Parenting in a Digital Age: Chapter 2

Below is the second chapter in the draft of the book, Parenting in a Digital Age.  The introduction is also available in the entry below.  Please feel free to comment or write: Lynn (at) Clark (dot)


Ch 2: What Young People Want

Parenting in a Digital Age, by Lynn Schofield Clark

When dgmkerry444 used the website Quizilla to share a quiz she created with her friends, she titled it, “Would you make a good parent (girls only, sorry guys)?” Dgmkerry444 included questions about how you would discipline teens for problem behaviors, how you would decide on when to pay for items that teens desire, and then she asked, “How old do your kids have to be before they can get a cell phone?”  The way to receive a “Perfect Parent” score on dgmkerry444’s quiz was to choose this response: You as a parent should decide that a cell phone is a good idea “When they’re 12 or 13, depending on their attitude and if they go shopping or somewhere with friends.”  If you selected this among other responses and scored in the range of the Perfect Parent, you then received this message:

Congratulations!  You’d be a Perfect Parent!  You seem to know almost EVERYTHING about being a mom, and your parenting skills are much like mine would be if I had kids.  You have like NOTHING to work on before you have kids, just tell your guy you want kids and start trying![i]

Oh, to have the wisdom and self-assurance of a 12- or 13-year-old when it comes to parenting decisions.

Dgmkerry444 speaks to “parents,” but she is actually addressing girls and mothers, who often, although not exclusively, are the bearers of parenting tasks and identities. Recent research into parenting arrangements indicates that a growing number of fathers are primarily responsible for their children’s upbringing, and parenting arrangements are increasingly diverse, including cohabiting, same sex, nonbiological, and extended family custodial arrangements. Despite these changes, however, the majority of young people in the U.S. live in a household with someone who is legally, economically, and socially responsible for them and for their upbringing, and a large percentage of those families report that mothers are the primary decision-makers about childrearing, family care, and household management.[ii]

In addition to their desire for a parent who will buy them a cell phone at 12 or 13, what do young people want from their parents and from digital and mobile media?  This is a question that is best framed in relation to studies in the sociology of childhood, for what children want has a great deal to do with their experiences with their peers. I therefore begin this chapter with a review of studies in the sociology of childhood in order to establish the importance of thinking about what children, tweens, and teens might want when it comes to digital and mobile media, so that we can better understand how such media fit into their lives, needs, and desires, and therefore into the practices of parenting and being parented in a digital age.  I highlight how the consolidated media industries are seeking to address those needs through digital, mobile, and traditional media products.  I then turn to the needs and desires of young people who relate how they manage their need for acceptance among their peers with their desire to be distinct, introducing four stories of young people whose experiences with digital, mobile, and traditional media changed over the period of their elementary through their teen years. I argue that young people’s needs are rooted in peer culture, and that the need to be accepted and recognized, to belong and to be distinct, and the need to recognize peer norms so as to live within them comfortably all strongly shape both how young people view digital, mobile, and traditional media.  Moreover, how young people interact through and about these media, with each other and with their parents, is a form of emotional work, as we will see.

Studying Children through the Sociology of Childhood

Studies in the sociology of childhood emerged in the 1980s as an attempt to better understand the experiences of childhood from the perspectives of children themselves.  Key to this approach has been an emphasis on children not only as future adults, or as people in the process of being socialized into roles in relation to adulthood, but as actors who construct their own cultures and who contribute to the adult world. In many ways, scholars writing in this tradition of sociology of childhood sought to challenge the assumptions of developmental psychology and socialization frameworks that viewed children from a universalizing perspective that focused on desirable future outcomes.[iii] Moreover, childhood is viewed in this tradition as a particular category of society, and therefore while each individual child grows out of this category, childhood is a permanent part of the structure of society.[iv] The field has therefore historicized the concept of “childhood,” exploring how that concept has been mobilized by differing groups in society, and has also considered how experiences of childhood are constructed in relation to gender, economics, race and ethnicity, and other aspects of difference.[v]

The idea of socialization, which focuses on adult intentions in relation to an individual child’s preparation for the future, has been replaced by what William Corsaro has termed interpretive reproduction, or the idea that children create and participate in their own cultures by appropriating from adult culture to address their own concerns in relation to their peer culture.  Families of origin play an important role in interpretive reproduction, as they provide the first context in which young children come to learn about the cultures in which they live.  But also important are the cultures of their peers, which children begin to participate in at an early age.  Children thus almost immediately find themselves negotiating between two cultures: that of adults, and that of their peers.

Studies in the sociology of childhood therefore have also offered an important and contrasting view of what it means to grow up. Coming to be recognized as a certain kind of person is accomplished through interactions with others.  In the sociocultural perspective, identity is seen less as something young people achieve after an adolescent “identity crisis,” and more as an ongoing negotiation between oneself and the communities to which a child relates. Thus, replacing Piaget’s idea of “ages and stages,” sociologists studying childhood look at the cultures in which children make such negotiations as they are divided in relation to the school experience: in the U.S., preschoolers (ages 2 – 5), elementary school (usually ages 5 – 10), junior high (ages 11 – 13), high school (ages 14 – 18), and young adulthood (ages 18 – 25).

Negotiating the commercial environment has been a particular focus among those interested in the sociology of childhood, as western childhood is viewed as increasingly commercialized and oriented to the purchasing of goods.[vi] Allison Pugh’s study of how children and parents negotiate the purchasing of goods in relation to children’s desire to belong within their peer groups is a good example of this.[vii] Pugh considers how children as young as six incorporate references to commercial goods into their everyday conversations as a means for them to gain access into and participate in peer interactions. She argues that parents, recognizing that their children have a need to belong within their peer groups, acquiesce to buying things (including media products such as Gameboys and Playstations) not because they want to indulge their children, but because they want their children to be able to participate fully in their peer culture.  Pugh therefore helps us to understand an important connection between childhood, parenting, and the context of the commercial environment, recognizing that whereas the advertising industries have indeed worked to make certain products seem necessary for childhood, it is the culture of children themselves, and the desire of parents to see their children fitting into this culture, that drives how buying things becomes a means of conveying caring.

Pugh’s work offers a strong foundation for the current consideration of how parents and young people approach the issue of what children, preteens, and teens want when it comes to digital, mobile, and traditional media.  Parents, as we will see in this book, often engage in emotional work as they attempt to discern what kinds of digital, mobile, and traditional media their children should be able to access, and at which ages, in relation to their peer cultures.  And children perform emotional work as they negotiate with both their parents and their peers in relation to the needs and desires of both adult and peer culture.   These processes are further complicated by differences in expectations rooted in gender, ethnicity, income, and beliefs about authority and parental styles.

