Children and the Internet: a Positive Combination?

The new generation of young people has access to many things that their parents, and certainly their grandparents, did not at the same stage in life. Walk into the apartment of a reasonably-affluent young family in Estonia today and you are less likely to see a family sitting down in front of the same television programme than you are to see each family member engaged in activities on a different electronic device.

Is this, in itself, a bad thing, or just the natural evolution of things? Telia, in association with the Opinion Festival, will discuss this in Paide, on August 13th at 5pm.

In the media and in everyday conversation, there is frequent discussion of the place of technology in everyday life. Many of the opinions are built upon personal circumstance, or unscientific speculation. That’s why Telia is forming a discussion forum at the Opinion festival to ask how the internet can play a positive role in the development of children.

The organisers are looking for balanced, rational, scientific contributions to help answer the questions that parents have to answer constantly. How can anyone define a reasonable amount of time for a smartphone or tablet to be used? When does pleasure at using a social network become an addiction? Is the answer to ban, or moderate, access to certain information channels?

We have seen recently in debates as diverse as those over the Estonian Cohabitation Law, the US Presidential Election, and the release of the new Ghostbusters film, that while the internet is a tremendous democratising tool, it has also allowed sexism, racism and homophobia to be viewed by increasing numbers of people, sometimes by children. There have also been numerous instances of children being trolled using social media comments, something which is viewed as very hard, if not impossible, to regulate. How can parents ensure that children are given access to the information they need, but are protected from some of the worst excesses of the online world?

That’s not all that will be discussed, though. There will also be a look at the kind of role schools in Estonia and more widely can play in helping parents and children to make good use of the unlimited information at their fingertips. With the Estonian government taking a proud lead on technological development in schools, the increased use of computers to solve childhood problems must go hand-in-hand with an understanding of its impact on society.

The discussion will be moderated by Katrin Tiidenberg, a sociologist specialising in online matters from Tallinn University’s Institute of Social Sciences. Her main research topic is social media user practices, especially concerning visual expression.

She will be joined by Tõnu Piibur, Headteacher of Tallinn’s Pelgulinn High School. He says that he uses electronic devices daily, and he encourages, but does not force, students to find new ways to use technology in the classroom.

Speaker Kristi Vinter, the Director of the Institute of Educational Sciences at Tallinn University, says, “I have small children, and a research interest in the internet. In 2013 I defended my doctoral thesis at Tallinn University, the subject of which was the use of digital resources with young children in the kindergarten and the home. Tallinn University will teach future teachers to recognise and analyse the global impact of digital media and the possibilities it brings for developing and teaching children. I have carried training on this topic with teachers and parents.”

Kaisa Kask, who is 15 years old and attends the Humanitarian High School in Pärnu, says “I sing, I play the flute and I’m interested in acting and the theatre in general. As with any of our younger generation, I am constantly to be found with my phone in my hand, using the internet. Most of my communication, homework, and news consumption is done on that.” Kaisa will be on the panel alongside Katrin Isotamm, a mother who has many views on children and the internet.