Natalia Borisenko: “That is what we call them — other children, digital aborigines”

The author of textbooks of the Russian language — about poor speech and the impoverishment of thinking of nowadays teenagers

Over the past 10 years, the amount of time teenagers spend online has increased several times. About 50% of Russian schoolchildren spend 3 hours a day online. There are more severe cases: about 9 hours are spent on the Internet by 8 per cent of 12-13-year-olds and by 23 per cent of 14-17-year-olds. These are the data for the year 2018 given in the monograph of psychologists of the MSU “Digital Generation of Russia: Competence and Safety”. Psychologist and philologist Natalia Borisenko told in the interview to Realnoe Vremya how this dependence affects children's attention and thinking.

“The speech of a large part of teenagers is ragged, scanty, sloppy”

Ms Borisenko, is it true that modern teenagers read little?

This question cannot be answered unequivocally. There is no uniform teenager, modern childhood is very differentiated. The problem should be considered in context and we should take into account many criteria — in which family the child grows up, in which school he studies, in which city (village). Some children go to Sirius for three weeks and have the opportunity to study with the best teachers of the country, participate in various Olympiads, win first positions, then enter the best universities and, of course, read a lot. While others are ordinary children who have difficulties with learning and reading.

For a long time, psychologists and teachers were interested in just the first, best, gifted children. I am, however, more interested in weak children, unsuccessful ones, who find it difficult to learn, difficult to speak, difficult to express their meager thoughts. And such children, unfortunately, are the majority. My dream and, at the same time, request to colleagues who work in schools: a little more attention to such weak children, a little more help to them, more smiles. This “a little more” will pay off with interest.

What problems do children have?

I can speak specifically about the Russian language. For me, the artistic metaphor of modern adolescence are the books of famous authors writing for children — Andrey Zhvalevsky and Evgenia Pasternak, in particular, a collection of short stories, published in 2012. Everything is described there. What they say, what than live…

If we talk about speech, the title of the book just characterizes the speech of a significant part of teenagers (in this case, seventh graders) — ragged, scanty, sloppy. And it's not even school jargon, it always has been. Behind this, it is the impoverishment of thought.

What is the reason of this impoverishment?

There are a lot of processes involved. Everything affects everything, as we understand it. Many teachers and psychologists believe that the modern information environment, the digital environment, as it is called, influences. This, of course, cannot be denied. Recently, I has just been engaged in the psychological characteristics of modern children and adolescents, looking for material on this problem, trying to comprehend such mental processes as thinking, speech, attention, memory, imagination, which distinguish modern children. It really turned out to be different. We call them “other kids”.

“Other children” are born in this digital environment in which we, adults, are migrants, and they — its inhabitants, aborigines. Digital aborigines. These are already stable definitions.

Photo: fotokto.ru
“Other children” are born in this digital environment in which we, adults, are migrants, and they — its inhabitants, aborigines

“Teenagers spend 6-8 lessons at school, and in the second half of days they ‘are always online’. Not hourly, but every minute”

How are modern digital children different?

There is one very important indicator that does not seem to have relation to the problems of teaching the Russian language directly — this is the time that modern children spend on the Internet. I am going to use the data of the year 2018, given in the monograph “Digital Generation of Russia: Competence and Security”. The authors are psychologists of the Moscow State University Galina Soldatova (team leader), Elena Rasskazova and Timofey Nestik. They just deal with “network” teenagers, in particular, repeatedly investigated the amount of time spent by teenagers on the Network, and what it is spent on. Over the past 10 years, this parameter has grown several times.

Judge for yourself: the number of students who spend three hours a day online every day is between 40 and 50 per cent. And there are those who spend there 9 (!) hours, they even coined the term — hyperconnectivity. Such hyperconnectivity among 12-13-year-olds is 8 per cent, and at the age of 14-17 years — already 23. It turns out that the children in the Network has the second school day. They spend 6-8 lessons at school, and in the afternoon the teenager is “always online”, not hourly, but every minute. Just like us. Another thing is that we, adults — are established personalities and can control our time, unlike teenagers.

How does that affect them?