Much of the sociology of childhood literature in media studies developed out of a desire to challenge “the isolated encounter between individual child and the all-powerful screen that characterizes a great deal of academic research,” as David Buckingham has pointed out.[viii] Researchers have wanted to contest the idea that technological toys are a detriment to development by noting that young people actively engage in constructing the terms for their play.[ix] In media studies, scholars have explored how children create their own culture in relation to life in and outside of school settings, with particular emphasis on how they draw upon consumer culture yet sometimes also resist the intentions of mass consumer culture in their unexpected creativity.[x] It is common for media scholars to fall into two camps: those who are interested in protecting children from the potential hazards of the media, a position that inevitably begins with the perspective of adults and their concerns, and those who wish to begin with the child’s experience of media.  Whereas the next chapter addresses parental concerns, this chapter focuses on young peoples’ experiences and their peer cultures.  And those peer cultures take a particular shape in relation to the products offered through the media industries.

The Youth Market and the Big Six

In 2009, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that young people between the ages of 8 – 18 spent an average of 7 ½ hours consuming television, music, computers, video games, print and movies, and almost a third of that time was devoted to media multitasking.[xi] For all age groups, young people spent the greatest amount of time with television, followed by music, computers, and video games, although a jump in media use occurred when young people reach the 11 – 14 age group.[xii] Black and Hispanic young people spent significantly more time watching television each day, and more time listening to music and playing games, than their white peers of the same age.  Boys also spent more time in front of the screen than girls do, most of which is devoted to video games.[xiii]

Why young people spend so much time with media has a great deal to do with the organization of family life, as Henry Jenkins argued.[xiv] Families increasingly live some distance from work and school, and in many locales there is little sense of a neighborhood in which young people can play outdoors safely.  Now that parents are fearful that their younger and older children might encounter trouble due to a lack of supervision, young people spend more time in their own homes, and media provide a “safe” alternative to the outdoors.  Many parents bemoan this fear of the world outside the home, but there is little doubt that in recent decades, homes across the economic spectrum have become more media-rich in response to the privatization of home life, and young people have spent more time either in these homes or in highly supervised settings where they have only minutes to interact with other peers – making texting and cell phone an appealing alternative to spending time waiting for the next scheduled activity to start.

Stakeholders within the businesses related to digital, mobile, and traditional media know a great deal about what young people want.  They have to; otherwise, they would lose business.  This was illustrated in a popular television program produced in PBS’s Frontline series titled, Merchants of Cool, which claimed in 2001 that the youth market segment constituted an estimated $150 billion worth of spending a year.[xv]

The media are an important part of most children’s growing-up experiences, and children and young people are the targets of an ever-widening circle of cultural products that vie for their attention. As noted in the previous chapter, most of the media content that is received in people’s homes originates or has some connection to the “big six” global media conglomerates: General Electric, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner, News Corp, and CBS.  And other big players in the realm of digital and mobile media include Internet and cable service providers AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, and Cox, as well as electronics and related media conglomerates Sony, Apple Inc., and Microsoft. Each of these corporations aims to develop a market for children and young people through their various offerings, and they spend a great deal of money not only in discerning what young people want, but in attempting to create products that will satisfy those wants – and in creating more desires.

I don’t mean to suggest that the advertising and media industries are wholly responsible for manufacturing desires.  After all, as Colin Campbell has suggested, the roots of today’s consumerism are to be found not so much in the processes of production as in our Romantic human desires to experience ourselves as self-creating beings.[xvi] This desire is what the media industries capitalize on: a wish to feel, to experience life, and specifically a wish to feel loved, accepted, and capable of maintaining both a sense of ourselves and a sense of our relationships with others.  A romantic sense of self is not reserved for adults, as children, too, want to feel and experience themselves as self-creating and in relationships with others.  In this view, television programming, fictional books, video games, mobile phones, and other media products become cultural resources that do the work of allowing us to express to others and to ourselves who we are.  In some cases new media do this pragmatically, providing a conduit for us to contact others through cell phone, text communication, and digital communication.  Media also do this work symbolically, as we own commercially produced products such as mobile phones, televisions, and MP3s or iPods that say something to others about who we are.  And media also do this mythically, as they provide stories that resonate with us, giving us an opportunity to experience what it feels like to feel, and giving us meaningful, anchoring stories, music, and cultural touchpoints that we can then share with others in our everyday interactions.  The very youngest children do not have the direct purchasing power necessary to buy media for pragmatic or symbolic purposes, but with access to television, films, and music, they are able to participate in its mythic dimensions – and are heavily targeted by the television, book, film, and music industries as a result.

Preschool and Elementary Age Children

Disney, Viacom, and Time Warner dominate the media universe for young children between the ages of 2 and 10. They have recognized the role of imagination, play, aspiration, family relationships, and concerns about good and evil in the lives of young people, and have created stories, songs, and games to captivate young and old alike, although they have not done so without criticism.[xvii] Disney’s numerous animated classics first opened the market for children’s films in 1937 with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and went on to establish the viability of a children’s market with Pinocchio, Dumbo, Bambi, Cinderella, Peter Pan, and many more recent classics, such as Finding Nemo, the Toy Story series, Bolt, Wall*E and Cars in collaboration with Pixar Studios (also owned by Disney). Disney’s Playhouse Disney offers Little Einsteins and My Friends Tigger and Pooh for this same age group, and Radio Disney appeals to young listeners and their families.

Nickelodeon (owned by Viacom) reaches some of the youngest media consumers as well, airing such popular television programs as Go, Diego, Go!, Dora the Explorer, SpongeBob Squarepants, Blue’s Clues, and Fairly OddParents, which were the most popular television programs among children aged 2 to 5.[xviii] Partnering with Paramount Studios (also a Viacom property), Nickelodeon Movies has also released Harriet the Spy, the Rugrats movie and television series, Charlotte’s Web, and The Spiderwick Chronicles.

PBS Kids and PBS Kids Sprout on Demand (the latter a joint venture of Comcast and PBS), also hold appeal among this preschool age group, with programs such as Teletubbies, Dragon Tales, Bob the Builder, and educational programs such as Between the Lions.

Television and film viewing increases as children enter their late elementary school years, in part because parents provide more freedom for children of this age group to make more of their own decisions about the time they are not spending in school, and in part because attention spans lengthen, making films, television series, video games, and musical artists more viable options for unscheduled time.  Those between the ages of 8 and 10 spend about 3 ½ hours a day watching television, about an hour each listening to music or playing video games, and less than an hour on the computer.[xix]

Time Warner is one of the largest content providers for these older elementary school children.  With the production of the eight Harry Potter films, Time Warner has firmly established the upper elementary age film audience, as all of the Potter films are among the thirty highest-grossing films of all time.[xx] Cartoon Network, a subsidiary of Time Warner, also targets children over the age of 7 with television programs, with such popular fare as Ben 10, Johnny Bravo, Ed, Edd, & Eddy, reality programs such as Destroy, Build, Destroy, and Dude, What Would Happen? Time Warner also owns the CW television network, home of Yu-Gi-Oh!, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Tiny Toon Adventures, and Animaniacs; Hanna-Barbera television, and Warner Bros. television, with cartoons such as Bugs Bunny and Road Runner.

