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To fully understand the basis of whether technology has affected parents' views regarding their child's safety, it is vital to have a basic understanding of three main concepts that are repeatedly discussed in this dissertation. The first is the contemporary concept of children and their relationship with parents itself; the second is notion of technology and how it has infiltrated our society and lastly the consequences of this infiltration.
"Children are symbols of the future, themselves they have the most to gain or lose as we enter the information age" (Valentine and Holloway, 2001 p.1)
During the nineteenth century there was a vital change in attitude concerning children's welfare, which transformed the concept of childhood, allowing children to construct their own social facade while at the same time liberating them from the constraints of adulthood (Jenks, 1992). Before these changes children, particularly those in a lower social class, encountered similar experiences as adults; working in the cotton mills for example. Today the conception of childhood is that it is a period of 'socialisation' and development when children can learn what it means to be an adult. Children are distinguished as less developed both biologically and socially, and defenceless to a world that is often beyond their understanding.
This vulnerability means that a parent's human instinct becomes focused on protecting their children from what they perceive as potentially dangerous situations. There are two categories within which modern day children could be placed: Dionysian, which is a concept of children being 'little devils', and Apollonian, children that are born 'little angels' (Jenks, 1996). There is a belief that the 'little devils' are born naughty and automatically become unruly children that require discipline, whereas the 'little angels' are born good and innocent of the adult world (Hollow and Valentine, 2000). If this is the case, both the Dionysian children and the Apollonian children would need the protection that parents instinctively feel is fundamental for their child's upbringing. The first group would need protection as introducing them to the adult world would provide a broader platform upon which the levels of naughtiness could be exacerbated, whereas the Apollonian children would need to be protected from the corruption that the adult world could provide.
Protection has become a key aspect in what western society recognises as a good parent. It is now a well respected identity to be a respectable parent and parents are under scrutiny to ensure their child has all the opportunities along with naturally trying to ensure that their child has a "childhood of innocence and freedom away from the responsibilities of the adult world" (Holloway and Valentine, 2001 p.2, Holloway and Valentine, 2003). This is escalating the pressure on the parents who feel increasingly responsible to maintain what is described as the norm for their offspring. It initiates ever increasing restriction for children and today children "are not so much free-range, but battery reared" (Jones, 2000).
Children were supposed to have gained their own contemporary social identity which is based on innocence and freedom (Beck and Beck-Gernsheim, 1995, Holloway and Valentine, 2003). However contemporary adults are now disrupted in how they see childhood, children may have been liberalised from adult identities but gradually childhood practices have merged into adult experiences. The boundaries that divided the two worlds are slowly intertwining and are allowing children their own independent social status, which does not protect them from the adult world. The overlap is the result of children being exposed to knowledge beyond their usual spatial and temporal restrictions (Jones, 2000); through simple experiences such a drinking at a younger age and watching sexually explicit programmes. Children today are seen as "adults in the making, rather than as children in the state of being" (Holloway and Valentine, 2003 p.5) and recently there have been concerns about the end of childhood (Wallace, 1995).
This believed "end of childhood" is combined with a societal change in the Western World. This change has developed in parallel with the information and communication revolution, which leads onto the second concept- Technology and Its Relationship with Society.
Technology and Its relationship with Society
"Most people think of technology as theoretical sciences dull but a dutiful companion" (Edwards, 2006, p.51).
Communities have always been creating, storing and distributing information for centuries through objects such as stone tablets and papyrus (Wellington, 1985). Today this has become differentiated into the use of satellites, cable, fibre optics and computers. Information and communication technologies (ICT) development is seen to be the twenty first century equivalent to the industrial revolution except the main difference between new information and the old is the speed at which information can now be composed, altered, dispersed and retrieved over a variety of distances without any hesitation (Wellington, 1985, Holloway and Valentine 2003). This revolution has had a huge impact on the western world and the American company Microsoft claimed at the turn of the millennium, that we are entering an "information age" in which the world will never be the same again; it will involve distance learning, digital libraries, electronic voting, email, video conferencing, remote banking, online chat, video on demand and home shopping (Valentine and Holloway 2001. P58).
This "information age" that we have entered has seen an accelerating pace for technological developments, which brings with it not only rapid adjustments in the economy but, as a consequence, in society as a whole. Technology has opened up a whole new world to society and reveals things to us that before remained undiscovered (Heidegger, 1977, Stonier, 1983). It is an exponential development that has created opportunities and expanded human desires, and now meets most rational and even irrational media and gadgetry cravings that humans may have. Technology is the happy assistant to desires of all sorts. As Edwards describes it:
"It claims neither objectivity nor virtue: it is merely the process of efficiently producing the things we want. It is the robotic servant of human knowledge and of human desire". Given what we know and what we want, technology neutrally matches means to an ends. It is the colourless but essential instrument by means of which our wishes are fulfilled' (Edwards, 2006, p.51).
