Discussion and Conclusion

Open Access
Part of the Transforming Communications – Studies in Cross-Media Research book series (TCSCMR)


This final chapter aims to summarise our project, as presented above, by explicating its scope, limitations and benefits, as well as setting out its potential. Based on the results of the longitudinal study, we discuss how appreciating the complex interplay of factors shaping the lives of children as they grow up can help policy makers and stakeholders to develop more individualised approaches to supporting and encouraging children and their families. Furthermore, we wish to stress that our findings do not reflect circumstances peculiar to the Austrian context: within our theoretical framework, we interpret them as empirical evidence demonstrating how existing conditions, patterns of doing family and individual factors shape socialisation processes. A range of contexts interacts with individual factors, but not in a manner peculiar to one region. Such interaction indicates a general pattern that is widely relevant to understanding socialisation within mediatised societies.

9.1 The Objectives of This Longitudinal Study

This book presents our longitudinal study, as conducted in Austria over nearly twelve years, from 2005 until 2017. Our core question focused on the role of media within the socialisation of children, who subsequently became adolescents and grew up in families exhibiting various degrees of social disadvantage. The study followed them from five, or respectively six, years of age up to the last stage of adolescence, and into young adulthood.

Even in a comparatively rich country such as Austria (see Chapter  2), the living conditions of socially disadvantaged young people are particularly demanding. They are often strongly affected by a lack of health (see Kuntz, Waldhauer, Zeiher, Finger, & Lampert, 2018) and by a limited access to education services and, linked to this, with a low level of participation in society. These challenges are intensified by the progressive transformation of the means of communication. As changing media environments are deeply integrated in a constantly changing society, where they act as a trigger for various processes of social change (see Carpentier, Schrøder, & Hallett, 2014; Hepp & Hasebrink, 2014; Lundby, 2014), transformative processes become highly relevant in individuals’ everyday lives—and, therefore, for socialisation processes as well. To define the role of the media in the overall context of complex and diverse socialisation processes, a theoretically and methodologically coherent concept is needed. It helps to understand the individual perspective of human beings, as well as the overall aspects of their conduct of everyday life contexts. Despite several heterogeneous approaches from different scientific disciplines, be that sociology, psychology or other disciplines, there is a consensus among modern socialisation researchers, which spotlights the individual perspectives of different actors as the essential aspect of this academic field. Socialisation researchers now link both psychological and sociological elements and conceptualise socialisation as a “bidirectional process” (Smetana, Robinson, & Rote, 2015, p. 60) and, in this sense, as an “interactive process” (Hurrelmann & Bauer, 2015, p. 146), which is created, influenced and modified by the individual (Hurrelmann & Bauer, 2015; see Hurrelmann, Grundmann, & Walper, 2008, p. 17; for an overview about development of socialisation theories, see Prout, 2008; see Chapter  3). But we still know little about how these processes proceed within the development of an individual’s socialisation. This is, above all, the case, because children are actually growing up in interlinked contexts, which are, for their part, saturated by the media. Proceeding from Ien Ang’s understanding of contextualism, it seemed to us necessary to identify the relevant contexts shaping the structure of a child’s everyday life (Ang, 2006, p. 69). This step was indispensable, in order to show how the interaction takes place in the process of young people’s socialisation and to illustrate how the transfer from social contexts into personal characteristics, and vice versa, takes place.

For our longitudinal study on the role of media within the socialisation of socially disadvantaged adolescents in Austria, we developed a praxeological and integrative approach to (media) socialisation research, which aims to clarify the practical meaning of the individual (media) practices for children and their parents within a family context. This concept espouses a research design both theoretically and methodologically apposite and coherent, one capable of shedding light on the role of the media within the overall context of complex and manifold socialisation processes.

We explore how and why children and adolescents within socially disadvantaged families use different media services for guidance in their everyday lives and to help them to deal with their developmental tasks within their relevant contexts of growing up. To this end, it is necessary to examine not only the adolescents themselves but also their respective lives within their respective families, peer groups and other socialisation contexts, for example, in their schools. It is precisely in these contexts that they gain experience, including how to deal with different media contents and media devices. Against this background, then, young people build their specific media repertoires. Our study investigates these factors, so that we also consider it a contribution to the entire field of family research.