Viacom has similarly had success in appealing to older elementary age children.  In the first decade of the new millennium, Paramount Pictures and Dreamworks Studio (both owned by Viacom) released the Shrek series, Chicken Run, Kung Fu Panda, Over the Hedge, and How to Train Your Dragon, among others. The Nickelodeon series Sponge Bob SquarePants, a Viacom property as noted above, has popularity that extends from the youngest age group through some high school and college students. Nickelodeon, Disney, 20th Century Fox (NewsCorp), and Cartoon Network (Time Warner) all have strong crossover appeal from younger to older elementary aged children, with programs such as Disney’s The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, The Suite Life on Deck, and Hannah Montana, Disney’s High School Musical franchise, Nickelodeon’s iCarly, and 20th Century Fox’s (owned by Newscorp) releases of the Ice Age series, the X-Men series, the Night at the Museum series, and others such as Percy Jackson and the Olympians and Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who!

Nearly every one of these popular television programs has had multiple product tie-ins, including books, figures, toys, and music. In recent years, several of these franchises have been extended to computer games, in concert with the rising use of computers among younger and younger children.  One study found that by 2008, nearly two thirds of children between the ages of 3 and 5 could use a mouse to point and click, more than a third could turn on the computer by themselves, and more than half of 3 to 5 year olds had used a computer by themselves.[xxi] The big growth area, according to several sources, was in virtual worlds.  By 2010, there were close to 67 million registered users of virtual worlds in the 5 to 10-year-old age group.[xxii] The most popular of these worlds for the 6- to 10-year-old age group included Club Penguin, purchased by Disney in 2007 for $700 million, when had increased its registered users by 329% over the previous year.[xxiii] Webkinz World, owned by Ganz and appealing to 8- to 11-year-olds, claimed nearly 4 million unique visitors each month in 2010.  Neopets, purchased by Viacom in 2005 for $160 million and appealing to 8- to 11-year-olds as well as a slightly older female audience, received about 1.5 million unique visitors each month in 2010.[xxiv] Also growing in popularity was the Nintendo Wii, which quickly developed a niche as an intergenerational and participatory gaming system and broke the record for best-selling console in December of 2009.[xxv]

Preteens & Teens

Media consumption of all kinds reaches its peak among young people in the 11 – 14 age bracket.  At this age, young people spend an average of 12 hours a day with media, and 5 of those hours are devoted to television viewing (this includes viewing live television as well as time shifted and prerecorded programming viewed on a television set, computer, or mobile device).[xxvi] Teens and preteens spent an average of just under 2 hours a day on the computer, participating in social networking, gaming, viewing YouTube and other videos, or instant messaging. Another hour and a half a day are devoted to video game-playing, although the average number of hours spent on gaming is significantly higher among boys than girls. Although watching and producing YouTube videos has not yet been measured,[xxvii] this site made it possible for young people to not only create and upload their own videos, but also to imitate their favorite commercials and produce memes, or their own versions of videos that had gained a substantial following, such as Charlie Bit My Finger, Soulja Boy, and others. Preteens and teens could also document, and share with others, scenes of their divorcing parents fighting, house parties out of control, and their own risqué behavior.[xxviii]

By 2009, 69 percent in this age group owned a cell phone, devoting on average more than an hour a day to texting and at least 30 minutes to talking.[xxix] Teens sent and received an average of 2,272 messages a month in 2008, a figure that continued to climb through 2010.[xxx] The Apple iPhone (AT&T), Motorola Droid (Verizon), T-Mobile G1 and Blackberry Storm (Verizon) were favorites of teens in 2010, although phone purchases depend to a great extent on who is paying the bills and what that payer’s mobile service provider offers. [xxxi] Three quarters of young people between the ages of 11 – 14 engage in media multitasking on any given day, spending time watching tv, gaming, listening to music, reading, or texting or talking on the phone.[xxxii]

For this age group, NewsCorp is a significant, if often controversial, content provider and distributor.[xxxiii] NewsCorp owns the Fox Broadcasting Company and Fox stations, as well as 20th Century Fox (Avatar, as well as the John Hughes classics The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) and Fox Television Studios (including American Idol, The Simpsons, and Family Guy, as well as vintage teen programming such as Beverly Hills 90210 and The O.C.). NewsCorp also owns numerous book publishers including HarperCollins and HarperTeen. NewsCorp’s 2006 purchase of marked the largest amount paid for a social networking system to date and gave NewsCorp even greater entre into the preteen and teen market.

Time Warner is another significant player for this age group, as they are part owners of the CW television group (the successor of the WB and UPN networks, once home to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dawson’s Creek, Gilmore Girls, Gossip Girl, and Supernatural).  Time Warner also owns such teen mainstays as AOL Instant Messenger and Teen People, DC Comics, and Mad Magazine.

But in this age group as well, the biggest content provider is Viacom, which owns Paramount Pictures (the Twilight film saga, Star Trek franchise, the Raiders of the Lost Ark franchise, the Friday the 13th franchise, Iron Man I & II, Paranormal Activity).  Viacom also owns Dreamworks Studios, TeenNick (a division of Nickelodeon, which has aired Degrassi: The Next Generation, Drake and Josh, and Full House), MTV, MTV2, MTV Films (Napoleon Dynamite, Beavis and Butthead Do America, Jackass: The Movie), BET, Comedy Central, Addicting Games (free downloadable and live play games), Quizilla, Rhapsody (the music sharing service), the magazine Virtual Worlds, and Nickelodeon Movies, among other holdings.

By 2010, one quarter of those aged 8 to 12 who had the Internet at home reported having a profile on Facebook, myspace, or Bebo, and Neopets had 16 million users.[xxxiv] There were more than 260 million registered users of virtual worlds among the 10-to-15-year-old age group at that time. The most populated virtual worlds, World of Warcraft and Second Life, were each owned by smaller companies as of this writing (Blizzard Entertainment and Linden Lab, respectively).  These games did not gain popularity among teens until after first reaching young adult and adults in the years between 2005 – 2008.  World of Warcraft reached 11.5 million users by the end of 2008 and has remained the most popular massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) among teens and adults.[xxxv] For the 10-to-15 year-old age group, Habbo Hotel had the largest number of visitors in 2010, with upwards of 15 million unique visitors a month thanks to tie-ins with the Twilight film series and MTV.[xxxvi] Eight million young people spent time in virtual worlds in 2008, with that number expected to swell to 15 million by 2013.[xxxvii] As of January 2009, there were 112 virtual worlds for kids and another 80 in development.[xxxviii]

So how do these media products say something about who we are?  As noted earlier, they do this in three ways: practically, symbolically, and mythically.  As such, media become important cultural markers in our interactions with others, and they do this as they are filtered through our experiences of race, gender, and economic background.[xxxix] We turn to the stories of several young people who shed light on how media become part of the stories young people employ as they tell themselves and others about who they are and how they fit into their peer cultures.  This self-expression in the context of peers constitutes an important part of what young people want, particularly as they enter their preteen and teen years.  The chapter concludes as we consider how they engaged in emotional work to do this.

