Space invaders: creating child-centred spaces of public debate

By Sevasti-Melissa Nolas

Our Space Invaders: #iMedia competition launches today.  We want to know how children and young people use their social media, online gaming and other new technologies. To do so, we are asking children and young people to create three-minute videos describing how they use sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, as well as phone apps and online games (and much, much more we hope because let’s face it they are at the cutting edge here!)

The Space Invaders: #iMedia competition is part of a larger project called New Publics: Innovating Children and Young People’s Communities. One of the aims of this project is to facilitate children and young people’s interventions into public spaces and debates, and to educate adults about their social worlds. The work is part of CIRCY’s innovation and communication streams of activity and resonates well with our research theme on digital youth.

There were many inspirations for this project. In the UK public debate about children and young people’s use of social media has never been more heated, and one-sided. Newspaper headlines regularly carry articles about how Facebook, Twitter, and video games are damaging young brains and altering children and young people’s psychological and social development. Politicians aren’t far behind either in pronouncing the ills of gaming, social and other media. Like TV was for previous generations, social media is the new, bad kid on the block in the public imagination. New media have taken their place next to the old, in taking the blame for anything from cancer and obesity to violence and the sexualisation of society.

Unsurprisingly perhaps much of this hysteria is lacking in evidence; and others point out the flaws with the existing evidence-base, how it is used, and the very narrow view of the human experience (as unimaginative, lacking in any autonomy or creative thinking) that deterministic and reductionist technological arguments, like the ones above, take.

New Publics is not a research project, though we hope, in due course, to apply for funds that will enable us to join existing efforts to create a more robust and nuanced evidence base on the topic. It is instead a form of public engagement and knowledge exchange aimed at broadening the debate on this very important topic.

Social and other media aren’t going away and children and young people aren’t going to stop using them. How many two- and three-years old have we encountered with awe (in my case at least) as they slickly turn on their parents’ iPads and iPhones and help themselves to apps designated for their use (and sometimes not!)? How many grand/children are educating and supporting an older generation in making sense of and using these new technologies? How do new technologies enable all of us to nurture our close relationships and to remain connected across geographical distances? How do these technologies enable (or hinder) the ways in which we work with and support children and young people in a range of situations? How do we negotiate children’s rights to self-expression and their rights to privacy with parents’ responsibilities and their self-expression? The list goes on.

We hear precious little in public debate about this other side of technology and the issues that are currently exercising parents and childhood and youth professionals. And we hear even less from children and young people themselves about their experiences of using such technologies. What do they get out of it? What do they find creative about it? What does it enable them to do? How does it constrain them?

From a childhood and youth studies perspective, the interdisciplinary space that CIRCY occupies, we know that children and adults share similar concerns about what happens in their worlds but, that crucially, children and young people’s social worlds also differ from those of adults’.  It is these social and cultural worlds that the Space Invaders: #iMedia competition, and the New Publics project, is trying to tap into. In order for open deliberation on children’s use of social media, to take place we need to extend the rather narrow, and pessimistic, language currently on offer: only a group of space invaders can do that for us and we welcome them.

Further information:

The Space Invaders: #iMedia competition is open to children and young people aged six to 18 living in the Brighton & Hove and East Sussex areas.  More information on how to take part in the competition can be found here.

A public debate on the topic will be hosted at the Brighton Fringe Festival on May 20 (6-8pm) at the University of Brighton’s Sallis Benney Theatre.

The project is funded by the University of Sussex and the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF), and is a collaboration between CIRCY and the School of Education, University of Brighton.

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3 thoughts on “Space invaders: creating child-centred spaces of public debate

  1. Victoria Sheridan says:

    This is very interesting, because in many families (and indeed, primary schools when it was raining at playtime!), the new digital technology started out as a ‘virtual baby-sitter’ for children, because at least it immobilised them for a period of time. However, the advantages for adult usage are manifold, and this is where children have been put in the place of a ‘teacher’ to adults, in showing them how the new technology works. Quite ironic! – But it has led to children and young people being viewed differently by adults, and a fascinating new relationship has emerged. Before this, children were not usually asked to teach something to an adult, and child-led activities were much more rare. It may have given adults a new vision of how immense the potential of a child can be, and how much more capable they may be than adults give them credit for.

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    • smnolas says:

      Victoria, many thanks for your comments and observations. These are exactly the sort of debates that we are hoping to have with this project and beyond. There is so much more to consider and discuss on the topic than current ‘discourses’ make available so thank you for your intervention into this space. Looking forward to others’ contributions. All the best, Melissa

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