I get frequent updates about industry-focused events like the "Digital Kids" conference, taking place April 25-26 in LA. This convention, now in its sixth year, is intended to "provide companies the critical information they need to build successful online and mobile products and services for kids."
I understand that the target audience is for-profit companies that market to young people. Still it galls me that with all the hundreds of panels, workshops, presentations and booths, that there is apparently no space left for education or youth development.
Youth development and education are totally off the table. And in fact, if you do a Google site search, the phrase "youth development" does not appear once. And the only panel on education focuses on "education about online safety."
This is nothing new, of course. Three years ago I was at what was then known as the "Engage Expo" with Shonelle, a teen from Global Kids. We went around asking the different vendors of games and virtual products how their offerings were going to benefit teens like Shonelle. None of them had a good answer, hemming and hawing about how Shonelle could "talk to her friends" and "have fun online."
There's such a wide disconnect between industry-focused games and virtual goods events like "Digital Kids" and more education-focused conferences like Digital Media and Learning and Games for Change. Which is a great loss, since I think it is very possible and probably very productive to have multi-sector conversations about youth as both a commercial market and as future citizens and leaders. I.e. where does profit and social benefit converge? How can the lessons of the most addictive games and online worlds be applied to school-time and out-of-school-time learning? How can digital properties capture not just metrics related to ROI but also related to learning, pro-social engagement, and leadership?
Somehow I doubt that we'll hear these kinds of conversations coming out of "Digital Kids" this week. Which is a terrible shame. I'm sure there will be nice swag though.