Seeking Recognition and Acceptance

Stephanie’s first use of the gaming site Neopets (owned by Viacom) grew out of a pragmatic desire: she wanted to be a part of the “fad” that was sweeping through her fourth grade classroom, and the computers in her school’s lab enabled her to join this then-new virtual world.  Stephanie, a bright Asian American young woman who grew up in the U.S. Midwest, recalled that she first joined Neopets when she was ten years old.[xl] Together, she and her other school friends would sneak into the school’s computer lab before the class had started so that they could spend some time on the site. With its kid-friendly look and colorful interface as well as the appeal of owning and raising a virtual pet, those in her age group greeted Neopets with enthusiasm. Participating in Neopets began as a social experience for her within her immediate peer group, as classmates would call out to each other and would cheer each other on as they competed in the site’s Tug-of-War game. Her parents recognized the value of Neopets in relation to this belonging, and they supported her interest at home by allowing her to use the family computer to log onto the game as well, although they also established limits: Stephanie could spend 30 minutes on the Neopets site after her homework was completed.

When she was an upper elementary school aged child, Neopets enabled Stephanie to experiment with structures of the adult world, introducing her to the largely adult cultures of banking and child care through its mythical storylines. She enjoyed caring for the pet she created on the site, and played games to earn Neopoints so that she could purchase food, books, and toys for her pet. With her accumulated Neopoints, she opened a Junior Saver bank account, and once she’d saved even more points, she was able to qualify for a higher interest rate.  As she became engaged in the site’s opportunities for growing and caring for her pet, she also became invested in the mythical dimension of the game, inserting herself into the pre-existing storyline and creating something new within its borders.

As the Neopets site grew more familiar over time, Stephanie and her peers also began to discover the site’s Neoboards.  Contacts she had through these boards enabled Stephanie to begin to see the site’s potential beyond the initial play she’d enjoyed.  She learned from these boards that her chosen pet “wasn’t cool enough,” as she said, so she began to strive to “morph my pet into an elite species-color combination, get her stats up, equip her with powerful weapons, acquire more pets, expand her item gallery, and build an impressive Neohome.”  Stephanie, who was a high achiever in school, was similarly drawn to the opportunity to create a distinctive and impressive Neopet in a virtual world.  She developed skill in the site’s games but then also went on to learn how she might gain more Neopoints through investing and reselling goods on the site as well as through getting published in the virtual world’s Neopian Times.  By the time she was 14, Stephanie had acquired an elite avatar that garnered her the attention and respect of others on the site.  She had also established herself as a contributing writer, and enjoyed receiving feedback and suggestions for the poetry and short stories she submitted to the site.  By then, when most of her school peers were finding other pursuits, what had begun as a peer-related amusement for Stephanie had morphed into an outlet for her personal expression and support for her interest in developing her writing skills. Thus Stephanie found a great deal of symbolic value in Neopets as her own needs for belonging and support changed and developed through her early and mid teen years.  As she noted, “Returning home after school to a handful of friendly Neomails was always a wonderful experience for me.”  Although her parents continued to see the value in her participation in Neopets, the decision to remain a part of the Neopets world didn’t come without costs.  Because most of her peers regarded the game as a children’s diversion, Stephanie stated that she rarely admitted to playing the game when she was among her acquaintances from school.  To do so would be to place herself in a precarious position with her peers, who might consider her interest in Neopets a sign that she was immature or more interested in childhood interests than in those deemed more appropriately teen-oriented by her peer group.  But through her online activities, Stephanie was able to expand her social network and make new friends that shared her interests in writing and that did not share her peers’ negative view of Neopets.  By her teen years, her use of the digital realm was consistent with what Mimi Ito and her colleagues identified as “interest-driven” media use, allowing Stephanie to carve out a space for herself that was apart from the context of school and peers, and in which she could develop and experience a sense of self-identity for which she found affirmation and support.[xli] Because she appreciated the symbolic value of being a contributor to Neopets when she was on the site, but recognized that others in her peer group might disparage her for this interest, she symbolically distanced herself from the game when she was among her school peers, rarely claiming her affiliation as a means to not jeopardize the view that her older peers held of her.

Young people like Stephanie get a sense of who they are in relation to other people in their lives, and so their backgrounds, including their social class, gender, and ethnicity, play a role in shaping their options and their experiences. They need to figure out how to interact with others in ways that satisfy their needs for recognition and acceptance by others.  As they engage in what the sociologist Erving Goffman referred to as “impression management,” such interactions are then internalized and become a part of a cultural script.[xlii]

With the proliferation of social network sites, online gaming, and virtual worlds, young people today are increasingly “writing themselves and their communities into being” as they embrace and embody an identity online.[xliii] They have a sense that, like prior generations, they have to figure this out for themselves, within the context that is unique to this moment in time.  They have to negotiate with the “publicness” of the digital spaces in which they are doing the work of impression management. They also have to come to grips with the overwhelmingly commercial context that shapes their environment. They rely on commercial brands and images – or consciously avoid those brands and images, as in Stephanie’s case — to convey to others who they think they are or want to be.  They also rely on celebrity culture and its brands to present themselves to others in a manner similar to the ways in which celebrities present themselves in the public spaces young people see around them all the time.

Being Part of the Group, yet Distinct

Conversations with 18-year-old Taylor illustrated some of the work young people do as they try to figure out who they are, who they want to be, and who they want to relate to in the context of a youth culture that is public, commercialized, and shaped by knowledge of celebrities and their self-presentations.  Initially he approached social networking sites both pragmatically and symbolically: they were both an important way in which he could be in touch with his friends, and the profile he created on SNSs symbolically gave him visibility among a wider network of peers (as to have no profile would convey his lack of interest in this wider network).  An amiable young man with stylishly messy hair and an easygoing smile, Taylor said that when he first put up a profile on the social networking site myspace (owned by NewsCorp) at age 15, he wanted to convey the image that he was a “punk skater who was against everything mainstream.”[xliv] So, he said of his online profile, “I had a lot of skate company layouts and I would always put on punk metal songs.  I would always post pictures of skating and snowboarding.”[xlv] He wanted to be seen by his peers as someone who was fun, athletic, active, and “not mainstream,” so he used his online profile to portray a certain “look.”  And although he didn’t say it, he knew what that “look” was because he had grown up surrounded by images of fun, athletic, non-mainstream celebrities such as snowboarders Tony Hawk, Shaun White, and Ryan Sheckler, and was aware of the more crude and daring versions of non-mainstream celebrities such as Johnny Knoxville and the stars of Cartoon Network’s Dude, What Would Happen?.   He’d seen the “look” imitated and repackaged over and over in reality television programs like Survivor and MTV’s The Real World, on sports programs like ESPN’s X Games, and in numerous music and sports videos, as well as in ads for video games, candy, soft drinks, clothes, and in men’s magazines. He borrowed from those images and sounds to say something about who he was and how he wanted to be understood. Without a trace of irony, he spoke of how he drew upon these elements of the very mainstream of commercial and celebrity culture to portray himself as “non-mainstream.” Taylor thus sought to use myspace pragmatically, as a means of connecting with his peers, symbolically, as a means of existing in peer culture, and he also drew on media mythically, borrowing popular cultural references from skateboarding magazines, programs, advertisements, and celebrities to say something about himself.

