Big Thinkers: Henry Jenkins on Parent Participation

The director of MIT's Comparative Media Studies Program encourages parents to be open minded and willing to learn from their kids.

The director of MIT's Comparative Media Studies Program encourages parents to be open minded and willing to learn from their kids.

Release Date: 5/27/09

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Guild: A group of players in World of Warcraft who join together for companionship, adventure, economic gain, and more.

Fan fiction: Stories about characters or settings written by fans of the original work in which these elements were created.

Wikipedia: A free multilingual encyclopedia with millions of articles written collaboratively by volunteers around the world.


Discussion Questions

1. What is the cultural shift that technology is enabling? How has technology changed your life and the life of your kids?

2. Are adults really afraid of technology? Why, or why not?

3. Why do adults need to be actively involved with the digital-media habits of the kids around them?

4. What does it mean to be a citizen of the world? What are practical ways we can prepare kids for this role?

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Big Thinkers: Henry Jenkins on Parent Participation (Transcript)

I’m Henry Jenkins, I’m 50 years old and I’m excited by a cultural revolution that’s taking place that’s allowing every day people to create and share media with each other. The technology’s part of it but the cultural shift has been more profound than the technological shift in a lotta ways and the technology is finally revealing to the world what we’ve known has gone on in people’s garages and living rooms and family rooms and church basements for decades now. That every day people are creating and expressing themselves in new ways and they’re learning to collaborate with each other as they do so.

What we know historically is the kids grow when they’re given a sense of responsibility, when they’re asked to exceed their own sense of their own limitations and when they’re allowed to pursue their passions and interests and for those kids who will become leaders of guilds in World of Warcraft, that’s as much an experience as being the captain of the football team. Being the editor of the school newspaper or being a blogger may be the same as the experience of being the editor of school newspaper. Being a citizen leader in some online forum, maybe very much like being elected to the school government. That we’re seeing the translation of these old practices which we knew were valuable into new spaces and spaces which connect our kids, not just with people in their own community but on a global scale so that they will be citizens of the world in the next generation because they’re growing up connecting online with kids from all parts of the planet and that learning that skill of being able to connect and collaborate with people who they don’t see face to face takes on a new importance in the network society. Just as being able to know the people in your own immediate town, took on an importance when we were much more geographically rooted as a culture.

I think for most parents the anxiety is really skin deep. They want to believe that this is an educational resource that’s valuable to their kids, they want to see their kids as bright learners who are engaged in the world in creative ways and they see that passion and enthusiasm the kid has for this stuff. But there’s a level of fear because it wasn’t part of the world of their own childhood, you know, when as parents we fall back on what our parents said and I know before I’d been parents for two years I’d said everything that my parents said that I swore I’d never say to my kids because our instinct is to trust our previous generation and now we’re in a space, we’re dealing with stuff that our parents never had to deal with and as parents we really have to think or as educators we really have to think about that in a new way. Well we have to be open to the new and we have to be open to information and, you know, evidence about what the stuff is doing and the evidence is suggesting that there’s much more valuable stuff here then there’s stuff that’s risky. That certainly you should be concerned with the risk, you should make reasonable assessments of risk and protect your kids from things that you don’t think are gonna be good for them. But you also have to find a way to allow them to connect with this new world to discover their passions, to follow their interest, to grow and learn in new ways. At the end of the day they need us to be informed about this, you know, they don’t need us snooping over their shoulders, they need us just watching their backs and in the same way that parents of gone to watch badly played little league games and off key band concerts for decades because it was important for their kids, they now need to watch kids play World of Warcraft and understand fan fiction and understand how Wikipedia works because it’s important to their kids and their kid’s accomplishment in that space is important to them and will be foundational for their sense of themselves and their sense of the world for the future and as parents we have to sit down with them. We may have to accept the fact that our kids know more about this than we do and we need to ask them questions, we need to have them teach us, we need to bring our values and morals into play as we talk to them about it, but we have to also recognize that they’re going someplace that we never went and that’s what’s exciting and what’s terrifying about the present moment.


Video Credits

Produced and Directed by

  • Ken Ellis

Coordinating Producer

  • Lauren Rosenfeld

Production Support

  • Amy Erin Borovoy

Production Assistant

  • Doug Keely

Camera Crew

  • Sam Painter
  • David Mitlyng

Senior Video Editor

  • Karen Sutherland

This 2009 work by The George Lucas Educational Foundation is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Creative Commons License

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Great Resource!

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Henry Jenkins does an incredible job of both inspiring parents to embrace the potential of technology and informing them about the need for participation in the digital worlds of their children.

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