The core of the study lies in the question as to how children and adolescents and their parents, or respectively relatives, like stepfathers or partners of the mothers, deal with media within their socially disadvantaged families and how they use these media services to cope with the challenges of their everyday lives. A longitudinal study is ideal for examining these parameters because long-term communication processes proceed in various ways and change fundamentally in structure and function over time. A qualitative approach seems particularly suitable and enables a focus on the complex processes of building individual orientation which is shaped by conditions for the conduct of everyday life that are socially unequal and structurally distributed (Weiß, 1997, p. 246; see Chapter  3). Such an approach enables to grasp the individual understanding of their specific milieus, but also to pay attention to the common understanding about the ways of living together within their specific milieu (see Weiß, 1997, p. 259). In order to meet these requirements adequately, we focused on our carefully chosen sample and we decided to forego the implementation of a second panel with families who are not socially disadvantaged as a comparison group. At this point, our aim was to accompany our families for such a long time as possible in order to analyse the processes of growing up, the complexity of socialisation, the related dynamics and the cross-linked interplay of relevant social contexts at the best. This concept made it possible to record even the small but subtle differences and to describe the distinctions between the individual families in respect to the process of socialisation and growing up in miscellaneous socially disadvantaged surroundings.

Our study’s core is a qualitative longitudinal survey accompanying the children within their families, from kindergarten until adolescence and emerging adulthood (by the end of the study, the adolescents were 16–18 years old). Additionally, we conducted a literature analysis for twelve years, concentrating on national and international research within the scope of this project (see Chapter  2). On the one hand, it framed the project, as our analysis and discussion had, perforce, to deal not only with other qualitative studies but also with quantitative studies, in order to better frame our results against the backdrop of broader findings. On the other hand, we conducted the literature review not only for internal purposes, but also for the public consumption. To this end, we made the results of the literature review publicly available as a separate publication on our project website ( We developed our theoretical framework further by paying attention to special aspects, like the phase of adolescence as one with particular challenges (see Chapters  3 and  6). This is central to our book, because of processes inherent in it, like “sense making” and “self-making” (Arnett, 1995; see also Arnett, 2007).

9.2 The Theoretical Framework

At the heart of the praxeological perspective on socialisation processes lies the question about the subjective meaning of the (media) practices displayed by individuals and groups in their Lebenswelt (lifeworld) (see Chapter  3). Our focus is on individuals within their everyday lives, in their specific social space actually or symbolically available to them and where they deploy their various forms of “capital” (see Bourdieu, 1986) to make sense of their everyday lives. In this process, media services of all kinds play a substantial role. In private or professional everyday lives, specific social connections determine individuals’ range of options to develop their identities, to gain competences for action and then to act in differing everyday situations.

We observed individuals’ orientation patterns and—partly media-based—sense-making practices, but we did not consider their media usage either from a “subjective” or from an “objective” perspective. Much rather, our study follows Bourdieu’s concept of “practical sense”, his “praxeology” as developed in “Theory of Practice” (1977). The aim is to understand how the individual can act and does actually act in his or her lifeworld. This lifeworld reaches out beyond the individual. Hence further social contexts relating to the social milieu have to be investigated as well, as it is in them that the individual’s ambitions and resources become active and specific patterns of action are “in place” and socially adequate (see Weiß, 2000, p. 47, translated by the authors). While aspiring to make their life meaningful, individuals tend to use media throughout their lives. It is especially against the background of ongoing mediatization processes that the media become signally important. Using a praxeological perspective, socialisation processes, and the role of the media within them, can be examined. Furthermore, we can demonstrate which media services are relevant among an individual’s media repertoires and at which stages, during a life-long process of socialisation, these specific services become important for coping with everyday life.

Nevertheless, we need to consider additional facts concerning media usage: on the one hand, the media usage of individuals is determined by the basic structure governing their response to challenges in life. But on the other hand, media usage depends on the specific ways media contents are offered, meaning that only services actually accessible can be used.

