through the Community Investment Program by funding innovative projects led by charities, not-for-profits and academic institutions that are making the internet better for all Canadians. CIRA is best known for our role managing the .CA domain on behalf of all Canadians. While this remains our primary mandate, as a member-based not-for-profit ourselves, we have a much broader goal to strengthen Canada’s internet. The Community Investment Program is one of our most valuable contributions toward this goal and funds projects in infrastructure and access, digital literacy, online services, and engagement.

Erica Howes, Communications Specialist
613-237-5335 ext. 284