Date of Degree

9-2018

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Psychology

Advisor

Colette Daiute

Committee Members

Roger Hart

Lev Manovich

Matthew K. Gold

Joan Greenbaum

Subject Categories

Developmental Psychology | Psychology

Keywords

digital media, parenting, visual narrative, childhood, Instagram, narrative inquiry

Abstract

With the wellbeing of children being at the center of contemporary media discourse (Livingstone & Bovill, 2013), developmental studies are ever more challenged to understand both children’s and adults’ behavior in online spaces. Parents and children are involved in the human development process in complementary ways (Johansson, 2010; Uprichards, 2008) while using media platforms. As the development and use of innovative media technology are accelerating at a fast pace, theory and methods for analyzing uses of digital media for human development have lagged behind. This study examines adults’ postings of photos of their children on social media and offers a unique methodological approach to studying social media. The study considers posting behavior with Instagram hashtags of #fashionkids and #letthekids as a contemporary parenting practice. A major innovation of this study is first, to enact the concept and method of narrative analysis (Daiute, 2014) to the postings as a 21st-century practice. Having applied this method, the study also offers findings about the diverse values that emerge across two specific digital parenting communities, with implications for ongoing research.

Research questions guiding this study include 1) How do the two digital cultures of childhood postings occur online? 2) What values seem to guide the creation and posting of photographs to the two digital cultures of childhood? 3) How do parents and children interpret exemplars of children’s photos from the research? To answer these questions, a sample of Instagram captions and photographs with the hashtags of fashionkids and letthekids posted in a 12-day period in 2016 was collected and analyzed. In addition, a projective activity, where children (ages 7-10) and mothers created a story about a sample picture depicted as fashionkid and letthekid, was conducted.

Analyses of postings with #fashionkids and #letthekids define these hashtags as cultures in terms of the distinct values (norms and beliefs) of an ideal childhood. Specifically, what the parents presented as ideal in the #fashionkids culture include values of looking good, expressing gender, posing, and being associated with possessions. Posts with #letthekids, on the other hand, revealed a wide range of values, including conflicting and ambivalent ones regarding children’s emotional distance from the parent, and the life at home. The diverse emphasis in values expressed in children’s photographs, in turn, allowed mothers and children to highlight different values they have about media use and parents’ strong influence in children’s depiction in photographs. This comparative analysis of postings and participants’ narratives 1) provides a method for research design and analysis to understand the co-construction of childhood in contemporary times and thus insights into how parents are using the Internet to define childhood in society, 2) reveals how societal values, in this case, about childhood, are performed in digital spaces, 3) provides a foundation for a discussion about children’s privacy rights and, 4) provides a basis for furthering parent’s understanding of the significance of their practices in online spaces.

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