We can identify practices of everyday life in terms of the practical, respectively everyday-practical, sense of purpose of every family member, and such findings are of particular importance in praxeologically conceptualised (media) socialisation research. On the one hand, we observe how these practices are developed by the children and adolescents and their siblings, but on the other hand, we also observe how they were developed by the parents too. The following analytical concept enables us to reconstruct the further development in the practices of all of our subjects. It is based on three analytic concepts (see Chapter  3):
  • Options for action are, on the one hand, related to an individual’s specific socio-structural conditions and, on the other, to the socio-structural aspects of society as a whole and to its political, economic, cultural and media contexts. Options for action designate the objective characteristics of an individual’s social conditions, which are shaped by the rules of the social field(s) in which he/she operates. Options for action represent an ordered array of possible (and impossible) actions.

  • Outlines for action are related to subjective perceptions of social conditions and represent the ways in which the subject transforms the characteristics of his/her situation, viewed objectively, into a subjective guide for action. These outlines reflect what makes sense to the subject and indicate the viewpoints from which he/she structures his/her perceptions and interpretations of the world. Thus, all of the families’ goals and plans, or those of the individuals, are closely tied to a subjective perception of the social milieu.

  • Competences for action are related to the resources at the individual’s disposal to accomplish the above outlines for action. As Bourdieu maintains, these competences characterise the material, cultural and social resources available to an individual and serve as cognitive or motivational prerequisites for his/her actions, including the use of the media. These competences are reflected in the realisation of the individual’s outlines for action.

Based on the options for action , outlines for action and competences for action , it is theoretically and empirically possible to understand the connection between a social milieu and the subjective structure of making sense of one’s own life. Our approach to young people’s socialisation, as presented in this book, provides answers through a combined analysis of both the subjective and structural components of practice. It focuses on the lifeworld of a child, and of the subsequent adolescent, within their family, where they conduct their everyday life and where, starting in early childhood, media activity is given its meaning. This approach helps in examining the everyday structures of a child’s or adolescent’s life, as shaped by the family’s social situation, in order to describe the “arrangements” for everyday life and the process of doing family . It is through these arrangements that practices, including media practices, are formed and media actions gain structure and meaning. This approach makes it possible to reconstruct the transfer process, namely, how socio-structural conditions transfer onto an individual’s subjective perception and (media-related) actions and how this perception leads to an independent orientation towards the world. Following this approach, it is possible not only to look superficially at how children and adolescents deal with media, but also to investigate how they subjectively make sense of the media as a source for coping with their developmental tasks. This acquires special attention to the structures of their everyday life, namely their socio-economic aspects as access to certain media, but also the general availability of media contents in the specific area of living. Against this background, media usage can be read as a practice within a socially constructed everyday life and, hence, as a form of observable practical ability.

9.3 On the Longitudinal Study and Its Process

Our study on the role of the media within the socialisation of socially disadvantaged adolescents in Austria started in 2005 and accompanied the growing-up of selected children, respectively teenagers, within their families until the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017. To grasp complex processes like this analytically, and in order to operationalise them empirically, it is necessary to develop a rich design (see Chapter  4) that covers different levels of socialisation associated with the micro-, meso- and macro-processes of growing up. Thus, individual biographical changes and changes within the socialisation contexts display forms of social coherence. The families, which are significantly important for the socialisation of the adolescents, form a salient example.

We based the longitudinal study’s methodology, therefore, on triangulation (Patton, 2002, p. 563; Paus-Hasebrink, Prochazka, & Sinner, 2013, p. 23), enabling it to analyse and describe the interaction between development-psychological processes of growing up—children coping with their developmental tasks, as well as parents coping with their life tasks—and socio-economical (for example, unemployment or a new job, a better or worse financial situation) or socio-emotional factors of a family (for example, divorce of the parents, severe misfortunes within the family). Furthermore, specific wishes and interests come to light and demonstrate how socialisation is accomplished and how media are relevant during this process.