Today a person's image of technology is not the machine we imagined in the early stages of the revolution, but more a "fundamental way of life" in which humans revolve their own life around (Edwards, 2006, p.62). The new technologies that the recent decades have introduced have themselves become compulsory for what children see as a normal life. For example the television today plays a central role in society's social life. Lull (1980) suggested there are six social uses for the television:
Television may act as a an environment resource
Television can be used to regulating daily activities
Television may also facilitate communication by offering common topics for talk
Watching can be used to seek or avoid contact with other people
Television can be used as a social learning aid
Television can be used for demonstrating competence or dominance
As many as nine in ten children under the age of two watch television regularly, despite ongoing warnings, and some spend as much as 40 per cent of their waking hours in front of a television (Wiley, 2009). Older children prefer to spend time in the company of friends watching the television, however if the child feels alone then the television acts as a virtual companion and can offer social contact in the form of para-social interaction. Television can also be the centre of competitive youth culture and can lead to social exclusion within adolescents , for example watching horror movies while parents are not there, is a way to impress other youths and gain superiority. Young children still maintain play as a major form of socialising, however recently children gather play ideas from the television. Often role-plays are done based around a common television programme or video game. Video games themselves have become a new culture in a very short period of time. Video consoles are considered to be a child's resource within a family context, as often parents are too busy, or do not choose, to sit and play on them. However this can create an un-knowing sense about them (Casas, 2001, Süss et al, 2001, Heidegger, 1977).
Television and video games, along with many other technologies have created cultural disorientation. Society is now confused by the norm and technologies are not luxuries anymore; objects like mobile phones are now a necessity in their everyday life. The mobile phone has constructed this status through supposedly being beneficial as it creates new spaces for social interaction; for friends to talk text and arrange to meet, and for parents and young people to stay in touch. Society can now communicate without inconvenience (Pain et al, 2005). This unproblematic communication has added a large amount of freedom on to the communication scope for a child. At least nine out of 10 British 16-year-olds have their own handset, as do more than 40 per cent of primary school children (Knapton, 2008). It has allowed young people to negotiate their spatial mobility with their parents and they often transgress the rules that have been set about where they may be, when and with whom. There is now more potential for children to incorporate mobile phones into their worlds rather than spatially fixed computer with internet access. They are seen as a useful companion supplying gratification to the owners: Leung and Wei in 1999 found seven factors of gratification sought through mobile phone ownership:
However, similarly to the television they can create social exclusion. Mobile phones offer differing challenges and potential for childhood because of their interactive, flexible, portable, mobile capacities that other technologies do not offer They are now a fashion accessory and can be seen as a status symbol due to their prices and depending on what make and style the phone is, this gives an opportunity for people to appear to be "trendy" and are socially accepted (Schüz, 2005, Davie et al, 2004).
Finally the last major technological development is the internet. Sixty percent of American homes with children ages 8 to 17 have computers and majority of these computers are connected to the internet (Watella and Jennings, 2000). The internet opened the world of emails and instant messaging (IM) and has allowed the strengthening of existing relationships between friends, especially with the social networks such as Facebook and Myspace. Internet users are often detached from their offline social and physical surrounding and consequently their responsibilities in the real world, where as children forget reality and become immersed in a fantasy world (Holloway and Valentine, 2003). The virtual world liberates a person of both the physical and social restraint of the "real" world. Holloway and Valentine describe the virtual world: 'The human body is invisible online.....which allows the user to escape social identities in the form of racism, gender discrimination' (2003, p. 10). It is even seen that an online relationship can be more intimate as it is based on mutual interests, rather than the visual boundaries that can occur in the "real" world (Holloway and Valentine, 2003 p.9). However with social networking children are often seen by parents to be accessing a world that is in reality more dangerous and less safe than the child initially envisages.
The technology acts as both an input into children's lives and an output. They can either be contacted by or contact unknown people. These are all potential risks that parents have to face when allowing the technology into their house.