But that was early in his high school years.  Later on, Taylor said, he found that his online profile was turning people off.  “A lot of people” told him that they thought he was cocky and vain based on his online profile.  So, he said,

I took off all the shirtless pictures of me.  Now I have more pictures of me in choir, more pictures of me showing that I’m the loving boyfriend, that I’m the loving brother, all that.  I used to not have anything to show that I was caring or loving.

Conscious of the fact that his peers spent time looking at the profiles of others online, Taylor changed his profile to better reflect who he thought he “really” was and how he wanted others to understand him.  Although his “good friends” already knew him, he recognized that social networking sites permitted acquaintances to look at his profile and consider whether or not they wanted to get to know him better, so he altered his online profile to better suit the needs and expectations of this larger circle of acquaintances.  And as he grew older, he came to share his acquaintances’ negative views about borrowing too heavily from the commercial realm when putting together an online profile, and he looked with some disdain at other young people who did what he once had done:

There are so many girls that post pictures that are all skanky, that have them posing in bathing suits, and then they have depressing suicidal poems.  I’m sitting here thinking, ‘You’re a happy person, you’re not a slut, what the hell are you doing?’

Be authentic to who you are, Taylor seemed to be saying; you don’t have to be a mook or a mid-riff, to borrow language that’s been used to describe the archetypal teen images of the goofy and fun-loving guy and the sexy but troubled girl.[xlvi] But presenting yourself digitally as you are “in real life” is something that takes some time and thought, as evidenced in Taylor’s own transformation from one who borrowed from the mook image to say something about himself to one who criticized those (in this case girls) who did such borrowing.  Young people like Taylor do a fair amount of experimenting, and much of it seems to be directed toward adjusting the presentation of self to achieve the desired results from their peers so as to receive positive reinforcement from their peers about who they “really” are, just as Stephanie did as she left out her participation in Neopets from the story she told school peers about who she was. Today’s parents used to do this same kind of identity work by trying out different fashions, developing appreciation for certain music, or participating in sports teams or clubs; young people like Taylor are simply adding online expression to the longstanding teen portfolio of efforts designed to come to better know who we are and to seek recognition and acceptance among peers.

As he grew older, Taylor also started to think differently about the way that he approached social networking sites. In his later high school years, Taylor noted, he saw Facebook and to a lesser extent myspace not so much as a place to display some image of himself, but pragmatically as a place where he could communicate with his friends. And although he said that this was the main point of his time spent on social networking sites, he was still aware of how his status updates and other online postings “played” for an imagined audience that was not limited to his close friends.  For instance, when asked if he ever changed his status specifically because he wanted one or more of his friends to comment on it, he replied adamantly, “NO.  I’ll tell people how I’m feeling.  I don’t care if you comment on it or not.  I’m not putting it out there for a specific person to see.  I’m putting it out there for everyone to see.”  Even when discussing the benefits of relating to close friends through social network sites, therefore, we see the influence of symbolic participation, voyeurism, and celebrity culture in Taylor’s comment that “everyone” is the intended audience for what he posted there. Taylor wanted to be accepted and recognized by his close friends, but the public nature of social network sites meant that he also was somewhat cognizant of the fact that a large audience could form an impression of him based primarily on what he posted.  That process of forming an impression might have less in common with how a person relates to someone in their immediate social circle, and more in common with how a person relates to a little-known celebrity that has a potential audience of “everyone.” Sites like Twitter, Facebook, and myspace create “micro-celebrities” all the time, and like many young people, Taylor preferred to cultivate this possibility rather than consciously limiting access to his online persona to only his close friends.

In Taylor’s comments, we can see examples of the publicness, the commercial, and the celebrity-driven aspects of the contexts in which young people today figure out who they are, how they want to be recognized, and who they want to relate to.  Through social networking sites like Facebook, myspace, and Twitter, young people like Taylor give public expression to how they want to be seen and understood to be. Taylor’s story illustrates how challenging it can be to escape the commercial realm that permeates and feeds on youthful life in this process of expressing one’s self. As noted earlier, corporations like Viacom and NewsCorp have long worked to associate certain mediated products for sale with desirable youthful lifestyles, and thus young people frequently and unconsciously draw on the commercial realm to convey something about themselves, whether it’s in digital form or in older ways like wearing branded t-shirts or buying certain products.  Even those who seek to depart from commercial influence can run into difficulties and have to work at being “logo-free” – something that usually happens only when young people conscientiously join the anti-globalization, anti-corporate movement.[xlvii] It is easier for young people to simply ignore the associations between corporate brands and lifestyles than to consciously reject them.

Taylor’s story also points to the influence of the celebrity-driven culture in which young people are growing up.  Teens and preteens may or may not want to be famous, but they do want to be well thought of and thus they approach social networking sites as an invitation for further interactions. And although young people increasingly set limits on who can access all of their information, they still know that people they may not even know might google them to look at their photos or writings at any time.  They can set limits to some things, but they also are growing up in a context where they know that they have to deal with the potential for publicness, and with the prospect for future friends or girlfriends/boyfriends on the line, they often have more incentive to be open to “everyone” than to limit access.  Because celebrities have long had to navigate this line between private life and life that is available for public consumption, they serve as models for how young people go about drawing these lines for themselves.  Young people today experience themselves in ways that are like celebrities, managing their private lives and what they are willing to make available for public or semi-public consumption.  And this creates new dilemmas as they seek to manage their identities and their relationships with others, particularly in the area of how to share enough but not too much information about themselves online.

Learning the Social Norms (Not TMI or Too Much Information)

Sometimes, these lines between what is said to close friends and what is available for more public consumption get drawn in relation to the media that young people use pragmatically to communicate with different members of their social circles.  As 16-year-old Jessica, a young Latina woman from a lower income background noted, “I talk to close friends like with texting or talking on the phone, and then I talk to people I’m not as close to on myspace.  I still talk to my good friends on myspace, but not as much.” The closer the relationship, the more likely the young person will have multiple ways of being in contact with that person. But the possibilities for overlap between the audiences of close friends and of acquaintances present new challenges for young people as they try to present themselves in ways that are general enough for “public” consumption, and authentic and specific enough for those who are closest to them.  They need to figure out ways to be self-revelatory without revealing too much more than what “everybody” would want to know.

The challenge in figuring out how much self-revelation is enough but not too much is a real problem, for being too revealing can be interpreted as a sign of neediness or insecurity, as 16-year-old Korinna’s comments suggest:

My friend – .  Well, she’s not my friend.  Marta, she like writes, ‘today was horrible.  In math class I couldn’t figure out this problem.’  She like went through her whole day, like people care.  Like honestly, I don’t.  People may.  Their comments are like for her good friends.  It’s like no one cares to read this except your close friends.