At the macro-level, there are socio-structural factors, like the income and the educational qualifications of the parents which determine their social milieu. In other words, the way of life of a family is crucially shaped by its social status. The following aspects stand out: the constantly changing, interdependently existing and, in an general sense, relevant socio-structural factors of the country, such as its political, economic and cultural contexts, its media system, including a vast amount of technical and, therefore, societal change in media infrastructure, the structure of the educational system, the overall economic situation of the country, the labour market, matters linked to family issues (for example, maternity leave and family support), together with the laws governing them, and the availability of kindergartens and schools, as well as recreational facilities for children, adolescents and families. These factors have a definite impact on the life of the families and, therefore, frame their way of life. Socio-structural conditions define the field in which children and their parents and siblings live and where a child moves around and learns to deal with its relevant developmental tasks and life challenges. These conditions determine the specific and milieu-dependent situation a child grows up in. They affect socialisation in a crucial way because they form testing grounds for individual identity. But quite often these conditions fundamentally restrict the given spaces.

Within the meso-level, the question arises about the social resources a family can deploy to ensure socio-structural support. On this level, certain relationship structures between parents and their children and siblings, but also between relatives like grandparents, aunts and uncles, are responsible for the basic family climate. In this context, it is also important to determine the parental life tasks (what is important for mothers and fathers? Do they live within a family, or are they separated and, for example, in a new romantic relationship?) as well as the life tasks of the siblings. So, it becomes vital to examine the educational resources of the parents and, therefore, the way, they and the siblings deal with media services. The amount of media equipment as hardware, the place where it is available and in which (social) contexts it can be used, are also important variables. As a part of a social network, the parents’ friends, neighbours and, with increasing age, their own friends and peers gain more and more importance for the children. These outcomes are similar to the previous findings from studies conducted during the childhood and youth of subjects (Paus-Hasebrink & Bichler, 2008; Paus-Hasebrink & Kulterer, 2014). Children are companions for each other (see Krappmann, 1991, p. 362) and during their socialisation, with whom they are interacting is crucially important. They do share particular interests with friends, and they may be supported and recognised within a peer group, but also rejected. These conditions have a significant impact on the way children organise their everyday lives, how they develop their social relationships and thereby become self-confident. A specific lifestyle within a family and the social network among siblings and with parents form the basis for children’s dealing with the media.

The micro-level connotes the child itself. Here, the main focus of the overall research project covers aspects like age and gender, hence the specific developmental tasks and the specific media usage concomitant with them. The relevant factors on the micro-level also affect the meso-level, like the family’s way of living together. One aspect should not be underestimated in its effect on the overall climate in the family, namely a child’s capacity for dealing with those developmental tasks arising, for example, from a change of school or from being a part of relevant social contexts (for example, being accepted within their peer group or in different social groups in general). However, the lifestyle of the family has a greater impact when children are growing up, and they—to differing degrees depending on age and development—do reciprocally shape the way of living within their family, while, on the other hand, also being extensively dependent on their social environment. The specific way of living within the family frames the way a child grows up and deals with the media, indicating, in turn, the role the media play in the child’s socialisation.

Our study comprised six waves of interviews (2005, 2007, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016 and additionally a final telephone call back survey at the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017). We traced media socialisation processes, and especially the individual changes in adolescents’ socialisation, as this was affected by a dynamically changing media environment significant for both individuals and society. Over the nearly twelve years, we, therefore, covered every important stage from kindergarten to late adolescence in the lives of the children and adolescents.

To apply our central concepts options for action , outlines for action and the closely related competences for action , we developed the following research approaches. We defined the options for action of a family, and particularly of our subject, the child growing up within this family, and we identified the socio-structural factors for social disadvantage, adopting the layer model of social inequality (see Hradil, 1999; Hradil & Masson, 2008). A standardised questionnaire was used in every wave of the survey, in order to gather basic information about the options for action (income, educational level, housing situation and so on). With help of observation protocols, the interviewers registered information about the families’ homes and neighbourhoods, as well as about the media equipment available. These observations also helped to describe the configuration of family life, the doing family (see Jurczyk, Lange, & Thiessen, 2014; Morgan, 2011). They functioned as a link to the examination of the outlines for action , such as the adolescents’ goals and plans and those of the parents, all of which are closely related to the individuals’ perceptions of the social milieu. The basis for this research step was in the interviews with the chosen children, and with the adolescents subsequently, and with one or both of their parents or guardians. The interviews also helped to record the perceived competences for action of the young people and their parents, as they formed their own concepts, and then traced what the adolescents thought of their parents, and vice versa.

