In Family Kids and Youth’s research carried out for the Bailey Review on behalf of Credos – the independent research arm of the Advertising Association) parental fears centred on their child’s future: their education, their future job prospects, and social concerns such as drugs and violence. This seemed to override concerns about advertising and marketing to children, although clearly this was an issue for some parents. Parents did express unease about the lack of control they feel they have over the media content their children consume. But the nature of children’s digital world means that children are exposed to far more adult content than ever before, and parents can feel powerless to prevent this. An important message from parents was that they did not want to live in a ‘nanny state’, with government telling them what to do. They wanted and expected advertisers, marketers, broadcasters and internet providers to be highly sensitive to the issue, but they felt that the responsibility for controlling what their children consumed in terms of media messages was ultimately theirs as parents. Reg Bailey’s review is due out tomorrow, and early reports suggest that he has recognised very well the dilemma parents are facing.
In earlier research I carried out at Cambridge, I found that in many ways children want to keep their digital world separate and even secret from their parents, particularly in early adolescence when children naturally begin to seek autonomy and a sense of identity. I had several examples of children setting up separate Facebook accounts, one for their friends, and another for parents and family to access. While parents were concerned about their child’s use of digital media they could often misjudge the way they felt they were controlling it. One single mum for example did not allow her 13 year old to have a Facebook account for fear he would be approached by ‘strangers’. This meant that the child missed out on many of the social arrangements that were made by friends at school. Meanwhile he was happily playing and communicating with people he did not know on Xbox LIVE, which his mother was not aware of, simply because she did not understand the technology.
Reports suggest that Reg Bailey is calling on Ofcom to monitor parents’ view of media content, and this seems eminently sensible. And the Advertising Association’s report for this review suggests that more should be done to promote Media Smart, the excellent media literacy programme targeted to children through schools. At Family Kids and Youth we believe that there is also a need to continue to find out what it is that children are actually doing with digital media, especially as more and new means of accessing media is available on an almost weekly basis. For this reason Family Kids and Youth is launching Digital Kids and Youth, a monthly round of ethnography and focus groups with children and adolescents, monitoring their use of digital media. We will report every 4 months, and are delighted to have industry partners to help us with this.