Digital natives and identity development: What does this mean for parents and educators?


Techno-World: Kids As Digital Native

Kylie Halland

In the 21st century, technology and the way that humans utilize it is rapidly developing. The gap between older and younger generations is getting wider and wider, and with that comes a discrepancy in learning and culture. Digital natives are people who grew up with digital media and who take these media for granted (Bjorkland et al. 73). Younger generations, such as younger Millennials and Generation Z/iGen, are digital natives, which means they are more fluent with technology. This gives them the capacity to learn, shop, explore, and socialize, all with or on some sort of technology. Rarely does a society regress to before they had technology, so that gives way to the conclusion that we have to grow along with it, not only for the sake of culture, but for the sake of the younger generations.

There is always an older person out in the world who has something to say about technology, mostly something about how it is rotting our brains and how when they were in school they had to look up everything in an encyclopedia (don’t forget: they also had to ride a horse and carriage to school). But the two sides to this debate do not just represent technology versus no technology; they represent whether we are willing to grow and change as a culture and a society, for the benefit of the up and coming generations. If we are not willing, then we are leaving current and future students without support, both academically and socially. They need to have an older person, whether that be a teacher, sibling, or parent, to go to for help with areas in their life that are surrounded by technology, and if they do not have anyone, then they will fail to thrive. The younger generations have grown up with technology; they are comfortable around it, able to use it, and able to explain how to use it, in most cases. We need to step up, swallow our pride, and learn from them.

Technology and its widespread use by younger generations is being propelled by its addition to the education system in both grade school and college. Online classes, class forums, and online simulations add enrichment to education and allow technology-savvy children to flourish in school. In the context of development, computers and other technology may assist with the development of  representational insight (the knowledge that an entity can stand for something other than itself) with young children, because everything on a computer is a model for something else (Bjorklund et al. 148). Once children can understand that computers can be used to create models for anything they want to make, the sky’s the limit for their creativity. Children need to thrive in social settings, to a certain degree, in order to be successful in their lives. According to Vygotsky, children build their knowledge within collaboration with others, usually an older person with more skills who can model behaviors and transmit information (think teachers and students) (Bjorklund et al. 77). With the assumption that “children’s brains evolved to develop in a social context,” when a child without technology is thrown into a society that thrives on technology, they will be left behind, developmentally, by their peers because they have not had comparable social or academic experiences as them (Bjorklund et al. 68).

Though keeping up with technology may be easy and beneficial for some, not all families have access to it. WEIRD civilizations, or Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic civilizations, have the privilege of access to unlimited technology, much of which is provided free of charge by schools or work (Bjorklund et al. 68). The advancements of technology, and the ease of use by newer generations that come with it, may be isolated in WEIRD cultures (Bjorklund et al. 68). The younger generations in societies where technology use is not yet widespread may not even know what a computer looks like, let alone how to use one.

According to Piaget, exposure to logic, mathematics, and science help children reason at the formal level, so people who lack formal schooling, such as those in rural areas of WEIRD civilizations or those in third-world countries, might not have had enough exposure to technology and the like, and no amount of technology will fix that, even if they were able to afford any technology (Bjorklund et al. 175).

With that in mind, not everyone may be able to catch up to the technological advances of which the younger generations are taking advantage. Day-to-day, starting in preschool, children and adults are separated for almost eight hours a day, so they are not experiencing the same everyday life. In school, children are learning to use technology in new and evolving ways, leaving their parents and older generations in the dust, so to speak (Bjorklund et al. 87). Older generations may not even be able to catch up to their younger counterparts, because they simply do not know how. They have not had the training and education that the younger generations have had that allow them to use technology with ease. Along with education, technology also has entertainment purposes, but too much time on technology at too young of an age may interfere with children’s ability to distinguish fantasy and pretend from reality (Bjorklund et al. 183). Though there are merits in both catching up with technology and letting it be a youthful fad, there are more advantages to older generations learning with the younger generations.

Allowing yourself to learn from those before you is important, but learning from those younger than you is even more important. Our culture, and each subculture within, teaches children how to think. Currently, children are being taught to think with technology. If older generations want to learn anything at all from their younger counterparts, they need to know how they think. With being exposed to technology from such a young age, children’s brains change in structure and function in order to be fluent in that technology (Bjorklund et al. 74). Because of this change in structure, the use of technology comes easier to younger generations, and it’s only fair that we try to meet them at their level of proficiency. Vygotsky’s socio-historical influences include sociohistorical development, which refers to changes that have occurred in one’s culture and the values, norms, and technologies that such a history has generated (Bjorklund et al. 74). Older generations created this technology, but those younger were able to grow up with it; why, then, does it seem like they are being punished by those that gave it to them? Video games, computer games, and different children-friendly websites allow in-depth symbolic, or fantasy, play for children, help develop important social skills, and stimulate cognitive development and learning (Bjorklund et al. 182). This allows for a more in-depth development of social skills in a way that the world has never seen before, only benefitting the child.

The “tools of intellectual adaptation” is a method of thinking and problem-solving that children develop from interactions with older members of society, and that let children adapt their basic mental functions to their current situation (Bjorklund et al. 70). With this method in mind, it follows that children and adults think the same, but children use different tools to arrive at the same conclusions. We can easily use the inverse of this method and have those older learn from those younger, in terms of technology. The use of computers and other technology is just extended tool use, and everyone can learn how to use a tool. Technology is not only a tool in itself, but it allows children to look up how to use something they are not familiar with, giving them an advantage that older generations never had (Bjorklund et al. 235).

Simply put, there does not need to be a war between the young and the old. Older generations should not feel defeated for wanting to catch up to the younger generations: in fact, it would benefit both parties. To stimulate the learning, younger people should take advantage of their nativism in technology and host classes (after quarantine) to help older generations use different kinds of technology. Older people should not be ashamed or afraid to ask questions about technology, and younger people should not be condescending in their answers. All in all, the most important aspects of learning from each other are empathy and respect.


Bjorklund, D. F., & Causey, K. B. (2018). Children’s thinking: cognitive development and individual differences. Los Angeles: SAGE.