‘I thought: “That's what I keep running into as a mother, too!”
Interview with: Svenja Büttner, senior researcher at the Youth & Media professorship and mother of five. ‘In our home, media education really is a matter of trial and error. There are lots of things I wish I’d known earlier. That's what makes our research so important.’
To come straight to the point: did your interest in youth and media start with your own children?
Maybe that’s too black and white. But when I saw the vacancy for the Youth and Media professorship, I immediately thought 'Oh, that's what I'm up against too, as a mother'. I would have liked to know all sorts of things before my children got a mobile phone or a tablet. Of course, it's a whole new world with possibilities and dangers that you can't ignore. I can well imagine that parents or carers of vulnerable children, the ones I mainly do research on, also run into these issues.
Yes, because what exactly are you researching?
The Youth & Media professorship contributes to enhancing the media literacy of professionals who work with children, adolescents and their parents. We find it important that everyone can participate in media. We strive for an inclusive society and therefore also for an inclusive digital society.
In our research, I focus on young people who are vulnerable for any number of reasons, for example because they have an intellectual disability or psychological problems. These young people run an extra risk of having negative experiences when they use media. Professionals may find it difficult to support them in this and also to continue to see the opportunities that media can offer these young people.
What are these risks and opportunities?
Last year, we conducted a series of interviews with young people with mild intellectual disabilities. They unanimously indicated that they have difficulty assessing the reliability of online messages, such as advertising, news and chat messages. Unfortunately, this puts them in unpleasant situations.
That's why, together with our partners in the field and students, we’ve set up the "Fake Real!" project. The project was recently granted funding. This means we’ll be working on it for the next two years. We’re going to develop an app and an infographic that will help young people to interpret the reliability of online information.
Do you discuss these kinds of risks with your own children as well?
We regularly have conversations around the kitchen table about what everyone's 'online day' was like. And this can go all over the place. For instance, I found out that my daughter was watching Netflix while biking to school and not paying any attention to the traffic, while my son was sitting there with a headache because he’d been gaming all afternoon at a friend's house. That was quite a shock.
Of course, I would have liked to know this sooner, so that I could have prepared my children better for this kind of situation and been proactive in talking to them about it. On the other hand, children also learn by doing and by making mistakes. My daughter no longer binge-watches series on her bike and my son now thinks about how many hours of gaming are good for him. Being too strict doesn’t help either. The important thing is to keep talking to each other.
So how do they feel about you being an expert in this field?
Haha. Sometimes they even tease me a bit when I share a new insight. They say, 'Well, Mum, have you learnt or invented anything new? Generally speaking, they like it a lot. And I learn from them too. Occasionally I write texts for the target group and then I ask them 'How would you say this?’.
Besides, media is a big part of their world and they like it that their mother knows about it. When I take my son for a walk, he first tells me about his plan to play Rocket League together with his friends. I’m very happy that my children share 'their' world with me. I hope more adolescents discuss such things with their mother or father.
What are your ideas for future research?
The upper classes of primary school are an interesting group. These are children who often already have a mobile phone. The transition to secondary school is a sensitive and vulnerable period. Their world is expanding, peer pressure is increasing and children are increasingly developing their own identity. You want to inform children and their parents/carers about this at an early stage and in a pleasant way. There is still a lot to be developed for this, also because the techniques keep evolving.
On Safer Internet Day you are hosting the online event ‘Wanna Media!’. Who do you think should not miss this?
Actually, all professionals who work with young people growing up. Think for example of a social worker, librarian, police officer, district nurse or teacher. We and they cannot ignore the fact that children are inextricably linked to media. And it’s your own responsibility to educate yourself as best you can. That way, you will not only keep your own media literacy up to date, but you will also be able to match your media education skills with those of your target group.
Svenja Büttner is a senior researcher as well as a remedial educationalist. Tuesday 9 February is Safer Internet Day. This day was created to make people more aware of the risks and opportunities of the online world. The Youth and Media professorship, where Svenja works, hosts the online event 'Wanna Media!' on this day. Unfortunately it' s no longer possible to register, but the presentations (Powerpoint files) can be requested via firstname.lastname@example.org.