Growing up with the Internet: the advantages of participatory culture for teenagers


The development of digital technologies and the resulting socio-cultural changes have encouraged adolescents to evolve in virtual environments.

Their constant connection and the resulting supposed reliance on smartphones and digital networks arouses distrust, even concern, among those of us who did not grow up in a similar situation. But there is another way of analyzing and understanding the phenomenon: never in the history of humanity have young people been so eager to participate in the culture of their time and have had so many opportunities to do it.

The taste for the use of digital technologies is a characteristic of the younger generations, who consider the Internet in general, and social networks and mobile technologies in particular, as their natural field of action. Their social relationships organize themselves autonomously in different groups on platforms like TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, WhatsApp, where they share digital stories.

The adolescent population develops their virtual strategies of sharing, problem solving , task development, collaborative knowledge building and promoting dynamic communication channels. Likewise, she openly manifests a tendency towards informal learning on social networks, which transforms them into interactive, awake and socially digital subjects .

Digital creativity

Adolescence becomes autonomous in the digital space and appropriates sufficient authority to participate in collective intelligence, as Lévy said.

With the development of digital technologies, adolescents have seen the doors open to creation, and have been forced to do so to avoid being excluded by their peers.

Thus, the younger generations carry out processes that go a step beyond creativity, we can speak of “intercreativity”, where they unite two very important concepts in their relations with their peers, creativity and interactivity. In this perspective of horizontal communication, they can develop their own learning and contribute to the construction of common knowledge.

Adolescents need to be part of social groups to change their environment and, at the same time, enrich and mature their inner world. This is how their ability to position themselves intercreatively in relation to the reality that surrounds them is manifested.

At this age, the social sphere takes on vital importance, and they model themselves on the media heroes they follow, such as youtubers and other influencers .

Multiple screens pave the way for a participatory culture, exercising collaborative storytelling to create and express opinions and feelings, take responsibility and make decisions in a transmedia storyline.

Let’s not forget that a transmedia story develops on several platforms and that each text constitutes a specific node of information which is invaluable for the whole message.

Necessary support

The little media education that young people receive has so far mainly affected the development of skills enabling them to critically interpret the messages disseminated by the media.

Today, however, transmedia practices in youth contexts require not only critical discourse analysis, but also the incorporation of transmedia storytelling and the ability and skill to manage the flow of information they receive.

Furthermore, some adolescents are not fully aware of the risks associated with participating in certain digital spaces: not only in terms of security and control, but also in terms of managing the interpersonal conflicts that arise from it.

The integration of digital technologies in the daily classroom, with the Siemens connectivist approach , allows us to experiment with learning proposals based on video games, augmented reality, the metaverse or the different transmedia narrative productions that invite creating and fostering ideal channels for adolescent empowerment.

It is common for older generations to view adolescents as immature and unable to accept and fit into the “adult world”. But young people today have shown more than ever that they have the resources to connect with others in this digital social world. However, they need expert advice on media literacy to avoid possible manipulations to which they may be subject.

Author Bio: Sara Osuna-Acedo is Profesora Catedrática de Universidad – Comunciación y Educación at UNED – Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia