The influence of information and communication audio-visual technologies (ICATs) on children's and adolescents' life and cultures - and on the relationship between adults and young people
International applied research project aiming to improve the relationship between parents and children and between students and teachers, when dealing with the ICAT culture. The project is now finalized. The study group organized a sub-session at the Childhoods 2005 Oslo child research conference in Oslo, Norway, 29 June - 3 July 2005 where it presented the results from the first phase. The final research was published in 2007.
List of Participants:
The IRQV - Research Institute on Quality of Life - Universitat de Girona (Spain).
Co-ordinater Prof. Dr. Ferran Casas, senior researcher on social psychology
E-mail: ferran.casas [at] udg.edu
Resources on Media and Technology
The study group published their results in the book Adolescents and Audio-visual Media in Five Countries (Documenta Universitaria, 2007). Editors are Ferran Casas, Irene Rizzini, Rose September, Per Egil Mjaavatn and Usha Nayar.
Four years ago, when the co-ordinator of this Project was a professor at the University of Barcelona, he developed a modest research project on the relationship between parents and children about children's activities with video games. Similar questionnaires were administered separately to children and to their own parents, and results were paired and analysed (Casas, 1998b; Casas, 2001).
Results were very surprising in some aspects. Parents and their own child frequently shared an important range of evaluations about video games, but they disagreed in some crucial ones (Casas, 1999). However, perhaps the most outstanding results came from parents: 53,9% of parents of a middle class sample of the city of Barcelona reported to NEVER talk with their child about his/her activities with video games.
Such level of non-communication, even if it was referred to only one concrete activity (although highly motivating for most children) was very unexpected to us, and we decided to explore the topic more in-depth.
Discussions with colleagues, but also with parents and teachers, brought us to the conviction of the need of a broader understanding of children's and adolescents "new" audio-visual cultures (video games, computers, Internet, CD-ROMs and so on), together with the "old" television culture, on the one hand. And, on the other hand, to the need of understanding better which are the difficulties of parents and teachers to cope with the audio-visual cultures of youngster, particularly in family life and at school.
According to us, the topic had deep implications. It was related to some of the major discussions in at least one of the Council of Europe Committees, in which the co-ordinator of this research Project was involved as President (Casas, 1994). One of the important debates in the Council of Europe meetings was focused on the topic of children's participation in family and social life. Another parallel debate was focused on the need of increasing responsibility in the European ever-quickening changing society - a high expectation in children's education by many European adults, according Eurobarometer 34 (1990) results.
Preliminary overall reflections
Children and new technologies are becoming key topics to think about our common social future, at the international arena. "Screen" technologies are probably the most relevant for different reasons: they are related to information, to communication possibilities, to "new" cultures, to the development of new skills, to knowledge construction, and so on.
Children and adolescents are relevant active members of our "present" society; they can't be thought as only "the future". We need increasing understanding of how children and adolescents themselves are thinking about new technologies, are using them, and are relating them with their own personal future, through present expectations, wishes and aspirations.
Audio-visual technologies, multimedia, and other technologies are influencing our everyday life, our life styles, our ways of entertaining and also our ways of relating to and communicating with other people. They may also stimulate some of our capacities (cognitive, sensitive, emotional, and creative) using different new possibilities: interactivity, virtual reality, etc. They can be potentially used to promote and practically experiencing values that are very important for international understanding and co-operation: peace, tolerance, democracy, respect for natural and cultural diversity, and so on.
However, new situations and new technologies also imply new risks (Barkler & Perley, 1997). We must not forget the negative side and the negative social impact of some technological developments and work together to prevent and to avoid them. As soon as video games and computers - and more recently Internet - fascinated children, new risks have been pointed out. More face to face experience is needed by children to develop some social skills, physical activity of children may be decreasing too much, new psychological pathologies may appear, hand-writing and reading abilities are lower, horror and violent films are used just to impress peers, violent behaviour is learned even though it is not executed and so on.
Taking into account the new risks, it is obvious that also new opportunities have appeared, and that we are not always maximising them. New technologies, and particularly new informational and communicational technologies (NICATs), are offering us new powerful tools to improve our ways of living. Some European authors have been recently re-analysing and underlining how some of such tools may allow us to establish relationships in new ways. In fact, new ways of relating and communicating with others are already happening. Bressand & Distler (1995), French members of the well-known Prometheus think-tank, have been discussing the importance of the new ways of networking-relationships. Globalisation phenomena are showing not only new and virtual spaces in the world (the cyberspace, the global village). They are also showing new relational possibilities, and a "new" relational planet (Bressand & Distler, 1995).
Relationships in new ways must not be thought to only happen in the cyberspace. They may also happen because of or mediated by or around the audio-visual media. After using them, we may chat and/or relate to others in new ways, according to our experience with each audio-visual media (Suess et al., 1998).
Some recent researches have explored how adults and children - particularly parents and their children - communicate with each other when referring to television and to NICATs. Although activities with audio-visual media are very often highly motivating for children, research results point out that too often communication does not exist on these topics, because of different reasons (including fears, misinformation, and feelings of incompetence by adults) (Casas, 1998a). It also happens very often that such kind of communication is very unsatisfying for children and adolescents (Casas y Figuer, 1999).
The present research project arises from the interest in developing broader understanding about children's conditions of living in the nowadays media environment (the new media ecology). We need to gain knowledge about how media has a positive or negative impact on children's learning and socialisation, on children's rights and on children's future quality of life. Such knowledge could be applied to remove or reduce the negative impacts, and to increase or support the positive ones.
Relevant aspects that need to be better understood in order to develop actions
We can summarise aspects that may be relevant to develop future action in this field, with the following list of needs:
- More information and understanding on the motivations of children using different audio-visual media equipment and consuming their facilities.
- How children themselves relate media using and learning to his/her own future (aspirations and performance).
- How children's attitudes in front of audio-visual media using are related to other personal aspects (age, gender, urban/rural environment, socio-economic status, self esteem, perceived social support by family and by friends, mastery, life optimism, satisfaction with life, satisfaction with different domains in life, and personal values).
- How parents' attitudes in front of the use of audio-visual media by their child are related to some of his/her personal aspects (gender, interest on media, information available, and value expectations) and his/her child characteristics (age, gender).
- How parents and children interact about audio-visual activities (do they chat about the child's activities with ICATs?; are they satisfied with their conversations?).
- How children construct their audio-visual cultures (whom they chat to; whom they like to explain his/her experience; whom are they most and last satisfied to talk with).
- Which major coincidences and discrepancies exist between children and adults when evaluating audio-visual media-related activities. Which of the discrepancies may be restricted to audio-visual media use, and which can be broader discrepancies between children and adults (e.g.: discrepancies in value attribution).
Research already developed
Research aiming to collect data to fulfil the knowledge needs referred in the previous section has already started. Samples were selected from 5 different middle-size cities in Catalonia (Spain), with clearly different socio-economic characteristics: Girona, Salt, Lleida, Sant Cugat and Rubí. In each city we selected these middle class regular schools that could be considered to have a population of students more representative of the characteristics of a majority of the families in the city. In each school we administered a questionnaire in the classroom setting to all students in compulsory secondary education.
One of our exploratory goals was to check whether perceptions and evaluations of children, and also of adults, in relation to audio-visual media, might be different in different urban contexts, which belong to the same macro-cultural environment, the Catalan society.
Cities in these samples have between 20.000 and 150.000 inhabitants, that means, they are medium-size cities according Spanish standards. Two of them, Rubí and St. Cugat, are satellites of a big city, Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, and a part of their populations work in the big city. However, they are completely different cities: one can be absolutely considered a working class city (Rubí) and the other one an affluent people city (St. Cugat), in fact the less and the most affluent cities in our sample. The medium family income shows that difference very clearly (Table 1). Girona and Lleida are the capitals of two Catalan provinces different of Barcelona province. Girona is the capital of the Costa Brava, a very popular tourist area, with a very active economy, and related to that, the city has a high medium income in relation to Catalan standards. Lleida is in the inner part of the region, surrounded by rural municipalities, and has almost exactly the mean Catalan per family income. Finally, Salt is a satellite working class city neighbour of Girona city, and the second lowest affluent city in our sample.
