The internet is the "most profound" change in human communication since we learned to speak, the prime minister's chief science adviser says.
And the greatest impact is on teenagers who are trying to navigate the real world alongside cyberspace.
Sir Peter Gluckman says teaching children resilience before they start school will arm them with the skills to be successful as they transition from teenage years to adulthood.
Sir Peter told a Families Commission seminar in Wellington this week that baby boomers' attitudes towards adolescents also needed to change, because that phase of life was so different now with the advent of the internet combined with biological changes.
"One hundred and forty characters on a tweet is a very different way to communicate and there's a lot of loss of information in that, and I think we don't know what that's going to mean in the way young people grow up in this world because it will have consequences - they may be good, they may be bad," he said.
"What we have to do is make sure that we make the next generation resilient in this changing continuum in which the human organism lives."
Bodies were maturing earlier, but brains were still taking 25 to 30 years to fully develop, with wisdom and judgment the last pathways to form, he said.
On top of this, adolescent years were now stretched over a decade because society had extended the age in which teens were considered adults.
Research had shown the greater the mismatch between biological maturation and acceptance as an adult, the greater the morbidity, Sir Peter said.
There had also been a decline in risk- taking during childhood as parents mollycoddled their children - on the flip side children were being exposed to a much larger social network via the internet that could not be controlled by parents.
All of this pointed to the need for resilience to be instilled in the first five years of life so they could cope with the ever-changing and increasingly complex world, he said.
"People have assumed that we can remediate later in life but I think the reality is . . . early development . . . is critical in finding strategies of development to cope in the adult environment."
Sir Peter told a parliamentary inquiry into "21st century learning environments and digital literacy" last year that a new kind of teacher was needed in schools because exposure to technology from a young age could be rewiring the brains of "digital natives".
This could have far-reaching consequences for the way teachers educated future generations and could require fundamental changes in education.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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