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Parents Frame Childhood for the World to See

Ayşenur Ataman, Psychology
Faculty Advisor: Colette Daiute
NML Award: The New Media Lab Digital Dissertation Award (April 2017)

Parents Frame Childhood for the World to See

Why is The Project Important To Me?

I have been doing work on children’s and young people’s participation over the years internationally and I know for a fact that children are sometimes better decision makers when it comes to decisions of their and their peers’ lives. Media is my new interest in seeing how children and parents, as an authority figure in most cases, interact. As the first generation to grow up with interactive digital media, children of today are comfortable with collaborating and sharing information, and do so in ways that allow them to act quickly and without top-down direction.  For example, after getting permission to play an online game on her parents’ smart phone, a 12 year old can easily use the Internet connection to share her score with others, preferably friends, who play the same game. Situations like this, of course, have profound implications and complications for the relationship that parents and children have. Potential consequences of the uses of media that are favored by members of a family present new and different roles for parents in supporting the use of media in the home environment.

Posting of children’s pictures online is an interesting practice, as the power dynamics are completely visible and documented for the whole family but also to the world. Most of the time, parents initiate children’s interaction with media by using it with or in front of their child in the home environment. My research posits that parents’ representation of their children through media provides an important clue for understanding children’s and parents interaction, as it symbolizes parental material capital, social and media related values. Photos posted by parents are also important to look at in order to understand the social and cultural understanding of childhood, the childhood that is now available for the world to see.

Method

Instagram pictures with hashtags of #fashionkids and #letthekids will provide the context for the study because it has been recently observed that by using these hashtags, mothers implicitly present their parental values (commodities or natural growth) by explicitly showing the context they desire for their children and themselves in these pictures. In order to understand the hashtag content and user statistics in general, I will utilize two digital tools: 1) Netlytic (Gruzd, 2015) and 2) Iconosquare. After this phase, the researcher will apply values analysis (e.g. posing, background, age) on a sample of Instagram pictures with hashtags of fashionkids and letthekids. The obtaining of the metadata and visuals on Instagram will be done via the code written for this purpose due to recent changes in Instagram’s API policy.

Apart from this digital phase, I will contact children (ages 7-9) and parents, not necessarily only “instamoms,” to conduct a projective activity where both groups create a story about a sample picture depicted as “fashion” kid and “let it be” kids. I hope this will be the part where we can, for the first time, hear how children make sense of the oversharenting online.

Intellectual Merit

It is still not clear whether publicity is damaging for children in the long run but understanding children’s presence in parents’ personal social media accounts may hopefully shed some light on the concerns that many of us share for the generation that is growing up with unprecedented access to digital media. It is my hope that the findings of this preliminary study can: 1) provide a method for analyzing the construction of childhood in contemporary times and thus provide insights into how childhood is being defined more broadly by parents in society and 2) offer insights into different venues of social media in order to analyze the use of the ubiquitous tool that is little understood. In addition to these methodological aims, I also hope that the findings will help foster debates about children’s privacy rights informed by dialogues among diverse epistemologies, experiences and normative frameworks and inform parents about the significance of their practices on and around interactive digital media.