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Growing up with the Smart Phone
Scientists from the University of Siegen are investigating how smartphones affect learning processes and the socialization of children. The project is part of the Collaborative Research Center (CRC) "Media of Cooperation".
The small hands can hardly hold the smartphone, but preschool children know how to wipe and tap pictures or games on the screen. Smartphone, tablet or laptop belong to the day-to-day family life. The little ones grow up with it. Many parents are insecure about this. Does the early media use harm the children or can they even benefit? Prohibit, control or promote it? Prof. Dr. Jutta Wiesemann knows the questions and concerns of parents - and the discussions that follow. As a pedagogue and scientist, she first calls for one thing: look closely at what happens in the families with the new media. She is doing this together with colleagues in the research project "Early Childhood and Smartphone". For over a year, the scientists have been accompanying 17 families with children between the ages of 0 and 6. The scientific research, which is unique in this intensive form, is part of the Collaborative Research Center "Media of Cooperation" at the University of Siegen. It gives new insights and glimpses into the fundamental changes in our way of communicating and living.
"Of course, smartphones are interesting to children. Not only because they are bright and interactive, but also because they play a central role for parents and their daily lives, "says Prof. Wiesemann. "We observe the specific use of smartphones and tablets in the family day, which routines have been established in the families." The research team regularly visits families, sometimes even for several days. These families live all across Germany, and one in Switzerland. Consistently, parents and children with different social backgrounds were selected for the project, some of them living in large cities, others in villages. During their visits, the scientists almost always carry a camera. The goal: to research ordinary, everyday, real scenes from the Family Day. This method is called Ethnographic Research. The project benefits from the long-standing experience of camera technologist and colleague Dr. Bina Mohn.
Focusing on Children’s Learning Processes
A special interest is the development of learning processes among the children, explains Wiesemann: "We would like to find out how smartphones influence these processes. To what extent do children learn differently today? "For example, the everyday use of smartphones and tablets has changed the understanding of "presence" and "absence" fundamentally. "Previously, a reference person was gone when she left the room. Today, she can still be present for the child - not physically, but via Skype or video call on the smartphone. " The researchers around Wiesemann have observed that the relationship between adults and children also changes with the arrival of the devices into the family day. "Children often handle the smartphones more or less independently. The adults are no longer the sole operators and guardians of knowledge," says Wiesemann.
Changes which are, of course, also perceived by parents and grandparents. Many compare the daily life in today's family with the way they have grown up. "That's unsettling," says Wiesemann. "But this uncertainty is triggered by every new medium. It was the same with radio, television, video and, of course, PCs." One likes to rely on the overstress theory, according to which the childlike interaction with the screen poses potentially a fundamental danger. They make the kids fat, aggressive, jittery and sleep-disturbed, just as the federal government even recently warned, based on a study commissioned by the drug coordinator. Wiesemann wants to get away from the question: "How can it hurt?" Instead, the new media and their role within the family have to be accepted as a social phenomenon. "We cannot reverse this development, but it is important to recognize how children access the world through smartphones, so that we as parents, educators and society can react to it."
The Smart Phone as a Household Item
In this context, the Siegen scientists call for a more differentiated view. "You have to see in which social contexts smartphones or tablets are used in the family", says Wiesemann. The observations show: They are used to listen to music, watch movies and play games, as picture or coloring book, to telephone, take pictures and as a photo album. They offer the possibility to let grandparents or friends participate in family life even though they live far away. "We find that the smartphone in the family becomes more and more a household item. Taboo for no one, not even for the youngest. "
In addition to the snapshots from everyday life, the scientists also keep their view trained on long-term consequences. How do children today deal with privacy and publicity? How do identity concepts change when they watch themselves on the smartphone in movies and images while growing up? Wiesemann: "We want to know what the smartphone does with people's biographies." For the generation of parents, who have not grown up with the smartphone, this looks quite different than for today's children. Wiesemann: "They do not know any different. Their lives are documented from the beginning. Later they’ll be able to tell it all in pictures."
The project is one of a total of sixteen subprojects of the Collaborative Research Center "Media of Cooperation" at the University of Siegen. It is managed by Prof. Dr. Jutta Wiesemann, further employees are Clemens Eisenmann, Inka Fürtig, Dr. Jochen Lange and Dr. Bina Elisabeth Mohn. The CRC is funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgesellschaft (DFG) and started in early 2016. More than 60 scientists are studying interdisciplinary digital media and the societal changes that they evoke.
Prof. Dr. Jutta Wiesemann