Data were obtained from 1634 students, 792 boys (48,5%) and 842 girls (51,5%). All of them are between 12 and 16 years old.
Additionally, we also obtained answers from 638 of their parents (39% of the children) who responded separately to a similar questionnaire that was given to them in a closed envelope, and that they usually answered at home. Respondents were 307 mothers (48,1% of the parents), 111 fathers (17,4%) and in 220 families both parents did answer together (34,5%) (Table 4).
Data are still in the process of being analysed, but the basic descriptive results have already been published in English and Spanish (Casas et al., 2000a; 2000b).
After knowing and discussing our results, several research teams in other countries have shown interest to translate and adapt our questionnaire for data collecting in other countries. At present, translations already exist from the two questionnaires in English, Norwegian, Portuguese and Japanese, and some preliminary data from Japan have already been collected, while data from Norway will be available before summer.
At present, several other teams in European countries have shown their interest to participate in a European co-ordinated research if they get some financial support for translating and adapting our instruments to other languages, and to develop the data collecting in their countries. These countries are Poland, Portugal, Belgium, and The Netherlands. Colleagues from Switzerland and United Kingdom have also indicated their interest to join the project.
Goals of the Project
Our cumulated experience with this preliminary stage of data collecting, and the accurate analysis of the results, that will be finished before the end of this year, places us in a good position to design a broader research.
We plan to obtain samples from several European countries, in order to compare several socio-cultural contexts and to learn from the results which can be guidelines to create products and develop supportive activities for parents and teachers in front of ICATs - and also for children.
Our ultimate goals are applied: we want to make concrete proposals. However, the first step is to develop field research capable to fulfil the need of knowledge and understanding the present situation in relation to children's and adolescent's audio visual cultures that have been listed in section 3 of this document. Depending of the results, some aspects of the second steps should be reconsidered.
The methodology we plan to use is plural, using different techniques for data collection, in order to have a broad scope of the interactions, inter-influences and inter-relationships that happen in reality. In the first stage of our research we are going to use questionnaires with closed and open items, so that we get both some quantitative and some qualitative information. In the following stages, group discussions, in-depth interviews and other techniques will be used in order to better understand children's and adolescent's points of view in relevant aspects of the research results.
Research teams participating in this project have agreed to collect a local or regional sample of 12 to 15 years old children in each country, according to the following characteristics: Sampling will be by schools –not by the children's population. Schools representative of the overall characteristics of the child population in the specific area will be selected for sampling. A minimum sample of 500 children would be expected from each local area. Parent?s sample will be always paired with children's, and the size of parents' sample will depend on the rate of parents' answers.
Data collecting will be based in two similar questionnaires administered separately to children and to their parents, so that a number of items can be paired and compared. Questionnaires are based in the previous tested ones, administered to a sample of parents and children from 5 different cities in Catalonia during 1999. They have been translated into English and into other languages. After testing in several countries, an international committee of researchers met in Mumbai in December 2000, and discussed in-depth item by item, until a new English version was adopted. The Spanish first version was also re-adapted. After re-testing, now two 'original' version of each questionnaire, in Spanish and English, are available.
Both, parent's and children's questionnaires include closed and a few open items.
The variables included in the questionnaire for children are divided in 5 groups:
- Personal characteristics: age, gender, degree at school, and city or neighbourhood where they are living at present.
- Availability and use of media: television (as an 'old' media, existing in almost all households), computer, Internet, CD-ROMs, video games for computer and video games for console (as 'new' technological facilities which are accessible to children and adolescents) will be explored.
- Psychosocial variables: tested scales, in versions as short as possible, have been included to reliably measure psychosocial phenomena. Self-esteem (Rosenberg, 1965), mastery (Pearlyn and Schooler, 1978) and family and friends perceived social support (Vaux and cols., 1986) will be explored. Although no appropriated scales on subjective well-being and on aspirations have been identified for our purposes, some items on optimism, on aspirations and on satisfaction with different domains of life have also been included.