Korinna’s not-friend Marta was using the technology in a way that Korinna deemed inappropriate, revealing too much of her personal life in what Korinna considered a public forum.  Even as young people feel the need to be self-revealing in order to indicate that they are open to friendships and relationships, they also come to know that they do not want to reveal too much.  When young people update their online profiles so often that others begin to think of them as insecure or needy, they receive negative feedback from their peers, either directly or indirectly.

In the case of Korinna’s comment, the feedback was indirect, as Marta was not present to hear it.  Yet after Korinna made the disparaging remarks about her not-friend Marta, an interesting discussion emerged among her middle class friends.  “Caitlyn posts like stories and poems online,” Adriana pointed out after Korinna’s comments about Marta.  Another friend named Bella agreed with Korinna and then challenged Caitlyn directly: “Yeah, why do you want the whole world to read your diary?.” “Yeah, diaries are where you keep your secrets.  I don’t share those with a lot of people,” Korinna added, reiterating her point about the need to avoid sharing too much information online.  “Anyway, I get bored reading peoples’ blogs,” Bella then said, finding something that they could all agree on that would take the pressure away from Caitlin, and so Adriana quickly agreed, “So do I.”  But then Caitlyn defended her own practices of online writing by distancing herself from the overly self-revelatory writing style of the non-friend Marta.  Instead of talking about the self-revelatory stories and poems she had posted, she discussed her own writings in more of a mean-girl tone that, similar to Korinna’s comment, had made fun of not-friends who made too much information available online:

I’ve blogged about like break-ups.  About Hannah’s break-up, and how she blogged about it for like a year after they’re still broken up.  And every day there’s something new about it.  That’s pretty much it.  I usually don’t read them.  It gets kinds of dramatic, and it gets kind of boring after a while.

Others then chimed in that they, too, would read other peoples’ profiles and blogs when they were “really bored.”  And anyway, as Korinna later pointed out, she didn’t use myspace as much as she used to.  “I don’t really have the time,” she said, and her friends all agreed.  “Everybody got into it, but it just kind of died down,” her friend Adriana observed.

Somehow, young people needed to determine for themselves the “right” amount of time they were spending online in social network sites, texting, twittering, or IMing. Or at least they needed to adopt the position that they weren’t spending “too much” time on the self-presentation aspects of these things.  They talked about their use of these sites in a way that is in keeping with the norm of an appropriately busy teen life.  “I’m way too busy, I don’t have the time, like with homework and church and stuff,” as Selena, a young woman from a lower-income high school explained when asked why she didn’t use myspace or Facebook regularly. “It’s a cool way to keep in touch with people who are far away,” Nora, a young woman from a middle income background noted with a shrug. In contrast, caring too much about one’s online or offline identity certainly wasn’t cool.

Being Distinct at a Cost

Marta may not have consciously decided to reveal more than was considered acceptable among her peers, although if she learned that others believed this about her, she would be faced with a decision: she could either change her practice and adopt a new narrative to better reflect peer norms, as Taylor did, or she could decide to accept the fact that some might disapprove but continue her online practices anyway, as Stephanie did.  In the case of lower income teens, sometimes the decisions were wrapped in expectations related to class. Tanya Cortez, a lower income 13-year-old, experienced the difficulty of recognizing that her mother’s and her teacher’s concept of her placed her relationship with digital media at odds with what her cousins, who were part of her immediate peer group, thought was normal and acceptable.

It all began when Tanya’s mother Elsa decided to switch Tanya to a charter school. At 12, Tanya had tested into a gifted and talented program, but the closest school with such a program was several miles from their home.  Elsa made the difficult decision to switch Tanya as well as her two younger siblings to the school that had the gifted and talented program, which meant that Elsa and her husband John needed to patch together a complicated system of driving their unreliable car when it was workable, using public transport when available, and relying on Elsa’s brother to get them to and from school as an emergency measure.

Everyone in Tanya’s immediate family was happy with the new school and particularly with the support Tanya received from her new teacher, and Tanya’s parents took great pride in their children’s success in the program.  But a problem quickly emerged: in order to do her 6th grade homework during her second year at the school, Tanya needed to have high speed Internet access, and Tanya’s family’s computer equipment was outdated and their cell phone did not have data access.  Elsa’s brother offered that Tanya could come to his house to use their family’s computer, so Tanya began alternating between going to her uncle’s house after school and heading for the public library to use the computer there.

Tanya’s uncle had remarried and they had two 16-year-olds, a daughter and a stepdaughter, living at their home and attending the school system that Tanya and her siblings had left. Both of these young women badgered Tanya about her explicit desire to succeed in school.  They saw Tanya’s interest in participating in interviews about digital media as yet another example of something she was trying to do in order to “better” herself, particularly when Tanya agreed to organize a discussion group with these two cousins for the study that formed the basis of this book.  During the discussion group with the three of them (to which the two cousins showed up more than an hour late), one of Tanya’s older cousins egged her on, demanding that Tanya rather than the cousin answer the interviewer’s questions.  Speaking to Tanya, she said: “Go ahead, Miss Professional.”  At this, the other cousin turned to me and explained:

Cousin I: We make fun of her ‘cause of the way she’s been talking to people (such as the interviewer).

Tanya: Because I present myself in a professional manner.

Cousin II (mimicking Tanya): “I present myself in a professional manner.” (both cousins then look at each other and laugh)

It is not difficult to imagine the kind of resistance Tanya might have encountered as she attempted to use the computer at her cousins’ house for homework. It was clear that her interest in using the computer for online access, along with the decision to attend a school outside of the neighborhood, marked Tanya as different from her cousins.  For Tanya, using her uncle’s or the library’s computer for online access was already difficult given her family’s transportation and ongoing financial challenges.  She held on tenuously to the hopes her family and her teacher had invested in her, which put her at odds with her cousins and the peers in her neighborhood who attended her old school.  She had asked her parents to consider getting online access at their home, but because she realized that they could not afford it and because she had no other alternative, she made do with what she could.

Tanya’s desire to use the library’s and her uncle’s computer arose pragmatically as a result of her school’s homework expectations, but quickly, her cousins vested her practices with a symbolic weight.  They saw her as aspiring, which in turn they viewed as a judgment against their neighborhood.  This slight needed to be addressed through intimidation and bluster so that the cousins could save face at Tanya’s expense.  Tanya’s wish to use digital media for her homework and possibly for the betterment that her parents and teachers desired of her was admirable.  It was also not without poignant emotional costs.

Negotiating Media and Identity through Emotional Work

Each of the young people discussed in this chapter engaged in emotional work as they sought to negotiate their self-concepts, their digital and real life self-representations, and their understandings of peer expectations in settings that were shaped by the social norms of their peer groups. The emotional work of these young people was rooted in the sense that they wanted to belong and at the same time they wanted to view themselves and to be viewed by others as distinct individuals.  So, while praise from peers could provide some happiness, becoming a target (or even a potential target) for criticism felt painful and required either some adjustment of self-concept, or an adjustment of self-presentation that would better meet the expectations of the peer group. The digital, mobile, and traditional media both provided young people with the pragmatic, symbolic, and mythical tools for expressing themselves, and significantly shaped the context in which such interactions and negotiations between peers took place.

