Kiwi kids and the Lockdown

How did Kiwi kids handle the lockdown?  Did they breathe a sigh of relief for not having to go to school? Did they take refuge in social media as whole  communities vanished from cities and country roads alike, in the most punishing of categories – Level 4?

University of Waikato research associate Geoff Lealand found some of the answers when he took part in an international initiative from the Bavarian Broadcasting Corporation and the Prix Jeunesse Foundation. The survey sought answers to childrens’ emotions and knowledge regarding coronavirus, their media use, and their strategies for reducing stress and regulating their own media consumption.

In all, 4,322 children in 42 countries took part in the survey.

The target audience was 9 to 13-year-old children living in a wide range of countries, 4,322 children in 42 countries, and Lealand’s work helped as did his fellow researchers.  But first he had to overcome some obstacles. For a start, the lockdown had closed schools and universities, and at first he found the response sparse.

Then he turned to Suzy Cato, the much beloved TV presenter who was taking a leading role in the National Educational TV Initiative (a partnership between the Ministry of Education and state broadcaster TVNZ). She also posted a request on her Facebook page (which had more than 15,000 followers) and her website. Finally he’d found a successful strategy at a time when the responses sat at one short of the necessary 50, several hours before the survey questionnaire closed.

Some early results began to appear as testament to the global value of the research – most particularly in the outcomes regarding the use of media during a state of lockdown in many of the participating countries.

“A majority of children were able to identify misinformation (fake news), to varying degrees, were aware of vulnerable groups, and were aware of what personal health measures were necessary. For example, 79%  disbelieved the pervasive rumour that the virus had been spread by a foreign government as a weapon” says Lealand.

Media played a significant role in their lives during these weeks, as a source of education, information and entertainment.  There was an increase in the use of certain media forms—most especially television, with nearly 47% increasing their television viewing and a majority (61%) – the youngest respondents -choosing this option.

At least half of the children in the survey turned to media when they were feeling sad  and more (60%) when they experienced loneliness.  A great majority (80%) found comfort through contact with friends and relatives through social media such as Instagram and WhatsApp.

Nevertheless, nearly one half expressed dissatisfaction with media news about COVID-19 and reported that they were unwilling to read, watch or listen to any more coverage.

By mid-May the challenge of Corona virus was – for a time at least – contained.  Conventional schooling, with online learning and educational TV served as a proxy education system during the lockdown.

Attention on children and their media use has intensified in recent decades. As  children in high, middle and even low-income countries gain access to the internet, parents are feeling challenged—especially as their children now routinely  use mobile devices that are difficult for parents to supervise.

Another issue is that new, and more sophisticated technology might not be understood by parents. They are also influenced by popular worries like  screen time, internet addiction, and  ‘stranger danger’.

These concerns also motivate policy-makers and governments.

According to Livingstone and Byrne, ( 2018 research, Parenting in the Digital  Age) noted… “in whichever country has gained widespread internet access, there is a groundswell of concern – from parents as they struggle to enact their responsibilities and about parents as governments worry about certain media forms – the digital divide, child protection and cybercrime on the one hand and, on the other, the digital skills of the future labour force”.

Other research focuses on possible or perceived connections between children and their media worlds, along with intellectual development, physical health, socialisation, mental health and well-being.

There is also an  emphasis on attempting to identify and measure possible negative outcomes, and research funding tends to flow more readily in that direction rather than investigating positive relationships between children and their media use.

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Geoff Lealand

Geoff Lealand taught screen studies at the University of Waikato for 25 years, and co authored ( with Helen Martin) the  book, It’s All Done  With Mirrors, About Television.  He  is a writer,  and active conservationist and  maintains his website Cinemas of New Zealand cinemasofnz.info.