Tuesday, June 18 2024

The development of the new digital media (especially Internet and cell
phones) demands a new educational mediation by parents, different from the
kind used for television. Lynn Schofield, professor at the University of
Denver, holds this theory in her study on Parental Mediation
(“Parental Mediation Theory”, in Communication Theory, vol.21,
2011, pp. 323-34).

In addition to guiding the relationships that children establish with new
media, parents share and learn new information, since they are also in a
constantly changing atmosphere that deeply impacts the family. The impact
not only concerns content, but even family relationships.

According to the author, before the digital era, scholars were interested
in analyzing the methods developed by parents to mitigate the effects of
the media on their children. In this context, besides suggesting a limit to
the time spent before the television screen and studying the ways in which
the programs shaped their children’s desires, specialists have also noted
the importance of the parental role, as an agent in socializing their
children in the use of media. The experts began to use the term parental mediation to express that essential role that parents had
in the management and regulation of their children’s experiences with
television.

But Schofield sustains that the Parental Mediation theory has some
limits. In her opinion this theory is a hybrid of the communication theory
which, though primarily rooted in the sociological and psychological
effects of media, pointed to the importance of interpersonal communication
between parents as children as its strong point. The first limit of this
theory is its strong tie to a tradition of research on the effects of media
where scholars tend to focus on the negative effects that the media have on
children’s cognitive development. In this way, the other methods used by
parents for educational and familial purposes, not directly related to the
media, are forgotten. Furthermore, the author holds that little attention
is given to social pressures that affect the way in which parents ought to
exercise their mediation role, a very important aspect. The theory’s second
limit is the lack of attention given to the adolescent period, where the
parent-child relationships change considerably. A third limit is that the
researchers were mainly focused on the television because it was the means
that had acquired the greatest social force. The recent changes, however,
demand an expansion of the study’s object. It is necessary to investigate
how this theory could apply to relationships with the new digital media,
computers, cell phones, or other tools capable of offering programs, games,
information, entertainment…

Previous studies on parental educational mediation considered three modes
of application:

a) Active mediation: implies the frequent conversation and
exchange of impressions that parents have with their children about the
content of what they see on television. It is the most effective method
because it develops the capacity for independent judgment and critical
thinking. It also diminishes the impact of certain programs’ negative
content, while it increases an interest for media usage for public issues.
This mediation has positive effects that go beyond the use of media because
they are tied to key objectives of the family itself: reduce family
conflict, generate greater stability, and favor socialization and family
relationships.

b) Restrictive mediation: supposes the imposition of certain rules
and regulations for children’s use of television. The studies show that
there is a risk to generate a certain tension in the relationship with
parents or to stimulate a desire to do what’s forbidden. The rules do not
seem to be educational in themselves because what counts is that minors
interiorly incorporate criteria to be able to act in the future in a manner
coherent with that criteria.

c) Co-viewing: one of the most frequent types of mediation,
similar to the first. It consists in sharing the use of media, without
intervening.

Although these are three most frequent forms of mediation noted by various
authors, it’s necessary to highlight the fact that many parents and
educators either forsake their own role as mediator, or don’t exercise it.
Among the possible reasons, some studies suggest that parents tend to
overestimate the influence that media have on other children, and
underestimate the influence it has on their own children. Often, a parent
may see his child as more mature in respect to his peers, and with a
greater capacity to progressively develop his own criteria for judging
media content.

Furthermore, children are spending more and more time with electronic
media, and less and less time with their parents. It is important
therefore, to determine the contexts where mediation is produced.

To find the ways in which to correct these limits, Professor Schofield
gathers some ethnographic studies on the family context where the
relationship with the media is produced (with the resulting implications in
the organization of the nuclear family and in the relationships among the
members: coinciding schedules, themes, criteria…). She also analyzes recent
studies in the areas of sociology, emotions, and the relationships between
adults and children, as well as in the field of situational learning. These
studies aim to increase attention to the needs that children have toward
their own interests, seeing mediation from this perspective.

In conclusion, the author proposes a fourth model: the participatory learning model that takes recent advancements in
sociology into account. Participatory learning, asserts the author, would
be a fourth strategy that parents could use to educate their children,
which takes the new media into account. This would avoid using methods of
mediation that are only effective for traditional media, such as the
television, and therefore inapt for current media. This also implies a
change in the way to educate children. It involves the development of a new
attitude in which parents also form themselves; an attitude that implies
knowledge of their own children and of the media, using it together.
Children can find dangers in new technologies, but they can also develop
new capacities, strengthen personal relationships, generate individual and
group creativity, and even acquire knowledge.

The article may interest parents who want to find scientific arguments
about the ways to educate their children in using media. A disadvantage of
the article is that it does not offer practical guidelines, only theories.
Furthermore, it does not explicitly state that parents could have another
reason for possibly denying their active role in the education of their
children: the changes produced in the media are so great, and so constant,
that they feel little prepared to offer guidance to their own children. How
can one resolve this problem?

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