Media technologies of the family : parental anxieties, practices and knowledges in the digital age

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Children and young people’s use of digital media technologies has predominantly been
framed in terms of risk, generating a collective anxiety typically expressed through media
panics, ‘cyber safety’ information and ‘good parenting advice’ discourse. At the same time,
discourses of opportunity frame the purported benefits and competitive advantages afforded
by digital media and technologies, especially with respect to young people’s education and
future job prospects. This study problematises the relations between the discursive formations
of risk and opportunities with respect to children’s use of digital media and parents’ related
perspectives, practices and knowledges, and social constructions of the ‘good’ parent who is
‘responsibilised’ for negotiating this tension. It reports on a qualitative analysis of 40 parents
of children aged 12-16 to examine their anxieties, practices, knowledges and expectations in
relation to their children’s digital media use. It draws on a number of theoretical influences
from communications and media studies and parenting literature to critically interrogate
popular discourses including those related to ‘media panics’ and the ‘good parent’. This study
found that participants’ concerns were framed in terms of a tension between their children’s
socio-biological and socio-technological development. Participants assessed the
‘appropriateness’ or not of their children’s activities in terms of whether or not it posed a
threat to or an opportunity for their children’s ‘normal’ development. Participants established
their own ‘hierarchies of value’, drawing on several criteria, to determine the implicit value
and hence appropriateness or not of certain activities.
This dissertation develops two distinct models of parenting to better understand the
complexities of parents’ anxieties, practices and knowledges in negotiating the tension
between minimising risks while maximising opportunities. The majority of parents adopted
an ‘immersive’ style of parenting, immersing themselves in their children’s lives and
embracing notions of trust, dialogue and child empowerment. Other parents adopted a
‘methodised’ approach involving adherence to a more structured set of rules and regulations.
The primary contribution of this thesis is to problematise simplistic understandings of ‘good’
parenting in the digital age by uncovering the ways that parents themselves have developed
their family practices to rely primarily on trust and communication as a way of minimising
the risks while maximising the opportunities afforded by digital media technologies.
Date of Award2019
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorGlen Fuller (Supervisor), Deborah Lupton (Supervisor) & Caroline Fisher (Supervisor)

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