The guided in-depth interviews were the core of this study. To cope with the nature of a mediatised society and with the adolescents’ new stage in life, we modified and enhanced our methodological approach during the fifth (2014) and sixth (2016) waves of the survey. The theoretical foundation was redrawn, so that new research results were forthcoming. Following the methodical approach of thinking aloud (Bilandzic, 2005, pp. 362–364; 2017, pp. 407–408) we sought discussion of the adolescents’ social networks profiles as a response to the much greater importance of social network sites. To investigate the increasingly differentiated relationships in the adolescents’ everyday life, we had them draw “network maps” (Hepp & Düvel, 2010, p. 271) to visualise their media and information repertoires. The third methodological approach addressed the overall trend towards personal media equipment in our subjects’ own bedrooms. Inspired by the concept of “bedroom culture” (see Bovill & Livingstone, 2001, p. 3), we took photographs, together with the adolescents, to show their rooms and their favourite places for media use. These photographs allowed insights in the specific construction of the young peoples’ personal living environments, which are the central spaces for developing an individual identity and, as such, acutely influenced by media services and contents.

The collected material was regularly evaluated after every wave using a sensitively aligned repertoire of different methodologies to analyse the data while consistently comparing them with the past outcomes of the study. In all cases, the evaluation and interpretation were guided by the three theoretical concepts: the options for action , outlines of action and competences for action of the adolescents and their parents. A survey of these concepts allowed especially meaningful indicators to emerge from during the last step of the evaluation, which can be summed up by three dimensions: socio-economic conditions, socio-emotional relationship structures ( doing family ) and strategies of the family to cope with everyday life. These three dimensions enabled us to construct a typology for denoting the differences between our individual families.

9.4 The Scope of This Study

Highly ambitious and informative longitudinal studies are rare in communication research. Special economic and organisational challenges have to be managed, while the survey and its evaluation are both elaborate undertakings, because of the great amount of data collected. The extended duration and procedure of the research necessitate particular forms of reflexivity and explication. The theoretical-methodological viewpoint has to be integrated into a transparent and comprehensible research frame to achieve high-quality results when considering structures of meaning like the (re)construction of media practices. Both the quantitative research paradigm, as well as the qualitative, indicate that the value of a study depends not only on the method of collecting data. Qualitative analyses need intersubjective traceability together with coherent data evaluation (see Chapter  4). The interactive theoretical and methodological design of this study—both parts were updated as the children were growing up to adolescence and their everyday lives were becoming more and more mediatised—offers a reliable basis for a transparent way of examining the research topic.

We aimed to pursue the structures of meaning and, therefore, the subjective distribution in the ways the children and their parents constructed them. This was linked with the goal of detecting coherences and registering the complex interplay of the various factors shaping the life of the socially disadvantaged families, thus tracing the children’s overall development and their socialisation. Many aspects of this study may well link to the international research on socially disadvantaged families and their ways of dealing with media services, but we have not concentrated on identifying “typical” patterns for the process of growing up in socially disadvantaged families and comparing them with non-disadvantaged families. Any such question requires, of course, a different research design. What we regard as committed social research makes it important to direct attention towards the actual needs of socially disadvantaged adolescents. Furthermore, our study shows how socialisation is understood as a process and to find out which aspects interact in what ways during young people’s socialisation as they grow up.

9.5 The Particular Challenges of a Longitudinal Study

To understand the role the media play during children’s development as individuals, means understanding how their social contexts are designed. Most important here are their social contexts, like family and the children’ management of everyday life. Gaining any insight requires a longitudinal perspective, because it is only possible in this way to experience how media usage and preferred ways of shaping everyday life are linked. In this case, social research is intended as family research, but with specific reference to the child and its individual conditions and issues. Hence, a qualitative approach is necessary to derive any more profoundly coherent results from the research topic.

