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Between Aspiration and Reality: Media Education in the Family. Promotion of Media Competence in the Family

Between Aspiration and Reality: Media Education in the Family. Promotion of Media Competence in the Family

Media Education is an increasingly significant field of education due to the fact that media permeates more and more the everyday life of children and families. Successful media education concerning television, computers, the internet and computer games requires parents – besides a general competence in education – to have their own media competence, along with adequate knowledge about how children learn to use media. How media education is practiced within families from different social backgrounds and at what point parents’ ideas collide with the ideas of their children and the potential resistance complicating the realisation of media education guidelines are the focus of this project, which is executed by the Hans-Bredow-Institut in cooperation with the JFF – Institut für Medienpädagogik in Forschung und Praxis [JFF – Institute for Media Education in Research and Practice]. Alongside a quantitative survey of 453 parents with children aged 5 to 12, 48 deepening case studies of families were conducted. Based on the qualitative data, six patterns of media education were identified and show how different families address the medial challenges in their everyday education. Some parents let their children do as they like; others excessively control what their children do on the internet. There are those parents who observe and act as soon as it is required, whereas others out there deliberately support their children’s use of digital media. The behaviour of media education depends on different factors, such as family constellation, as well as the situation within the family, the available resources, a general educational attitude towards media and the extent of media literacy. Looking at different types of parents, this study gives an insight into how parents can be supported in their daily media education.

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Project Description

This study, conducted by the Hans-Bredow-Institut together with the JFF – Institut für Medienpädagogik in Forschung und Praxis [JFF - Institute for Media Research and Media Education], as commissioned by the Landesanstalt für Medien Nordrhein-Westfalen (LfM) [The Media Authority of North Rhine-Westphalia (LfM)], focused on media education in the everyday life of families. The following aspects have been considered:

  • the parents’ view on media education,
  • the media educational practices within the family,
  • possible resistance that make the realisation of media pedagogical ideas difficult,
  • as well as the need for information regarding this topic.

We conducted a representative survey with 453 parents and children aged 5 to 12, along with 48 qualitative family studies.
Children encounter media at an even earlier-age, be it because they see their parents or older siblings using media or because they try using different types of media themselves. What significance the use of media has for a child and what course media use takes, are also a result of media educational actions.

Identified Patterns of Media Education

We examined the practice of media education from the perspective of parents, as well as their children, in 48 families. Parents need certainty in media education, their own media literacy, as well as orientation and information regarding the media-related needs of their children. This includes knowledge on the media usage of children and an assessment of risks and chances, but most of all, it needs the willingness to take the individual perspective of their children.
We could identify different patterns of media education based on the two dimensions ‘child orientation’ and ‘activity level of media education’ taken from qualitative case studies with families. The dimension of child orientation can be understood as a basic educational attitude that focuses on the needs of the child and tries to understand the perspective of the child. With regard to the media usage of children, child orientation can be understood as

  • being open-minded towards the media preferences of the children
  • a basic understanding of the parents regarding how their children perceive age-appropriate and development specific media and how they deal with certain contents, e.g. something that is fun but also something that is scary or overwhelming
  • an understanding of what significance the use of media and media content has for the integration in the peer-groups of the children.
The second dimension, which was created in order to appropriately classify the families, is the level of activity. This includes the variety of activities of media education in the interaction between the parents and their children:
  • the common use,
  • support of an active child-appropriate media use,
  • communication about media content, as well as
  • rules, sanctions or technical restrictions to the access of media.
In addition, the study takes into account to what extent the confrontation with questions about media education in the family took place independently of the interaction with the child.
Overall, six patterns of media education were identified, which can be characterized as follows:
  • Let things slide: The way in which children use media is barely established or supported by parents. A common use of media happens rarely or never; an interaction with their children’s media use is absent. Child orientation regarding activities of media education can be categorised as low to very low. The level of activity is very low as well because either media education is not considered as a single part of parenting or the parents do not see it as a necessity to get involved in their children’s media use.
  • Observe and intervene in certain situations: Parents rarely intervene in their children’s media use. However, they observe it and intervene if it seems appropriate. They thereby act intuitively and only according to the situation. If there are any rules, then they would only exist in relation to the time restrictions of media use, so that it doesn’t get out of hand. Overall, there are only very few media activities that parents and children do together; the activity level can be categorized as medium to low. The child orientation has a wide spectrum one part of the families matched to this activity pattern; child orientation is seen as rather low to medium. In another version of this pattern (observe and ready to talk), we see a high willingness of parents to talk about it with their children, which can be valued as an indicator for higher child orientation.
  • A functionalist style of controlling: Parents resort to rules and boundaries in their media education that are not linked to handling the media use of their children appropriately, but are rather used to make sure that the media use of their children is not interfering with the everyday life of the family. Hence, there are only a few shared media activities. The child orientation can be categorised as very low to low in this action pattern, since the needs of the children are simply ignored in most cases. The activity level can be categorised as medium to medium high, depending on the regulatory density in each family.
  • Norm-guided regulation: Parents form high, normative demands in their media education and develop strict guidelines. The use of media and media itself are reflected, including media educational reflections; however, the perspective of their own children plays a very minor role. Therefore, child orientation is categorised as low to medium. The activity level, on the other hand, is characterised as being medium to high and includes a high density of regulations and activities besides talks with their children.
  • Setting the framework: Parents set a framework for content or time with a moderate regulatory density, in which children can gain experiences with media. Doing media activities together is definitely part of the family’s everyday life. The activity level ranges from medium to high. The child orientation can be categorised as relatively high as well; exceptions are the families that were put into the category ‘setting a reactive framework’, because it was only one particular event that triggered a regimentation of media usage, whereby the needs of the children were mostly ignored.
  • Support individually: The media education of the parents takes the children’s age and development, as well as their individual needs, into account and is thus categorised as very child oriented.  This correlates with trying to have diverse activities in order to support the children in the form of rules, agreements, explanations and talks about media. The activity level is categorised as very high since parents made their children consciously familiar with media.
A particular need for action has been determined in the following four patterns:

a) The pattern let things slide and the pattern observe and intervene situationally
Goal: show your appreciation of the everyday life of the family, encourage reflection on their own media use and impart knowledge of media. The goals of parental work concerning media education for the target group 'parents', who were matched with the pattern let things slide and the pattern observe and intervene situationally and who often show a low child orientation, can be seen in a low-threshold sensitisation for a need for media education and a child-oriented perspective as well as for providing basic knowledge.
b) Patterns of functionalist controlling and patterns of norm-guided regimentations
Goal: use the open-mindedness of parents toward issues of media education and on sensitizing them to their children’s perspective on media.

Summary: Ulrike Wagner, Christa Gebel, Claudia Lampert (eds.) (2013): Zwischen Anspruch und Alltagsbewältigung: Medienerziehung in der Familie – Kurzfassung der Ergebnisse [Between Aspiration and Reality: Media Education in the Family - Short Summary of the Findings]. (pdf)

Project Information


Duration: 2011-2016

Research programme:
RP3 - Knowledge for the Media Society

Involved persons

Dr. Claudia Lampert

Cooperation Partner

JFF – Institut für Medienpädagogik in Forschung und Praxis (Dr. Ulrike Wagner, Christa Gebel)

Contact person

Dr. Claudia Lampert
Senior Researcher Media Socialisation & Health Communication

Dr. Claudia Lampert

Leibniz-Institut für Medienforschung | Hans-Bredow-Institut (HBI)
Rothenbaumchaussee 36
20148 Hamburg

Tel. +49 (0)40 45 02 17 - 92
Fax +49 (0)40 45 02 17 - 77

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