- Personal relationships mediated by media: questions about how media equipment and tools are used in interpersonal communication with other relevant people (father, mother, siblings, teachers, peers and elder peers) are included.
- Evaluations: some items about emotions (fun), cognitive aspects (interest, satisfaction, information obtained) and instrumental aspects involving the future (learning, utility, using of time), all of them related with the media use, have also been included.
Questionnaires will be group administered at school, after obtaining permission of the school council and of the parents association. Two researchers will be present at the sessions together with the regular teacher of the students. After answering their own questionnaire, children will receive another questionnaire for their parents, in which they will write their name (in order to be able to pair questionnaires). Then they will be given an envelope to put that questionnaire in, together with a letter to parents explaining the research and asking for co-operation. They will be asked to give back the questionnaire to their child teacher, via the child him or herself.
b. Discussion groups
Several discussion groups will be organised. At least two discussion groups will be organised with adults in each geographical context in which a sample is selected for data collecting with the questionnaires: one with teachers, and another one with parents (both, fathers and mothers). Several discussion groups with children or adolescents will meet separately according to age and gender, and some gender-mixed groups would also take place.
c. In-depth interviews
To better understand children's and adolescent's points of view in relevant aspects of the research results a set of in-depth interviews will be developed. The number of interviews are planned to be about 15 per sample, depending of concrete aspects that may be decided to explore at this stage.
d. Other data collecting procedures
One of the research teams in the XCIII is expert in analysing children's stories in relation to simulated situations - which can be presented, for example, with pictures. We plan to develop some data collecting on gender-related stereotypes on NICTs using that methodology.
Another research team, at Tata's Institute, has long expertise on life history research techniques. We may take advantage of that expertise to develop some data collecting with this approach, with particular focus on life events and turning points in relation to audio-visual technologies.
Results dissemination and applicability
Different strategies to disseminate results of this research will be discussed among participants and recommendations will be worked out among all participating research teams, in order develop appropriated products based on the research results.
Priority will be given to products, such as multimedia products (both in CD-Rom or Internet format), that can be used by parents, by teachers, or by children and adolescents themselves.
Scientific products, such as paper and electronic reports and articles, will be worked out and disseminated in the Web and in scientific journals and meetings.
Possible developments of the Project
The period 2001-2002 has been designed as our basic period for data collection. The period 2003-2004 has been conceived as a period to in-depth develop studies and debates in order to identify the key aspects to better understand how to implement quality programs to efficiently support parents and teachers, and also children themselves - and then to make such products a reality, which will be tested and evaluated.
However, depending of the results and of other aspects of the development of the project, some new developments should be taken into account along the process. Those are some examples:
a.From the perspective of the research:
Broader representative samples to administer the questionnaires may be needed (e.g.: different cultural contexts should be considered in one concrete country; more gender representativity is required; more rural/urban contrast is needed; etc.).
More in-depth analysis of gender differences may be considered.
Samples of younger children may be considered (e.g.: from 8 years old on).
More discussion groups may be needed, in order to debate additional topics, which become unclear.
Additional methodologies for data collection may be needed.
b.From the perspective of international co-operation:
Additional funding in order to invite some other Eastern-European countries to join the project may be needed.
Support to extend and adapt the research to some Latin American countries or other developing countries in the world could be considered. In fact, Brazilian, Argentinean and Indian colleagues are already taking into consideration the possibility of data collection from local or regional samples.
c.From the perspective of products needed (by parents, teachers and/or children):
The diversity of products convenient for parents and/or for teachers can be considered broader along the discussion, than as primarily designed.
Working Program 2001-2004
The tentative agenda for the Project has been planned as follows:
January to June:
- Contacts with potential European partners.
- Translation and testing of the original questionnaires into different languages.
- Partners meeting to discuss semantic adaptations and the final protocols.
July to December:
- Field work.
- Making and depurating each country data basis.
- Preliminary data exploration.
- Data basis aggregation.
January to June:
- By country in-depth data explotation.
- Internal report of each country.
- Discussion sessions with children.
- Discussion session with teachers.
- Discussion sessions with parents.