The collection and evaluation of qualitative longitudinal data inevitably become a major challenge for researchers. Making the qualitative data from a panel of subjects over twelve years as intersubjectively traceable as possible for its readers requires a triangulation-based, mutually monitoring and permanently updated methodological design. But this was not the only challenge to be overcome, given that the research team had to confront several internal and external problems. The simple recruiting and maintaining of the panel was quite an extensive effort. A distinct tenacity was required to contact the adolescents and families every two years and to convince them to remain part of the panel—telephone numbers and email addresses were changed, correspondence was often ignored. Several relocations and changes within family-constellations brought further problems. And in addition, the team of researchers brought its own challenges, where the duration of the project involved various personnel turnovers by dint of, for example, limited-term appointments, changes in personal circumstance and student assistants graduating. Hence, the people involved had changing subjective perspectives and individual ways of working. All of this had consequences for the strategies during the evaluation process and the comparability of results, which is indisputably the central quality factor for a longitudinal study! In this respect, it required considerable efforts to maintain a traceable and transparent, well-documented and comprehensible work and thus meet the needs of empirical social research.

Within the longitudinal study on socially disadvantaged adolescents, different measures were deployed. With the aid of a certain degree of standardisation, even in the qualitative research, the high level of comparability was secured. Coding schemes were changed quite sensitively, thematically structured matrices with given categories. We took care to maintain the meticulous and multiply-secured documentation of these procedures. Any standards, like rules of transcription and anonymisation, as well as the description of the codes, were strictly documented, so that our approach is continuously traceable over several years. A highly important step to support these standards involved workshops on interviewing and coding conducted by experienced researchers, who were familiar with the all the facts established by the research as well as the atmosphere within the families. These workshops were repeated immediately before every wave and included every aspect of the research project. Interim reports and summaries were sent to the sponsor of the study, the Jubiläumsfonds der Oesterreichischen Nationalbank [Anniversary Fund of the Austrian National Bank], but work on several books and chapters proceeded concurrently and was also helpful in maintaining continuity and serving as a basis for further waves.

To continue a longitudinal study over several years means always having to be prepared for new challenges within the research process, requiring solutions aimed at resolving basic research questions—in retrospect, that is one fundamental finding. Every new wave of the survey, and occasionally even the evaluation, is a balancing act between continuity and change. Besides that, it is important during such a long research project to constantly bear in mind the ethical question regarding the teams’ responsibility towards the families of the panel. These questions became still more important when interventions in family structures seemed to be necessary, due to responsibility reasons as engaged social scientists. These particular matters require a careful, sensitive and responsible treatment and resolution—in some circumstances with the help of qualified psychologists who showed the research team options and possibilities for affected families/family members (of course this happened anonymously and information was forwarded to the people affected as a suggestion for help). The aspect of intervention during the process of conducting qualitative research does not happen frequently and it is hardly ever documented in publications. Notwithstanding, we are convinced that engaged social scientists are ethically bound to intervene in a well-considered way if necessary. In accordance with the aim of traceability and for reasons of transparency such actions are obligated to be documented. Although interventions are infrequent, this aspect of social science is being examined in the literature. A best practice research guide from the EU Kids Online-Network (see Lobe, Livingstone, Ólafsson, & Simões, 2008, p. 57) raises questions concerning children at risk, problematic situations during the process of research and possible ways of acting; Furthermore, the respective section includes experience reports of David Finkelhor, Sonia Livingstone and Ingrid Paus-Hasebrink who describe practical examples from their research and give advice on how to manage such difficult and complex situations in real-world.

