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Nadworny: The New Digital Generation

01/29/09 5:55PM By Rich Nadworny
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(HOST) Commentator Rich Nadworny is an online strategist who's noticed how naturally kids take to the Digital Domain - especially when compared with their parents.

(NADWORNY) It didn't take me very long to realize that my two kids, both of whom are under 10, are typical Digital Natives. Cell phones are still off limits, but web sites, social media, and online customization come naturally to them. It's like we parents are immigrants in this new land, where the kids belong.

I have to admit that I've encouraged and prodded them to go there, as if they needed any prodding. I work as a digital strategist, and I'm always on the lookout for new ways people use this medium. Three years ago I came upon Star Doll, a site that lets you dress up celebrities or yourself as a kind of virtual paper doll. After showing it to my colleagues, I brought it home to my daughter to see what she thought of it.

She thought that the site rocked. It didn't take her long to start defining her own style and to create different characters to dress up. From there she discovered Barbie Girl, Club Penguin and, of course, Webkinz.

For those of you who raised kids in the 90s, Webkinz is the digital version of Beanie Babies. You get an animal doll, and more importantly, you get a code that lets you play with that animal - online.

As for Star Doll, according to some reports, it's become the most popular site for girls nine to seventeen.

My wife and I were a little freaked out, watching our daughter - and to a lesser extent her younger brother - enter into these worlds. OK, it freaked my wife out more than me. But we were both afraid of predators, of online bullying, and of... the unknown. It was amazing to see how my daughter already understood the dangers and the precautions she took herself. That reassured us, and now we notice how the creativity and personalization of these sites gives our kids a chance to test out parts of their own personalities in a safe way.

Sometimes it's hard to break out of your friends' rigid perceptions of who you are. The ability to invent, or reinvent yourself online, taps into one of the things that make America the great country that it is. Immigrants brave great distances and dangers to reinvent themselves and their families on our shores. Or we've gone from one coast to the other to do the same.

New books such as Born Digital and Grown Up Digital are now beginning to define this generation. They describe these Digital Natives or Net Geners as smarter, quicker, and more tolerant of diversity than their predecessors.

A recent report by a national task force studying kids on line suggests that the danger from sexual predators online may have been greatly overstated. It's a controversial conclusion and it doesn't mean there aren't any risks online - but we shouldn't let them make us blind to the many benefits either. These digital kids are all right.
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