Kids' Informal Learning with Digital Media

About Digital Youth

"Kids' Informal Learning with Digital Media: An Ethnographic Investigation of Innovative Knowledge Cultures" is a three-year collaborative project funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Carried out by researchers at the University of Southern California and University of California, Berkeley, the digital youth project explores how kids use digital media in their everyday lives. Read more

Creative Commons License

The work on this site is licensed under a CC-BY-NC. If you share or re-use any work found on the site, please credit the original author and the Digital Youth Project and link back to the Digital Youth Project.

Photo Credits: Ritchie Ly and Geert Allegaert.

Coming of Age in Silicon Valley: Digital Media in Families

Project staff: Heather A Horst

Digital media—email, blogs, social networking sites, gaming communities and video production software (among others)—and its’ capacity for increased interaction and participation is often heralded for its potential to reconfigure relationships between producers and consumers, adults and youth and public vs. civic life (Ito 1998, 2004). Concerns with the location of media in the home and the digital media in the lives of children has given rise to parental and public fears about the implications of these media and the practices associated with going ‘online’. For example, the recent public debates over the value of sites such as Facebook and MySpace signal the struggle between parents, children and the wider community about the meaning and changes brought about through the pervasiveness of media within their children’s lives. As Ellen Seiter (2005) and others have shown, many ways these debates mirror earlier dilemmas concerning the ‘effects’ of media such as television and its potential to incite families to retreat to the inner world of the home rather than their neighborhood. Yet, the capacity for interaction, participation and permanence of digital media represents a disjuncture from kids’ previous engagements in public and private spaces, creating dilemmas over parents’ own ability to understand and prepare their children for adulthood and the management of their public life online.

This study aims to understand the role of digital media in children and youths’ communication, learning, knowledge, play and, in turn, how digital media may effect their relationships with their peers, siblings, parents or other household members. The approach is exploratory, qualitative and ethnographic and seeks a basic descriptive understanding of practices of new media use and the ways that children and parents living in the greater Silicon Valley negotiate the use of media and other technologies in their lives. Utilizing ethnographic methods as well as interviews and diary studies with kids and/or parents, three broad research questions guide the study:

1) How do children and parents use media and technology?

2) How do parents and children negotiate the use and access to media and technology?

3) What can we learn from the study of families living in a media and technologically-rich region?

Focusing upon the negotiation of technology and media in Silicon Valley families, the research examines how children, parents and extended family members of the household appropriate forms of digital media and the extent to which these engagements alter relationships between genders and generations within the family. In addition, my focus upon Silicon Valley, often viewed as the most ‘wired’ region in the US, reflects a shift within the social sciences generally to explore media and technology use in relation to participation gaps rather than bi-modal digital divides (see Holloway and Valentine 2003, Livingstone 2003). As Sonia Livingstone (2003) has shown, participation in the world of new media and technology varies significantly, even across families who share the same class and economic resources. Characterized by flexible work schedules, permeable boundaries between work and home (see English-Lueck 2002) as well as relatively high income, the research makes central the day-to-day use of media and technologies within Silicon Valley families and explores the relationship between access and participation in new media and technology worlds.

Selected References:

English-Lueck, Jan. 2002. Cultures@SiliconValley. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Holloway, Sarah L and Gill Valentine. 2003. Cyberkids: Children in the Information Gap. London: RoutlegeFalmer.

Ito, Mizuko. 2004. “Technologies of the Childhood Imagination: Yugioh, Media Mixes, and Otaku.” Presentation at: Digital Generations: Children, Young People and New Media, organized by the Centre for the Study of Children, Youth and Media, University of London.

Ito, Mizuko. 1998. Interactive Media for Play: Kids, Computer Games, and the Productions of Everyday Life. Dissertation. Stanford University School of Education.

James, Allison and Alan Prout. 1997. Constructing and Reconstructing Childhood. NY: RoutledgeFalmer.

Lareau, Annette. 2003. Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race and Family Life. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Livingstone, Sonia. 2002. Young People and New Media. London: Sage.

Livingstone, Sonia and Moira Bovill. 2001. Children and their Changing Media Environment: A European Comparative Study. MahIh, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Seiter, Ellen. 1993. Sold Separately: Children and Parents in Consumer Culture. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

Seiter, Ellen. 2005. The Internet playground; children's access, entertainment, and mis-education. Peter Lang Publishing Inc

Silverstone, Roger and Eric Hirsch (eds) 1992. Consuming Technologies: Media and Information in Domestic Spaces. London: Routledge.

Stephens, Sharon (ed). 1995. Children and the Politics of Culture. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Turow, Joseph and Andrea L. Kavanaugh, eds. 2003. The Wired Homestead: An MIT Press Sourcebook on the Internet and the Family. Cambridge: MIT Press.