9.6 The Media and Socio-Pedagogical and Political Consequences

The development of everyday competences for dealing appropriately with the media counts today as an important and socio-politically necessary goal for children and their parents. In order to familiarise adolescents with responsible, but also independent, ways of dealing with the media, it is essential to widen their analytical perspectives. Research does not simply examine children and their media-pedagogic practices in kindergartens, schools and youth facilities, but responds to parents and their media practices as well. Here, the outcomes of this longitudinal study show conclusively that socially disadvantaged parents often lack appropriate competences. This result corresponds with other findings showing how less educated parents apply more restrictive ways of mediation (for example, Livingstone, Mascheroni, Dreier, Chaudron, & Lagae, 2015; Paus-Hasebrink, Bauwens, Dürager, & Ponte, 2013; Rothbaum, Martland, & Beswick Jannsen, 2008; Vekiri, 2010). It follows, then, that supportive and educational concepts are needed to reach parents with less formal education or respectively, suffering social disadvantage, with a view to encouraging and guiding them in matters of media education (see Aufenanger, 2004; Lampert, 2013; Wagner, Gebel, & Lampert, 2013; see also Baudouin et al. 2015; Dinh, Farrugia, O’Neill, Vandoninck, & Velicu, 2016; O’Neill, Staksrud, & Mclaughlin, 2013; Paus-Hasebrink, Ponte, Dürager, & Bauwens, 2012).

It is crucial that children and adolescents enjoy attention and guidance from their parents, so that they gain the ability to deal with everyday life, as well as to deal with media competently. Even as children mature, they require much support from their parents on how to use the media, and especially the internet. As the outcomes of the pan-European and representative EU Kids Online-Survey show, children are not only on the internet or using smartphones at a younger age, but with increasing age, their ranging on the internet expands and they start to explore the stock of media services provided there, as well as becoming exposed to the potential risks of unpleasant and burdensome experiences (

Hence, it is not only the ability to meaningfully deal with TV that is necessary, but a special “internet competence” is required (see Livingstone & Helsper, 2008). This competence describes the skills of operating the equipment, as well as different applications (for example, filter software) and using services appropriately, given their functions and risks. As an integrative part of media competence, internet competence fundamentally requires the willingness of the parents to deal with the specific media concerns of their children. These concerns are directly linked to the children’s unique ways of perception and processing that correlate to their ages, genders and the highly individual interests. Further EU Kids Online-outcomes show that it is especially those children with a stable parent–child relationship shaped by closeness, trust and mutual appreciation who benefit from the internet’s possibilities. In these families, the parents guide their children in everyday life, show interest in the children’s issues and avoid restrictive educational measures. This longitudinal study regarding the media usage spanning the years from kindergarten to the end of adolescence shows how important an appropriate family context is, together with doing family , as applied to the media usage during the socialisation of the children and adolescents.

However, not all families are the same. Supportive concepts should rather focus on differentiating and shaping (media-)educational concepts for parents, basing these on every family’s individual way of living and, therefore, on the specific patterns of media usage. As the outcomes of this longitudinal study show, families who suffer from a poor socio-economical and/or socio-emotional background particularly need vastly more support than concepts and projects offering media-pedagogic assistance can provide by themselves. One worthwhile approach to the competences needed in adolescents’ media usage is peer-education. It is a low-threshold form of communication, which can be combined with a comparatively large range of options from other compensatory and care services (see Neumann-Braun & Kleinschnittger, 2012) and does seem particularly helpful with school-age children.

Krämer points out that “the parental impact happens rather through the actual mediation of practices by the parents and casually occurring the respective child” than through “essential media education” (Krämer, 2013, p. 431, translated by the authors). This insight claims that media-pedagogical help, on its own, has limited effect. Based on the family’s individual situation, concepts are needed to direct the parents’ behaviour towards their children, as well as—and this is the most important thing—reinforcing parental competences, so parents do not feel overtaxed as role models for their children. Our families suffering multiple deprivation (Type 1, see Chapter  8) are all extensively overwhelmed by difficult socio-economic situations and problematic socio-emotional relationship structures, often flanked by the parents’ or children’s severe health problems. These families—and this might be the painful consequence—could be supported, but only with appropriate measures. They need socio-pedagogic help based on a socio-political foundation, not only well-meant media-pedagogical concepts, as well as consistent and sustainable action from a network of relevant stakeholders. Educational concepts for the whole family are needed as well as a sustainable socio-economic basis (for example, dignified occupations). Given how the everyday life of these families was often strained and burdened. Television and the internet, or respectively the overall media usage was less a factor relevant to the problems within the families. Instead, their extensive and undifferentiated media usage has, in fact, to be seen as a consequence of their stressful living conditions. Offering appropriate media practices has to be embedded in comprehensive socio-pedagogical support. Such an approach may help to build bridges towards, for example, internships or, further, to apprenticeships: Several boys within the panel managed to gain extensive technical knowledge, because of their media usage and especially their gaming practices. This was the basis for their desire to work in IT and, in addition, to eventually enter on a suitable apprenticeship (see also Eurostat, 2017). The support concepts we advance have to be aligned and supported by different institutions—from kindergarten to school, as well as from extra-mural institutions like education and advanced education facilities and social assistance offices or child protection services. In this way, young people would not have to depend on simple lucky chances in life.

