Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Parental Mediation of Children's Internet Use

Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Parental Mediation of Children's Internet Use

Article excerpt

Media surround children and young people in the modern household. At times, parents seem engaged in a constant battle with their children as they seek to balance the educational and social advantages of media use and the negative effects that some content or mediated contact might have on children's attitudes, behavior, or safety. Though parents assume media affect other people's children more than their own (Nathanson, Eveland, Park, & Paul, 2002), they try to regulate their children's media use, hoping to maximize the advantages of today's media-rich environment for their children and to minimize the disadvantages, as examined in this article. Strategies include rule-making and restrictions, both positive (e.g., explaining, discussing) and negative (e.g., disagreeing, criticizing) forms of mediation, and social co-viewing (Austin, 1990). Terminology varies, but the notion of "mediation" is widely seen to capture the parental management of the relation between children and media; usefully, it extends the parental role beyond simple restrictions to encompass also conversational and interpretive strategies (e.g., Nathanson, 1999; Valkenburg, Krcmar, Peeters, & Marseille, 1999) as well as parental monitoring activities (Kerr & Stattin, 2000). However, it is noted that some use "mediation" more narrowly to refer to parental discussion without also including rule-making or co-viewing (e.g., Austin, 1990).

As the media and communication environment becomes increasingly difficult for governments to regulate, these hitherto private activities of parents are becoming more valued within public policy frameworks, especially those concerned with protecting children from media-related harm (Kunkel & Wilcox, 2001; Livingstone & Bober, 2006; Oswell, 2008). This is, broadly, consistent with the theorization of parental mediation in terms of the family system, for on this view, parental mediation strategies represent ways in which the family reproduces its values in the face of external meaning systems (e.g., Goodman, 1983; Hoover, Clark, & Alters, 2004; Livingstone, 2002). Not only do parents seek to prevent unwanted influences but also, as proposed by Warren's (2005) ecological approach to the parent-child interaction, parents use the media to facilitate desired values, for example, by using media to support shared family activities (via co-viewing, the construction of common interests, talking about media; c.f. Fujioka & Austin, 2002). This line of inquiry directs researchers to the importance of family communication patterns (Ritchie & Fitzpatrick, 1990) or parenting styles (Eastin, Greenberg, & Hofschire, 2006). Other researchers take a socio-cognitive approach, regarding parental mediation as stimulating the development of children's media literacy which may, again, mitigate harmful media effects (Austin, 1993; Kunkel & Wilcox, 2001; Nathanson, 2004). Although largely developed in parallel, these approaches may be considered complementary: Parental mediation both results from processes of family dynamics and child socialization and contributes to the shaping of family values, practices, and media literacy.

In regulating their children's media use, parents face several challenges. These include the proliferation of media goods in the home, especially in children's bedrooms, and the growing complexity of media and communication technologies. Especially for new media, lack of technical expertise may hinder implementation of parental mediation at home (Facer, Furlong, Furlong, & Sutherland, 2003; Livingstone & Bober, 2006). Yet as domestic Internet use becomes more commonplace, even overtaking time spent with television in some countries (Lenhart, Madden, & Hitlin, 2005), the bewildering array of online content accessible to young people occasions concern among parents, academics, and policy-makers (Criddle, 2006). In the United Kingdom, 75% of 9-19-year-olds have Internet access at home (Livingstone & Bober, 2005). …

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