Stephanie found in Neopets both a place in which she could participate in the peer culture of her school when she was in her upper elementary years, and later a place where she could experiment by learning skills – first with game play and later with creative writing — in order to fulfill her desire for achievement.  As a 10-year-old, she needed to engage in emotional work with her parents, demonstrating to them over time that she could maintain a good homework routine in order to earn her right to devote 30 minutes a day to game play.  As a mid-teen, she needed to engage in emotional work with her peers, keeping her interest in Neopets largely hidden and enjoying her Neopian experience as something that was apart from the pressures of peer culture and was rewarding for its contributions to her self-concept as an emerging writer.  Rather than change her self-concept as a member of the Neopian universe, she changed her self-presentation, guarding her interests so as to maintain a positive impression among her school peers.  In doing this, she also adopted a more self-conscious self-concept of herself as a continuing member and, later, contributor to Neopets, adopting a new narrative that took pride in her accomplishments as a writer and helper of other, younger participants in that virtual world.

Taylor, too, engaged in emotional work in the negotiations between self-concept, digital and real self-representations, and peer expectations.  In his early teen years, he wanted to represent himself in a way that was considered acceptable to his peers, adopting a certain “look” from commercial culture in the construction of his Facebook page.  Yet when he received negative comments from peers, he adjusted his self-presentation.  He, too, adopted a new narrative in his later teen years, making negative judgments against those who were too involved in worrying about their presentation (as he once was) so as to contrast himself with that less desirable characteristic of self-consciousness.  At the same time, however, he also developed a more self-conscious approach to how he wanted to be perceived by others, engaging in a studied casualness when he distanced himself from those who were too concerned about appearances.

Marta’s not-friends Korinna, Caitlyn, Ariana and Bella were engaging in emotional work as they discussed Marta’s use of her online profile.  Korinna criticized Marta passionately as a way to distance herself from what she perceived as a violation of peer norms of not offering too much information.  Bella’s challenge to Caitlyn that she similarly made online blog entries made it necessary for Caitlyn to engage in emotional work, trying to save face by distancing herself from Marta’s practice and finding her own way to criticize those who overshared.  The friends eventually found a less emotionally fraught topic to agree on, and all asserted that they were more often than not “bored” with social networking sites and only visited them when there was nothing else to do.  Like Taylor, there was a studied casualness in their description of their relationship with social network sites, belied by their clear attention to who was doing what in various online spaces.

Tanya, like Stephanie, found that her usage of digital media was at odds with the expectations of her closest peers.  Yet unlike Stephanie, Tanya had a much more limited community of support, including her parents, her teachers, and peers in her school that likely lived in less financially challenged neighborhoods than Tanya did.  Tanya’s emotional work was based on the weighing of future promise against present discomfort, which is a difficult calculus for young people whose limited life experiences lead them to privilege immediate gratification over longer-term benefits.  Of all of the young people interviewed, what Tanya wanted in relation to digital, mobile, and traditional media was rife with conflicts whose outcomes potentially had a much greater weight on the eventual life chances she would encounter.

Each of these examples reveals some things about what young people want from digital, mobile, and traditional media that relate to much longer-standing practices of identity-formation and work toward peer belonging that have long defined the elementary, preteen, and teen years. Young people today want recognition and acceptance for who they really are and who they believe themselves to be, and they want to experience themselves as belonging.  But there are new challenges that have arisen because of the digital and mobile media, such as the need to weigh how to reveal enough online to seem accessible without revealing so much that you come across as needy and insecure, the need to reveal something of yourself so that others you care about will recognize and acknowledge you without relying so heavily on the commercial that your friends and acquaintances might see you as overly narcissistic or cocky, and the need to engage in digitally enhanced interest-driven pursuits like gaming or academics without alienating yourself from peer cultures that might not offer support for such practices.

Where Do Parents Fit In?

As parents recognize and show appreciation for their children, they are helping them through this process and this time of life.[xlviii] Parents need to demonstrate a continued willingness to accept the fact that young peoples’ self-perceptions will sometimes seem changeable and inconsistent to adults. Parents need to be patient, recognizing that children are engaged in an important process of figuring out who they are, and like the peer culture that surrounds them, the digital, mobile, and traditional media envelops them into ways of thinking and feeling that shape their interactions with family and friends.

Parents are not complete outsiders to the decisions that young people need to make in relation to the digital and mobile media in their lives, of course. After all, Stephanie’s parents granted her access to Neopets, Taylor and Marta’s parents provided a computer with high speed Internet access that allowed each of them to experiment with self-presentation and response, and Tanya’s parents helped arrange for Tanya’s use of needed equipment in order to pursue her academics.

Yet sometimes, because of the self-revelatory aspects of social networking sites and the peer-specific nature of the communication that goes on in these and other places, teens can end up in unanticipated situations where they both have to make moral decisions that relate to the lives and well-being of others, and they have to figure out where adults might appropriately fit in. For instance, they might learn from their friends about drug use or about eating disorders.  And they might learn these things passively; not because their friends tell them of these problems directly, but because the evidence is present in the photos and status updates that are available for “everyone,” making it difficult for particular “someones” to know how to respond.  Young people then find that they have to decide what to do about this knowledge that may not have been intended for them directly. Do they seek out their parents for advice on things like this?  In order to do so, they need to be sure that they can trust their parents to understand the complexities of the situation, and the costs associated with all of the possible options for response.

Although teens such as Taylor, Stephanie, Korinna and Tanya might act as if parents are somewhat or completely out of touch with their world and experiences, these and other young people expressed longing for adults who would listen to them empathically. This desire for empathic adults is expressed mythically in the media stories that appeal to them: they want a mother like Lorelai Gilmore of the Gilmore Girls; they want a father figure like Harry Potter’s Dumbledore or Frodo’s Gandalf; they want a “perfect parent” who, like dgmkerry444’s quiz, provides young people with the technology they believe they need when they need it.  They want and need parents who can be responsive and flexible, and who are concerned overall with fostering and maintaining a positive connection with the young people in their lives.

Many parents are intentional about helping young people to recognize that there are different kinds of communication that are appropriate for differing relationships and for different situations, and many parents do talk to their children about the basics such as when to email, when to send a note, or when to call.[xlix] What is more difficult, as we will see in chapters that follow, comes up in knowing when to preserve confidentiality, when to curtail the access to information and images, and when to deal with issues on a friend-to-friend level as opposed to when an adult should be involved.

