Guest Post: Margaret Cassidy on Digital Kids, Helicopter Parents, and 21st Century Childhood

Margaret Cassidy is Associate Professor of Communications at Adelphi University, where she teaches courses in media history and criticism, communication theory, and media and children. Her research focuses on the role of media in the lives and education of American children, past and present. She is the author of BookEnds: The Changing Media Environment of American Classrooms (2003).

“Text me when you get there”—Digital Kids, Helicopter Parents, and the Promises and Perils of Twenty-First Century Childhood

In 1858, a minister named Alfred Beach delivered a sermon entitled “Our Children: Their Dangers, and Our Duties.” He talked about the difficulties of raising children “at a time and in a place filled with obstacles and perils.” In particular, he objected to the new media of his day, the mass press, which he felt produced “a constant flood of poisonous matter” to tempt, distract, and corrupt youth.

Reverend Beach was neither the first nor the last adult to worry about the fate of children in changing times with changing media. From Socrates’ objections to writing to contemporary adults’ worries about smartphones and social media, a common theme in media history is that new media change children’s access to information and ways of interacting with others, and adults are not sure this is a good thing.

I study media history because I like the way that historical context helps put our present experiences into perspective. As an academic and a parent, I see how badly in need of perspective we are right now. It’s a peculiar time to be a parent—at least, a middle class American parent. We are a notoriously anxious bunch; we are the helicopter parents. We coach our kids’ sports teams, we serve on PTA committees, we bring our work to the park so we can keep an eye on our kids while they play.   And while we hover, we talk nostalgically with one another about the freedom we enjoyed as kids, walking to school by ourselves, leaving home on a summer morning and not coming home until dinnertime, gathering in the park for afterschool ballgames without adult supervision. And then comes the melancholy commentary on how “things have changed,” “it’s a different world now,” “kids grow up too fast these days.” We nod understandingly and make sad faces, as if these statements are so obviously true that there is no point in questioning them.

But what are we talking about? Where is the evidence that times are so bad? Would a nineteenth century working class parent really think now is a worse time to be a kid than when their children had to work in factories or stay at home to care for younger siblings or boarders, when measles, polio, and other now-rare diseases were likely to kill some of their children? What about parents raising children today in parts of the world that are torn apart by war, disease, terrorism, or natural disasters—what would they think of our reluctance to allow our children to walk a few blocks to school every morning? There is probably much more evidence supporting the claim that middle class American childhood is safer now than ever before than there is evidence to the contrary. So what’s really going on? Do kids really grow up too fast these days? Because sometimes it feels like we’re not allowing them to grow up at all.

We seem to be living in a time when the changing media environment is upsetting adults in several ways. New media give children extensive, private access to all kinds of information. They put our kids in touch with all kinds of people. We don’t always know who they’re talking to, what they’re sharing, who is talking about them, or what they’re learning.

New media are also unsettling because of the way they skew our perception of the world. They show us every horrific thing, every freak occurrence, every bizarre situation that we never knew existed. We learn all about what is possible without really understanding what is probable. Even when we intellectually understand the (relative lack of) risk, we can’t quite dismiss the possibility. Of course it isn’t all bad news. There are plenty of ways that new media might be used to cultivate a happy, healthy experience of childhood. But these possibilities are too often obscured by all the news that makes the world look like a terribly dangerous place.

I recently re-watched the movie ET: The Extraterrestrial, and I couldn’t help but think that this movie would never be made today. Think about it. Elliott, the film’s protagonist, is a ten year old boy. Now think about the freedom he enjoys in that movie. What mother doesn’t realize her son is outside, in the middle of the night, playing catch with some unidentified creature in the shed? Who lets their kids ride their bikes in the woods? Without helmets, no less? If ET were to be stranded on earth today, he’d never get home because no kid would ever be outside, alone, at the right time to find him.

Whenever the media environment shifts in a way that affects children, adults wonder what to think, what to do, what this shift will mean for their children. This is not “history repeating itself” in some futile way; it is a process that we have to go through whenever there is a change in the media environment. Back in 1858, Reverend Beach decided that “These dangers are such that we cannot remove them. Our children will have to meet and encounter them…..They must then be, in some way, prepared to meet them…and this must be our care,–this is our work.” This is still very good advice. Maybe we should try to focus less on protecting children and more on preparing children for the world they face, and the media they will use to understand that world and interact with others in it.