- In-depth interviews and other data collection techniques.
- Partners seminar to discuss results interpretation and data comparability.
- Aggregated data basis in-depth explotation.
- Preliminary global report.
- Partners meeting to discuss the preliminary global report.
July to December:
- Results presentation in scientific seminars.
- Results discussions in professional meetings.
- Country and overall data re-explotations.
- Second global report.
- Scientific focused reports.
- Preparation of publications for scientific journals.
January to June:
- In-depth qualitative data collection with children and adolescents to better understand results: Group discussions and in-depth interviews.
- Complementary methodologies (e.g.: in-depth analysis of boys and girls interpretations of different simulated situations in front of NICATs).
- Possible additional questionnaires administration to clarify or deepen any scientifically relevant aspects.
- New (additional) country and overall reports.
July to December:
- Preliminary draft of proposals to support, train and council teachers in front of NICATs.
- Preliminary draft of proposals to support, train and council parents in front of NICATs.
- Preliminary draft of proposals to support, train and council children and adolescents in front of NICATs.
- Experts seminars to discuss proposals.
- Improving proposals and considering additional proposals.
January to June:
- Practical design of the proposals.
- Developing the designed products.
- Testing the products.
July to December:
- Disseminating the products.
- Evaluation of products impact.
- Presentation of products evaluation in international meetings.
Bibliography of the IRQV team on children and media and adults-children relationships
Casas, F. (1994). Children's participation in European society. Proceedings of the Conference on Evolution of the role of children in family life: participation and negotiation. Madrid, 1-3 December. Strasbourg. Council of Europe.
Casas, F. (1997). Quality of life and the life experience of children. In E. Verhellen: Understanding children's rights. Second International Interdisciplinary Course on Children's Rights. University of Ghent (Belgium).
Casas, F. (1998a). Infancia: Perspectivas psicosociales. Barcelona. PPU.
Casas, F. (1998b). Video games: Between parents and children. The second international Conference on children and social competence: Children, technology and culture. Brunel University, London, 1-3 July 1998.
Casas, F. (1998c). Children and the audiovisual culture. Barcelona. World Forum of Children's Television.
Casas, F. (1999). Children, media and the relational planet. Child Studies, 1. March. Kobe (Japan). International Center for Child Studies. Konan Women's University.
Casas, F., & Figuer, C. (1999). Usos del ordenador e interacción padres/hijos en la adolescencia. III Congreso de Investigadores Audiovisuales, Los Medios del Tercer Milenio. Madrid, julio 1999.
Casas, F. (2000). Perceptions of video games among Spanish children and parents. In C. Von Feilitzen and U. Carlsson: Children in the new media landscape. Göteborg: UNESCO.
Casas, F. (2001). Video games: Between parents and children. In I. Hutchby and J. Moran-Ellis: Children, Technology and culture. London. Falmer, 32-47.
Casas, F.; Figuer; C., Alsinet; C., González, M.; & Pascual, S. (2000). Medios audiovisuales: mediando las relaciones sociales de los niños/as. III Congreso de la Sociedad Internacional de Estudios sobre Calidad de Vida. Girona, julio 2000.
Casas, F.; Figuer, C.; Alsinet, C.; González, M.; & Pascual, S. (2000). Contextos de socialización en una sociedad aceleradamente cambiante: las NTICs entre los adultos y los niños y las niñas. Congreso de Psicología Social. Oviedo, septiembre 2000.
Casas, F.; Alsinet, C.; Pérez Tornero, J.M.; Figuer, C.; Leiva, E.; González, M.; & Pascual, S. (2000). Las tecnologías de la información y la comunicación entre los padres y los hijos. Intervención Psicosocial, 9, 3.
Casas, F.; Figuer, C.; Pérez Tornero, J.M.; Alsinet, C.; Leiva, E.; González, M.; & Pascual, S. (2000). Children and audio-visual media: Between parents and children. International forum of researchers young people and the media. Sydney, November 2000.
For more information, please contact:
Ferran Casas, Catalan Network of Child Researchers, Spain
E-mail: ferran.casas [at] udg.es