Speaking to the concerns of parents and policymakers, media scholars David Buckingham and Sonia Livingstone have each argued that parents and other stakeholders need to move beyond the dichotomy of either abject pessimism about the negative influences of media or halcyon optimism about the “digital generation.”[l] Both also are concerned to note that with digital and mobile technologies it has become impossible to protect young people from the adult worlds of commercialism, violence, and politics, and therefore, new strategies are needed that take into consideration both their identity and developmental needs as well as their continued need for protection of their rights as citizens and consumers.[li]

Some of the work in the sociology of childhood tradition has begun to consider the role of parent/child interactions and their effects on media use.  Keri Facer and her colleagues have argued, for instance, that when parents maintain a positive attitude toward sharing and supporting their children’s Internet use, they were able to enhance their children’s opportunities in a variety of venues.[lii] Similarly, Heather Horst argued that parents and their children share mutual interests as they collaborate together on media projects in a manner that contributes to the construction of a positive family identity.[liii] These issues bridge from what young people want to what parents want, and the latter is the subject for the next chapter.

[ii] Need cite on women as primary caregivers & other changing caregiving demos.

[iii] Cosaro, 1997; Qvortrup, 1994; Thorne, 1987, 2003.

[iv] William A. Corsaro, The Sociology of Childhood, 2nd ed., 2004.

[v] Fass, 2000; Mintz, 2006; Zelizer, 1994

[vi] Juliet Schor, Viviana Zelizer

[vii] Allison Pugh, Longing and Belonging: Parents, children, and consumer culture.  University of California Press, 2009.

[viii] Buckingham, 1993, p. 19.

[ix] On technology as detriment to development, see Levin & Rosenquest, 2001; Palmer, 2006.  On children as active in constructing play, see Marsh, 2005.

[x] Buckingham, 2000; Jenkins, 1998, 2006; Seiter, 1993.

[xi] Victoria Rideout, Ulla G. Foehr, & Donald F. Roberts. Generation M2: Media in the lives of 8- to 18-year-olds.  A Kaiser Family Foundation report.  January, 2010.

[xii] Kaiser, op.cit.

[xiii] KFF, op.cit.

[xiv] Jenkins, in From Barbie to Mortal Kombat.

[xv] See Merchants of Cool, PBS Frontline, available:  Accessed: July 26, 2010.

[xvi] Colin Campbell, The romantic ethic and the spirit of modern consumerism.  Blackwell, 1987.

[xvii] Janet Wasko, Understanding Disney: The manufacture of fantasy. Polity, 2001.

[xviii] R. Thomas Umstead, How Nick expects to maintain edge in preschool tv.  Multichannel News, July 10, 2005.  Available online:  Accessed: July 23, 2010.

[xix] Kaiser Family Foundation.

[xx] All time worldwide box office grosses.  Box Office Mojo.  Available:  Accessed: September 14, 2009.

[xxi] Kaiser Family Foundation study.

[xxii] KZero: 260M registered accounts for the 10-15-year-old virtual demo.  Virtual Worlds News.  Available:  Accessed: July 21, 2010.

[xxiii] Club Penguin, snatched by Disney, grew 329% in past year.  Marketing Charts. Available:  Accessed: July 21, 2010. With Club Penguin’s unique visits and number of paid subscriptions down in concert with the sagging economy, Disney was able to purchase the virtual world at half that price. [xxiii] Brooks Barnes.  Club Penguin misses goals, giving Disney a half-price deal.  New York Times May 12, 2010.  Available: Accessed: July 21, 2010.

[xxiv] Brooks Barnes, Club Penguin misses goal, giving Disney a half priced deal.  New York Times May 10, 2010.  Available:  Accessed: July 21, 2010.

[xxv] Wii and DS thrash competition in U.S. news.  Eurogamer.  January 14, 2010.

[xxvi] Kaiser.

[xxvii] This will be updated when measurements are available from Pew Internet & American Life, which should be in late 2010.

[xxviii] Siri Agrell, 2007 (April 23), “Gotcha!  Fed-up Kids are Using Technology To Find Comfort Online – and to Air Dirty Laundry,” The Globe and Mail (Canada), p. L1; Rebecca Seal.  2007 (April 15), “Hey, Rachel, That Was Some Great Teenage Bash,” The Observer (England), p. 21.

[xxix] Kaiser.

[xxx] Katie Hafner, “Texting May be Taking a Toll,” The New York Times, May 26, 2009.

[xxxi] Margaret Webb Pressler.  2007 (May 20), “For Texting Teens, an OMG Moment When the Phone Bill Arrives,” Washington Post, p. A01.

[xxxii] Kaiser.

[xxxiii] Stephen Labaton, Court rebuffs F.C.C. on fines for indecency.  New York Times, June 5, 2007.  Accessed: July 26, 2010.

[xxxiv] Creating the next dot-boom could be child’s play.  The Observer Sunday 25 April 2010.  Available:  Accessed: July 21, 2010.

[xxxv] Ernest Cavelli, World of Warcraft hits 11.5 million users.  Wired, December 23, 2008.

[xxxvi] PRWeb, Habbo Hotel turns 10 years old and the success story continues.  Daily Finance, June 14, 2010.  Available:  Accessed: July 21, 2010.

[xxxvii] Real kids in virtual worlds.  E-Marketer, May 21, 2009.  Available:  Accessed: July 21, 2010.

[xxxviii] Ibid.

[xxxix] Cassells and Jenkins, 1998; Kearney, 2006; Mazzarella and Pecora, 1999; Mazzarella, 2005

[xl] Stephanie wrote about this experience as a contributor to a special issue of the Journal of Virtual Worlds that I co-edited with Sun Sun Lim.  Stephanie Louise Lu, Growing up with Neopets.  Journal of Virtual Worlds, forthcoming.

[xli] Ito, Hanging Out, Messing Around, Geeking Out.  MIT Press, 2009.

[xlii] Vygotsky,

[xliii] Danah boyd, Why Youth (heart) Social Network Sites.  See also Susannah Stern.

[xliv] Taylor was interviewed by twentysomething interviewer Alexis Lynn three times in early 2009.

[xlv] Taylor was interviewed by Alexis Lynn, who is the author of The Digitally Born Identity <complete citation elsewhere in footnotes>

[xlvi] The mook and the midriff were the terms marketers used to describe the teen archetypes of the early 1990s, as documented in the excellent PBS Frontline program, “The Merchants of Cool.” The film focused on how marketers conduct research on teen life in an effort to tie products to admired teen archetypes in an effort to sell teen culture back to itself for a profit.

[xlvii] Naomi Klein’s manifesto No Logo is an excellent description of how difficult, and yet how necessary, it is for young people to gain a critical distance from the commercial realities that surround young people the way water surrounds fish.

[xlviii] This is at the heart of “engaged parenting” as defined by several parenting manuals (find from older biblio page)

[xlix] An excellent resource for discussions is, which provides practical advice for parents navigating the digital, mobile, and traditional media.

[l] Buckingham, 2000, 2006; Livingstone, 2002, 2009.

[li] This argument builds on Joshua Meyrowitz, No sense of place: The impact of electronic media on social behavior. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.

[lii] Facer, 2003.

[liii] Horst, Families.  In Ito, Hanging out, messing around, geeking out.


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