With each of these modern technological inventions there are risks. A primary example is the internet. With its open virtual world there can be the assumption that "cyberspace means sexually explicit discussions, soft- and hard-core pornography, racial and ethnic hatred, Neo-Nazi groups, and paedophiles" (Valentine and Holloway, 2004, p.1). From the mid-1990s up to present date, there have been two main apprehensions regarding the internet: firstly the possibility that children might interact with strangers and potential paedophiles. Currently 21% of 9-19 year olds are using chat rooms to communicate and converse with their peers, many of whom they have never met previously (Livingstone and Bober, 2004). Secondly the possibility that children might access unacceptable content, for example sex, violence, and hate sites. Both generate experiences that parents do not wish their child to encounter. There are increasing anxieties of modern parents. For example "that their children may meet "bad" strangers, be influenced by the "wrong" people and get into trouble, and be vulnerable to losing their sexual innocence". The modern technology can act like a catalyst to their anxieties and increases parental fears about both the "innocent" and the "dangerous" child's safety in public space. (Valentine and Holloway, 2004)
Watella and Jennings discusses a study which examined 668 news stories about children and the internet from 12 newspapers between October 1997 and October 1998 and found very mixed responses with regard to comments about children being online. The stories presented the internet as a Jekyll-and-Hyde phenomenon: "Your children need the Internet. But if they do go online, be terrified." Even though in the article half of the parents interviewed referred to the positive aspects of Internet use for children, one quarter mentioned sex crimes committed via the Internet, and two-thirds talked about problems such as pornography, paedophilia, and invasion of privacy (Watella and Jennings, 2000).
Children are now exposed to violence through several outputs. On the internet the output is not just visual but can also be descriptive though word. There is fear of children copying what they see and read. Infants as young as 14 months will imitate what they see on a television screen, but they learn better from live presentations (Wiley, 2009). Children are more susceptible than adults and children today are getting a far heavier dose of television entertainment. Surveys have shown that exposure to violence through media has caused an increased shift in children's aggression (Centerwall, 1992).
If children become more aggressive their safety can be perceived as questionable, as they are more vulnerable to violent situations. It is these situations where the mobile phone has gained its reputation as being beneficial. Mobile phones may reduce the fears of parents and young people by allowing contact which is not spatially or temporally bounded: they may free parents from having to set deadlines for young people to return home, or young people from having to be accompanied on certain journeys. Parents have the comfort of knowing if a dangerous situation arises their child has access to help, beyond their spatial limitations. Mobile phones may expand young people's geographies, allowing them a wider spatial range unsupervised, and thus empower young people in reclaiming public spaces (Pain et al, 2005).
However on the other hand mobile phones can have social risks. Davie et al discuss how mobile phones have been linked to bullying and social exclusion. Bullying or physical attacks can occur if the child gets attacked in the street for the mobile phone, or through the text messages they may receive containing offensive context. There is also the disadvantage that this can be hid from parents (Davie et al, 2004). If children carry on concealing potential harmful message, parents can never know when their child is under threat and consequently it increases worry. Furthermore with mobile phones there is now a stronger link within social interactions, through text messages, phone calls. So if a mobile phone is suppose to "facilitate relationship-building, group bonding, clarification of social position and status etc.", as (Fox, 2001) proposes, then those who are excluded from this process could indeed be disadvantaged (Davie et al, 2004).
In order for me to complete the dissertation I began by formulating specific research questions in conjunction with associated hypotheses. When I analyse my findings I will look at my results and analysis them in relation to my specific research questions and compare them to my hypotheses.
What was technology's role in the society and what is it today ?
This question creates the basis for my dissertation. For me to find a satisfying conclusion from my title, I need to establish a contrast in societies' attitudes towards technology between the earliest decade I analyse and the latest decade. If this is not apparent then technology would have no relevance towards modern day parental instincts.
I believe that my results will show a higher usage of technology in households today, compared to those in the 1970s. The majority of each of those households today would have all the major forms of technology within them. Society now will merely recognise technology as an everyday item, whereas forty years ago it was seen as a luxury. Within the last twenty years the accelerating pace of technological advances have been so strong that parents themselves do not understand it, while the children are being brought up around it, allowing them to be more experienced and knowledgeable with the technology than their parents are.
Has the introduction and development of technology caused a change in parental worry?
Once establishing if there has been a change in society's attitude towards technology, I can proceed to see if this has then consequently had an affect purely on a parental basis.
From the literature review I see a pattern of parents seeing technology as a negative thing, opening up doors to the unknown. Modern day parents often view the dangerous issues such as paedophiles, cyber bullying and violence as being of paramount importance to them, because through technology these issues have now become accessible to their children. To a certain extent parents will always have and have had health, safety and security worries in relation to their child: falling off a bike, cutting themselves around the house, becoming lost. Furthermore parents have always had passive concerns about issues such as violence, bullying and paedophiles, but recently I think technological advances have acted as a catalyst and increased these potential concerns as serious real proactive issues for the parents. In conclusion I think I will discover there has been a change and that parents may not necessarily be more apprehension for their children's safety compared to 40 years ago, but I think I will discover their anxiety is spread over a larger amount of possible outcomes that can affect their child.
Why has this change in parental concern about the safety of their children occurred?
Recently I believe there has been a massive revolution in society; people perceive it as a liberalisation. Woman can now work, men can stay at home, and children have more confidence. This societal transformation would to a certain extent contribute to the parental change in concern. However I believe that the main reason for this change is the technological developments that have taken place over the last 20 years. It has opened up worlds, that before were unknown; it has tested society and as a result given parents more reason to worry.