CFP: International Girls Studies Association’s Inaugural Conference

The International Girls’ Studies Association are seeking submissions for our inaugural conference from April 7 – 9th 2016 at the University of East Anglia. The inaugural conference seeks to bring together researchers and students working on girls and girlhood in any part of the world and in any discipline or interdisciplinary field.

Girls’ Studies has become one of the most dynamic academic fields, encompassing a vast array of disciplines and interdisciplinary approaches. This conference aims to bring together scholars from across the world to explore experiences of girlhood, recent developments within the field, investigating new questions and revisiting historical issues.

We seek proposals that address some of the key issues in girls studies and we welcome both individual and panel presentations. Moreover, we are also keen to move beyond the traditional conference format and would encourage collaborative work, creative, visual, screenings and performance based work. We are also keen to invite proposals from individuals working in collaboration with girls, the community and partner organisations.

Topics may include (but are not limited to)
· Histories of girlhood
· Global girlhood(s)
· Intersectional girlhood
· Queer girls
· Representation of girlhood
· Intergenerational girlhoods
· Girlhood and consumption
· Mediated girlhoods
· Methodological approaches to girls’ studies
· Girls and feminism
· Girls and sport
· Girls and politics
· Girls and education
· Young femininities
· Body image
· Subcultures and girlhood
· Girls and digital media
· Girls and activism
· Girls and literature
· Girls and popular culture
· Girlhood during austerity
· Girls and sexuality
· Girls and health
· Neoliberal girlhoods
· Ethnographies of girlhood

Submissions:
Abstracts of 250 words, proposals for pre-constituted panels (250 words per panellist) and proposals for creative and alternative presentations (250 words) should be sent to igsa.2016@uea.ac.uk by 1st September 2015. All submissions should be accompanied by brief bio.

Any questions or queries can be sent to igsa.2016@uea.ac.uk.

Guest Post: Adam Golub on Teaching Childhood Through Myth and Counter-Memory

Adam Golub is an associate professor of American Studies at California State University, Fullerton. His syllabus for AMST 420, “Childhood and Family in American Culture,” can be found on his faculty web page.

This semester marks the fourth time I will teach an upper-division American Studies elective called “Childhood and Family in American Culture.” One of my main goals in teaching the course is to help students engage critically with the deep nostalgia and powerful mythology that surrounds childhood in the United States. I want students to reflect on the ways in which the sentimental stories we tell ourselves about childhood—stories of innocence, happiness, comfort, and coming-of-age—tend to obscure the diverse experiences of actual children. One way I teach this disconnect between myth and experience is to start the course by pairing two childhood narratives: one that reinforces the American mythology of childhood, and one that exposes the margins and silences in that mythology.

Continue reading “Guest Post: Adam Golub on Teaching Childhood Through Myth and Counter-Memory”

Race, Crime, and Children

CFP: Race, Crime, and Children. Special Winter Issue: Red Feather Journal

In the wake of the tragic murder of Trayvon Martin, the young African American teenager killed as he was walking home in suburban Florida, the intersections of youth, crime and race have been brought to the forefront of public discourse and media scrutiny. In this discourse, American youth, and particularly young people of color, are frequently romanticized, demonized and/or criminalized. Red Feather Journal seeks to provide a forum for dialogue among scholars about the intersections of race, crime, children, and the media. How do cultural junctures like Trayvon Martin’s murder and racial profiling bring to the fore popular notions about childhood itself? What part does race play in constructions of, and cultural discourse about, childhood in a global context? Red Feather Journal invites the submission of scholarly articles from a variety of disciplines that explore these issues.

International submissions are encouraged.

Red Feather Journal adheres to the MLA citation system. Authors are welcome to submit articles in other citations systems, with the understanding that, upon acceptance, conversion to MLA is a condition of publication. Red Feather Journal is indexed through EBSCO host and MLA bibliography.

Interested contributors please submit the paper, an abstract, and a brief biography (with full contact information) as attachments in Word to debbieo@okstate.edu.

Deadline for submissions for the Special Winter issue is November 30, 2013.