Young Children and Digital Media in the Home: Parents as Role Models, Gatekeepers, and Companions

Young Children and Digital Media in the Home: Parents as Role Models, Gatekeepers, and Companions

Patricia Dias (Catholic University of Portugal, Portugal) and Rita Brito (Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3822-6.ch046
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This chapter presents an overview of the digital practices of young children (under 8 years old) in the home. At such an early age, parents are the main mediators of the contact with digital media, thus paying a preponderant role in shaping young children's practices, perceptions and attitudes. In this chapter, we present partial results of a European-scale qualitative project that followed a methodology based on grounded theory, using interviews to families as method. Our findings reveal different roles played by the parents – role models, gatekeepers, companions, and supervisors. We also found that these different roles are related to the parenting style and also to the parents' own digital practices, and most importantly to perceptions and attitudes towards digital media.
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There is a broad body of academic literature on parental mediation of media consumption, focusing particularly on young children and television (e.g. Dorr et al., 1989; Sang et al., 1993). This concept refers to the role played by parents as mediators of young children’s engagement with communication media, thus shaping their practices and perceptions. Different facets of parental mediation have been explored, namely mediation styles, factors that may influence mediation styles, and the consequences of mediation styles for children’s practices and perceptions.

There are different models of parental mediation styles, that Valkenburg et al. (2009) sum up in three categories: a) restrictive, corresponding to highly controlling parents in the sense of monitoring and limiting media use; b) instructive, referring to parents who are still controlling but more in the sense of teaching and advising; and c) coviewing, a concept used to describe negotiations, dialogue and search for consensus between parents and children regarding media engagement.

Recent research on parental mediation has addressed this phenomenon when it occurs with digital media. Livingstone (2007) was a pioneer, suggesting the concept of “parent regulation” to describe that parents often draw on family roles, particularly their dimension of authority, to negotiate rules and practices concerning media. Usually, there was an adaption of the rules already set regarding television for digital media. Proposals by other authors (e.g. Barkin et al., 2006; Eastin et al., 2006; Rosen, 2008) can be synthesized in two categories: whether parents tend to ‘support’ the children’s digital practices, thus teaching and helping them overcome difficulties; whether parents tend to “control” their digital practices (at this age, control is more exerted over time of use than over content). Later on, previous mediation styles identified for television watching were applied to digital media: restrictive, active and co-use. Moreover, new mediation styles specific for digital technologies were added: monitoring and “helpdesk” (Nikken & Jansz, 2013).

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