Growing Up Digital, Or Refusing To

Of course, the question of digital media and children is going to take up some column inches here; I am a scholar-to-be that researches in the area of digital media, after all (though bear with me, as I don’t specialize in children’s media studies; I only dabble. Go see Gamine Expedition for insights from a scholar who does specialize in this area).

In a recent post I described some of our family media habits, but not in their entirety. And although our home isn’t filled with Wiis, Kindles, iPads, or PVRs, our experiences with a mix of digital and analog media echo those evident in Rob Cottingham’s recent post on RWW on the very same subject. That is, our daughter is just as interested and attentive to non-mediated (e.g., cooking, crafts, dance, singing, etc.) as she is to analog-mediated (e.g., literary) and digital interactions and experiences.

The conventional negative assumptions about “kids and media” (whether it’s video games or television) lack nuance. I am well aware, as I have written previously, that exposure of children to promotional culture (mainly advertising, but programming content as well) is linked to obesity and behavioural problems. This is not in dispute. However, an abundance of research suggests that when families make a point of sharing media experiences, negative outcomes can be averted (if you want to plumb this abundance, just search “children” on Henry Jenkins’ blog, for starters). Moreover #1, the research about “promotional culture” examines legacy/broadcast/advertising-saturated media, and the paradigms are shifting all around in the post-Internet era. Moreover #2, the hulaballoo over video games is a product of moral panic moreso than it is related to any conclusive findings about “media effects” (check out this list of de-bunked myths about video games and children, for further insight on this topic).

There are some interesting resonances for me in all this family media-sharing experience, however. Participating in my daughter’s digital life casts me as not unlike Harry Potter-parents, who get the chance to relive their childhood (fantasy fiction) media experiences by reading Harry Potter with their kids, so much so that the publishers and producers of Pottermania know full well that their target audience is made up of both parents and kids together, and therefore plan accordingly. In a sense this might constitute another permutation of whatever behavioural twitch also predisposes me toward extended adolescence, in which I am seen forming bands, recording albums, and playing indie shows. Something I still do, perhaps troublingly.

Where was I? Oh, right. Youtube is full of Sesame Street animations and clips, of course. Here’s one that spans time (thank you, Vincent Gallo, speaking of extended adolsecence) – from my toddlerhood to my daughter’s, and from 1960s folk music to Pixar (go Wikipedia it):