Media Consumption and Family Culture

Image courtesy of Erik Hersman
Image courtesy of Erik Hersman

Even with an increased amount of technology tools that provide children with opportunities to create media content, research from Common Sense Media and Ofcom reveal that media consumption is common among young children. While devices like tablets and smartphones have interactive components, these tools may also be used to watch shows and videos.  With knowing this information, we may be not be surprised when another parent or early childhood colleague asks us for advice on how to balance media consumption with other activities for children at home.

As we consider the type of guidance we are offering families, we should pause to reflect on our own cultural biases that are the foundation of our advice.  In a previous post, I explained the importance of understanding that we each bring our cultural perspective in our work with young children and/or our parenting.  This awareness makes us conscious of the role our culture plays in our advice about young children, technology, and media.  Often we consider a digital media diet, without considering the cultural facets of this advice.

As we offer advice to parents and caregivers, I encourage us to consider the following questions:

  • What is the family structure, and who are the members of the household? Each family has a different structure. Some households have multiple generations or extended family members living together, while others have the parents and children. This structure may often impact that the availability of technology, who has control over the type of content, and decisions behind the media choices.
  • How does technology and media fit into family values? Knowing the family’s beliefs, attitudes, and goals will provide some understanding to how they envision media being used in their home.
  • Are there historical events related to media the impact the family’s relationship to media and content choices? Due to the depiction or lack of representation of different cultural communities in media at various time periods, parents and caregivers may be specific attitudes formed about the content, the reason for content choices, and the amount of media that is consumed.
  • Is media watching a collective or individual activity?  Understanding the family’s cultural community (i.e.,independent or interdependent culture) can help us better understand their approach to using media. For example, media may be seen as family time or it may be a tool for individual decompression.
  • What does coviewing look like in this family? The term coviewing can used without considering the differing connotations due to cultural interpretation.  Some families may consider coviewing watching media together with young children with the content of the adults’ interest.  Other parents and caregivers may conduct coviewing with young children with the content geared towards children.
  • What are the reasons behind families media choices for young children (i.e. child safety in the neighborhood, access to information)? Families vary in their reasons for media choices and we need to consider the big picture.  Utilizing Urie Brofenbrenner’s ecological model could be one way to examine media choices.

Using these questions allows us to build our cultural understanding and awareness not only about others but also ourselves.  We’re acknowledging that we bring a cultural lens to our use of media and technology and that others may differ due to their family values, structures, goals, and culture.  This creates an open space for deeper understanding and richer conversations so that we can help each other figure out how we can balance the use of media with other early learning experiences that are authentic to each family and support children’s healthy growth and development.

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