What parents are now most fearful off and why?
Today I think parents are most fearful of the unknown world which is now more accessible to children through the advancement of information and communication technologies. The concept of children being more knowledgeable and a lack of understanding on the parents' behalf will increase parental fear. I think it is hard to specify particular events which parents may be more fearful of, as each individual parental concern has environmental and social factors which are related to and dependent upon their unique child.
This dissertation's main framework is based around the qualitative data collection methods of interviews and questionnaires. The main aim from qualitative data collection is to analyse an insider's view, which then gives the researcher the opportunity to apply anthropological research methods to help with the study of a relevant social issue; child safety (Steckler, 1992). The first form of data collection is questionnaires. Questionnaires allow control over what the potential answers could be. This allowed me to ask a direct question with direct answers relevant to my research aims; furthermore, having chosen the optional answers, it makes it easier for me to analysis and compare and contrast answers. It also gives me the option to compile my data into graphs giving me a more flexible approach at looking at the data (Gillham, 2000). I planned to have 30 questionnaires filled out in each of the four age brackets. The age brackets are:
Parents that are currently raising children,
Parents that raised children during the 1990s.
Parents that raised children during the 1980s.
Parents that raised children during the 1970s.
I gathered an extra 20 questionnaires in each of the first two categories. This is because I will be using these two categories majority of the time, as a magnitude of the technological questions will only relate to these two eras and having a larger quantity of data it will allow me to have a more accurate analysis. If I do compare all four categories I will random select 30 questions to use as a comparison in the earlier two decades so it is equal or shall use percentages of the overall amount.
With closed questionnaires there is a restriction over the element of discovery about the topic. There would be a lack of reason behind the responses, and understanding in my received answer would be absent (Gillham, 2000). To overcome this problem I will also carry out interviews. I will use the questionnaires for qualitative and statistical analysis and I will use the interviews to support my assumptions from the questionnaires.
There will be interviews with 5 parents within the first two categories (2000s, 1990s) and the last category (1970s). I am missing out the 1980s as through my research I found there was little difference in technological change in the home during this decade compared with the previous decade. Computers were beginning to be introduced in the workplace and at school, but were still rare at home for all of the 1980s. I am interviewing parents of the 1970s to make sure I am as far away from the technological revolution as I can be, within my age range. I am interviewing the parents of the latest two decade as I believe they will have the most to say about the technological change as it happened so rapidly during their lifetime. It was vital to separate the two recent decades so I could assess a clearer understanding to how parental worries have changed in relation to technological advances.
Using interviews in this dissertation allows me to get direct data collection which will help develop an abstract theoretical framework that explains my studied process. I also asked additional questions to some people in the oldest age bracket that answered questionnaire. This is mainly to get a better view of what parenthood was like before technology and this is the only era where technological was making it first appearance and still seen as a luxury. By the 1980s television had merged its way into being seen as a common household item. The interviews are direct conversations; I can therefore take direct control of my data collection and analysis and in turn more analytical control over the material (Lofland, 1984). Throughout the interview itself ideas and issues may merge. There is an advantage with interviews, they are flexible. Its flexibility gives me the ability to pursue any emerging ideas (Charmaz, 2003). The preliminary questions explore and examine the participant's attitudes. This gave me an opportunity to develop their ideas and opinions further and maybe ask some more spontaneous questions during the duration of the interview. These additional questions allowed the opportunity for additional information to be imparted that extended and refined my research questions. Using interviews provides an open ended in-depth discussion about the parent's experiences over their child's safety.
My first attempt to access parents was through the Old Tauntonian Association. This is an Association of old pupils from my school, Taunton School, since the school opened. This gave me the opportunity to contact parents raising children during all the brackets. For additional questionnaires for parent raising children during the 1990s I was able to ask my school friends parents and conduct comfortable interviews with them. Furthermore my father is currently still a mathematics teacher at this school and is in contact with parents of pupils in various years at the school in 2009, which gave me access to parents currently raising children. All of these access points combined established a network of parents within the same social status, which consequently allows socioeconomic status to become a smaller variable in my dissertation. I planned on carrying out the interviews throughout the summer months of 2009. Some of these had to be carried out over the telephone, depending on the availability of the parents. The questionnaires was be emailed to various parents, as written communication is less intrusive and they may then be filled out in the parent's own time at their leisure. However there was a deadline of 30th August to return the questionnaires so I was able to proceed with my data analysis.
Once I had collected the data I put the questionnaire answers into SPSS. This allows me to use the answers to create graphs depicting more accurately the way answers to the questionnaires are grouped. The interviews were transcribed and will support arguments that I make from the questionnaires.