Childhood Studies Children's Media Culture
by
Chris Richards, Rebekah Willett
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 November 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 March 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0028

Introduction

The nature of childhood has been widely debated in a variety of academic fields—history, sociology, psychology, and cultural studies. The consequences of the development of modern media for childhood and youth are a major concern in the field and have been debated both in very general terms and in relation to the introduction of specific media, such as television. Though the end of childhood is often regarded to be around the age of eleven or twelve, it is important to acknowledge both the broad international (UN Convention on the Rights of the Child) legal definition (zero to eighteen years of age) and the continuing fluidity of age boundaries in most contexts. In this bibliography, publications relating to youth (teenagers) have been included. The specific subtopics on youth include Youth Media and Media Industries and Consumption. The subtopics also range across old and new media. Print Media, Children and Television, and Television Audiences represent the media now referred to as “old.” New media—in other words, the digital media of the last twenty-five years—are represented in New Media and Participatory Audiences and in New Media Education though some relevant titles are included in other subtopics. The theme of media power is central to the field, and this is represented by Media Industries and Consumption and Media Power. The issue is also addressed in Media Education and New Media Education. The global distribution of the media and also the wider “non-Western” experience of both old and new media are introduced in Global and Transnational Studies. This is a rapidly expanding field, and new research is being published constantly. In addition to the continuing debates around the definition of childhood and youth, Gender persists as a focus for wide-ranging research and discussion. Other divisions within childhood and youth, such as class or “race,” are also very important and are represented in contributions to the Readers and Anthologies section and in many of the titles listed in each subtopic.

General Overviews

There is an enduring debate about the way that the media have influenced what childhood is like and how it is represented in the public domain. One widely cited text, Postman 1982, argued that childhood itself had been progressively eroded by the modern media of the 20th century, especially television. Whereas print media required the ability to read and thus sustained a distinction between children and adults (at least in terms of the knowledge available to those who could read and those who could not), television offered no delay or resistance to its access. Children and adults alike could enter into the world that television made available, and thus the distinction between age groups was significantly reduced. Buckingham 2000 has examined this kind of argument in the context of the new media, emergent in the late 20th century and rapidly becoming central to everyday life in the 21st. Rather than endorse the argument presented by Postman 1982, Buckingham offers a more skeptical overview of arguments about the power of both old and new media to define childhood and distinct generations of children. Favoring a more cautiously empirical approach to questions of media influence, effects, and power, he suggests that childhood has not disappeared but is caught up in complex changes that make the need for a developed and flexible form of media education especially important. Buckingham’s argument avoids the common tendency to lament the lost childhood that some believe existed in the past and, by contrast, is focused on the future needs of children in a challenging media-defined world. Taking a very different approach to either Postman or Buckingham, Holland 2004 explores the history of childhood as it is represented in popular imagery, especially through the last decades of the 20th century. Holland is concerned not with the effects of the media, or any one medium, on childhood, but with how adults represent childhood in photographs, magazines, newspapers, and other primarily visual media. She traces themes in the commonsense understanding of the nature of childhood, such as the strong belief that childhood should be a period of happiness and contentment and, in tension with this, anxieties that childhood is a potentially dangerous time with a potential for cruelty and violence. A further challenge to the boundaries of debate on childhood and youth studies can be found in Lukose 2010, a sophisticated study of youth “consumer citizenship” in Kerala (South India). Kassem, et al. 2010, though not primarily concerned with children’s media cultures, also offers important recent contributions to the study of childhood and youth, both in the UK and elsewhere.

  • Buckingham, David. After the Death of Childhood: Growing up in the Age of Electronic Media. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2000.

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    An influential overview of debates around children and the new media at the turn of the 21st century. Adopting a dispassionate tone, Buckingham explains the arguments of those he disagrees with as well as those he favors and works toward a strongly argued case for media education.

  • Holland, Patricia. Picturing Childhood: The Myth of the Child in Popular Imagery. London: I. B. Tauris, 2004.

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    This book analyzes images of children found in everyday media, such as newspapers, magazines, and the Internet. The analysis traces debates about childhood from the 1970s through to the 2000s, covering education, welfare, children’s rights, and consumerism.

  • Kassem, Derek, Lisa Murphy, and Elizabeth Taylor, eds. Key Issues in Childhood and Youth Studies. London: Routledge, 2010.

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    Dealing with such topics as “risk,” the politics of childhood and “the global child,” this is a very useful introduction to the field of childhood and youth studies and offers specific case studies intersecting with the topic of children and the media.

  • Lukose, Ritty. Liberalization’s Children: Gender, Youth, and Consumer Citizenship in Globalizing India. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010.

    E-mail Citation »

    Written by an anthropologist, this is a detailed and subtle analysis of the position of young people in the “globalized media economy” and in the specific local context of South India.

  • Postman, Neil. The Disappearance of Childhood. London: W. H. Allen, 1982.

    E-mail Citation »

    A distinctive, polemical, and often quoted argument favoring the view that childhood has been fundamentally changed by the emergence of the modern electronic media.

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