The answer is obvious: it cannot but influence. According to psychologists, intensive digital stimulation from 3 to 9 hours a day cannot pass without a trace for the developing mental processes. If before the digital era, higher mental processes (thinking, attention, memory, etc.) developed in the communication of an adult with a child and children themselves among themselves, today this role is performed by the Internet. It is it that often appears in the role of a significant mediator between the child and the non-digital world around him.

Today's children do not know much and do not want to know. Neither names of the countries, not names of the capitals. We (I'm talking about the generation of the ‘70-80s of the last century) once specially learned by heart the capitals of Africa, trained our memory on this material. They don't need it. For them, the place is important where they can get to know this. And the place is one — the Internet, Google. They know on which site they find something, on which line of the site. Memory focuses on place, not content.

Internet search engines are not only a source of information for digital children but also a significant “other”, on whose memory you can always rely. Scientists call such memory transactional. It occurs in long-term relationships in groups (such as families or teams) whose members begin to rely on each other's memory rather than their own. In the pair of “teen-Internet” this “other” is the latter (the so-called “Google effect”).

As a result, the memory becomes not only shallow but also “short”, short-time. The habit of not trying to remember the information read is one of the most harmful habits inherent in the representatives of the digital generation. Many of them cannot learn the multiplication table, formulas, poems, foreign words, texts of educational paragraphs and statements, etc., without which no educational process is possible, and if they learn, then immediately, almost in a few hours or an hour, they forget. Alas…

Photo: gimnaziya32.ru
The habit of not trying to remember the information read is one of the most harmful habits inherent in the representatives of the digital generation. Many of them cannot learn the multiplication table, formulas, poems, foreign words, texts of educational paragraphs and statements, etc., without which no educational process is possible, and if they learn, then immediately, almost in a few hours or an hour, they forget

There are serious problems with reading and understanding the text, and not only with its memorization. Students can understand more or less simple, fairly short text of an A4 page. But if they are faced with a little more complex and a little longer text, the volume of two or three pages, then everything falls apart, they do not understand the text. And some children, even studying in the 7th grade, are even not able to read the text. Halts on every word, especially if the words are polysyllabic, participles and adverbs.

My favourite Zhvalevsky and Pasternak have a landmark book for the described problem — the story Time is Always Good. This book received 10 years ago a number of famous children's awards. The plot there is typical for children's fiction — travelling in a time machine. The teens of 1980 and the teens of 2018 are swapping places. And there is such episode: a modern teenager nicknamed Yastreb communicates with its peer from the year 1980, and he teaches him to speak... using “mouth”, without the phone and without chat. But Yastreb can't understand how they can say otherwise. The time intensely given to phones and other gadgets directly affects the ability to speak. “Yastrebs” are fifth graders who have forgotten how to speak, respond at lessons, communicate live.

However, everything is not so clear. The development of modern children and adolescents cannot be described unambiguously. I will give one more literary example, directly opposite to the first from the point of view of forecasts of speech development at children. This is the teenage dystopia of Lithuanian writer Rebekah Una Disconnect!, which has just been translated in the publishing house Samokat in Russian. In Una's digital world, the opposite is true. There teenagers for hours talking, unlike the heroes of Andrei Zhvalevsky and Evgeniya Pasternak. But this communication is absolutely inanimate. Live communication is reduced to about 1%, and 99% is given to the so-called “notebooks” — analogues of our smartphones.

Why do I talk so much about children's books? So far, there is no sufficient number of relevant scientific psychological sources, research on these problems, we often have to turn to works of art. Children's and adolescent authors to some extent are ahead of scientists, try to artistically comprehend the ambiguous processes taking place. And I think they succeed.

By Natalia Antropova
Reference

Natalia Borisenko — philologist, psychologist, member of the Union of Journalists of Moscow. Candidate of Philology. Leading Researcher at the Psychological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences since 2001 (the group of psychological problems of building school textbooks). She worked as a school teacher, taught at the Pedagogical Institute. Specialist in the field of pedagogical psychology. Member of the author's team of UMK “The Russian Language. 5-9 grades under scientific supervision of G.G. Granik, RAS.