Media and family embedded

Media and family embedded

The “bedroom culture” refers to the phenomenon where the use of the media by children and young people “is associated with the forming of their own identity and definition of private space, even within the family”. It generally develops when their bedrooms are equipped with an abundance of media (computer, TV, cell phone, etc.).

The report “ Media, communication and information technologies in the European family ” summarizes the findings of the ongoing research about the means of communication used in the family in all 27 countries of Europe. It is funded by the European Union, directed by Sonia Livingstone and published by the London School of Economics. To view the report: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/29788 .

The media changes in the environment depend not only on technology or the market, but on social changes in the family

The report is built on and examines the hypothesis that there are changes in the “media sphere”- the media environment that permeates society- which are closely linked to social changes that have modified the structure of the family. However, these aren’t only changes in the market or technology that drive the consumption of new products.

These changes in the European family in recent decades can be observed on three levels: the demographic, the socio-economic, and the relational level. The demographic trends show a decreased fertility, an aging population, and an increased immigration. The social trends indicate shifts in employment patterns, where more people are looking for two family incomes and less stable jobs; and young people are shown to remain at home for longer periods of time. Regarding the structure of relationships within the family, the emergence of new household units and family compositions were identified. For example, there are more single mothers and adults living alone.

All of these factors influence the trends for media product consumption. Communication businesses are adapting their production according to the new trends in the market. As a consequence, for example, an extended youth leads to the invention of a private space separate within one’s own home, distinct from the space of a child or an adolescent. Fear of insecure public places drives parents to equip their children with more media technologies so that they stay at home. Their bedrooms are “media-rich”. This is the case since they are already “special” children, being that families are having fewer children in each generation (1 or 2 children per family on average).

Trends in communication and the media industry, and their possible effects on the family

1. The bone of contention continues to be the enduring academic debate about the negative effects of media on children and youth . The report from the London School of Economics argues that there is still no conclusive evidence about a cause-effect relationship between media exposure and negative behaviors (violence, precocious sexuality, and obesity, for example). The empirical results show that the audience is more active than passive, and the cultural and family context for interpretation of the content significantly alters their influence. In short, “media effects depend heavily on many other factors and, often, the cultural context is crucial.” Nevertheless, Millwood Hargrave and Livingstone’s recent literature review of research concluded that, for television, there is a sizeable body of evidence that suggests that televised portrayals of aggression can, under certain circumstances, have a moderate but fairly consistent negative influence on the attitudes and behaviors of children, especially boys.

2. New media, new risks. Already in 2007, a majority of European households had Internet access (54%). The creation of the European Commission "Digital Agenda” in 2010 attests to the importance of domestic, educational and commercial use of digital technologies for the economy and society in Europe. At the family level specifically, this poses new opportunities and new risks, as evidenced by the 2010 EU Kids Online Survey of 9-16 year olds across Europe: "29% of them communicate with strangers, although rarely is this risk associated with any concrete harm”. Moreover, children are not only possible victims of abuse or distress through the network, but also protagonists: "19% of European 9 to 16 year olds have been bullied at least once, and 12% have bullied others in the past year." In short, the alleged "digital natives" need education on the use of new media, but not simply on how to be digitally savvy.

3. There is an observable tension between the tendency to fragmentation and sharing. Within this tension, it seems clear that the new digital technologies lead to an exacerbated individualism, while the "old" media fostered commonality within the family, which led toward sharing space and common values. “Television, most notably, shapes a cultural space of commonality and shared experience/conversation for diasporic families and communication across the generations”. In this alternative fragmentation-participation, trends vary by country and level of education or wealth: households in the Nordic countries and the Netherlands are pioneers in introducing digital technologies into children’s bedrooms, while Spain, for example, maintains a greater family use of television, keeping with their tradition. Households with lower incomes are more likely to have a television and video games in the bedrooms, while parents with higher education provide their children with books and computers."

4. Parental mediation is essential. The mediation of the father and mother in the use of the media is still considered necessary, whatever the form of mediation it may be: co-use-“where the parent is present, sharing the activity”; restrictions on use through technical means (filters, for example) or through rules; monitoring and active guidance through criticism or discussion about the content. The fact that parents and children have differing perspectives about the degree and the method of mediation used indicates the need for more attention by parents and educators in exercising their mediation. For example, half are in disagreement that the parents have monitored which websites their children have visited and 15% of parents think they have monitored the sites while their children say that they have not. “One reason parents should take more responsibility for children’s internet use especially is that, although only a minority of children encounters risks online parents significantly underestimate this: 41% of parents whose child has seen sexual images online say that their child has not seen this; 56% of parents whose child has received nasty or hurtful messages online say that their child has not; 52% of parents whose child has received sexual messages say that their child has not; 61% of parents whose child has met offline with an online contact say that their child has not”.

5. It is premature to affirm that the use of digital technologies (ICT) is beneficial for education. While it is true that there have been a multiplication of government efforts and investments in new technologies as tools to improve results in education, there are no indications that show any improved results. This is due to many reasons, among which is the inertia in the current educational system.

6. It has yet to be demonstrated if the incorporation of the new technologies actually promotes a greater civic participation, especially among young people who are more and more apathetic and disinterested in politics.

Report Evaluation

The report Media, communication and information technologies in the European family is extremely useful for synthetically gaining knowledge about social trends in the relationship between the media and the family for the European context, and probably for all developed countries. Starting with a careful selection of sources- academic research, official data, studies and surveys- they are able to identify the essential elements for how the family and technology have evolved, and consequences for the family institution. The dominant value of the report, in my opinion, is that it brings to light how social changes do not occur in isolation and are not the result of a single factor, in this case technology.

The project director, Sonia Livingstone, director also of the Department of Communication at the London School of Economics, is a veteran in the study of television audiences and the effects of the media on children. She currently directs the Program for Internet Security in the European Union. In 2009, she published Children and the Internet: Great Expectations, Challenging Realities . Cambridge: Polity.

Nonetheless, it should be noted that the report is overly neutral, lacking in constructive criticism. Certainly, one shouldn’t fall into a simplistic moralism when describing the social trends and the media effects. Beckett, director of the Polis, a think tank in the Department of Media and Communications in the London School of Economics, affirmed in the presentation of the report: “The over-arching question is not whether we can, for example, persuade teenagers to consume more news or to watch less pornography, though both things might be good in themselves. The key question is whether digital technologies are building social capital in families or fragmenting and destroying the relationships that can produce happier individuals and stronger communities”.

In my opinion, the question lies in the weight and the expectations we place on technology itself. The title of the report certainly does not betray this aspect. Perhaps we go overboard in relying on digital technologies to improve the quality of education, or to overcome apathy and disinterest of young people to drive their participation in public affairs and encourage active citizenship. As Alessandro D'Avenia, author of White like Milk, Red like Blood, a best-selling novel among young people in Italy the past two years, stated: "he who pays the consequences of the dictatorship of relativism are those who by nature are made for the truth: the youth. Their sad passions are the reflection of our lack of interior life and lack of time, of our attachment to things more than persons, our reluctancy to give, our intoxication of consumerism and our desire for success (of the adults).” It is not by chance that Becket, in presenting the report, appears content that Vodafone has made the publication of the report coincide with the launch of its latest initiative to promote "digital parents." The technology mainly has to do with the market.