Socio-pedagogic support available over the long-term and intensively and individually tailored is sometimes needed for notably vulnerable families. This support has to assess the individual circumstances and needs, as well as cater to the perspective of every member of the family. As this longitudinal study indisputably shows, even children who suffered traumatic experiences in relationally disturbed families were able to get the chance to develop competences for action for a self-determined life, if adequate socio-pedagogic help was provided at the right time, specifically by child- or youth-facilities. Such possibilities for support are able to change the children’s’ lives for the better. Hence, this longitudinal study has to be understood as a vindication of such socio-pedagogic facilities, because where children were consistently supervised over a length of time, the facility demonstrably helped them in manifold ways. The example of one boy in the sample (see, for this example, the case of Benedikt Holzner, Chapter  8) shows starkly the positive impact thus made possible on the life of such a child. Likewise, other adolescents in the sample were able to find a personal stability and to explore their personal spaces with similar external assistance. Unfortunately, we have to stress how, in two cases (see the Landinger family and the Fein family, Chapter  8), the parents wanted to stop the professional supervision, in order have their children back at home the whole week—both times negative consequences ensued, most damagingly for the children. In contrast, for the families which were able to become stable, appropriate help would also have helped greatly. We can claim that the children would not then have suffered a developmental delay that first has to be made good. However, it is true their prevailing circumstances were burdens for the families and they were forced to deal with them. In consequence, some children indicated signs of deep uncertainty and helplessness, like, for example, two boys who, over several years, had problems with bedwetting. In another family, the daughter was able to become independent, through her good and trusting relationship with her mother. However, without the paternal care from a male, her brother displayed great problems. He started obsessively playing violent computer games and could only recover when he entered a socio-pedagogic facility.

During the last phase of the project, the young people moving towards apprenticeships or jobs was a highly important development. Most of the children did not seek higher education. Adolescents growing up in very burdened circumstances (like those in Type 1, see Chapter  8) need particular support in experiencing their individual inclinations and specific competences, with a view to finding an appropriate apprenticeship. Therefore, better measures are needed: a smoother transition from school to apprenticeships and trade schools has to be ensured. In addition, employment training facilities are needed for adolescents who develop cognitively and/or psychically more slowly and are not yet able to gain their desired job (see also the following suggestions in Hurrelmann & Quenzel, 2016). Hurrelmann and Quenzel stress the necessity of a comprehensive youth policy that aims to support activation of individual strengths and the advancement of individual skills and competences. They advocate a combined youth policy that includes education and family policy, as well as for recreational time and participative activity (Hurrelmann & Quenzel, 2016; see also Atkinson, Guio, & Marlier; Packer, 2017, pp. 510–511; Jenkins, Clinton, Purushotma, Robison, & Weigel, 2006; Rideout & Katz, 2016; UNICEF, 2016, pp. 21–22).

As our longitudinal study makes very clear, even a child with traumatic experiences within relationally disturbed families may have the chance to develop competences for action if there is timely help from a socio-pedagogical support network. In this way, we can minimise the danger of reproducing the structures of social inequality in social practices (see UNICEF, 2016, p. 2; Wischmann, 2010, p. 79). To achieve sustainable changes, it is vital to improve the socio-economic and, with that, also the socio-emotional circumstances of socially disadvantaged families and their children. The children have to gain the latitude to develop their Eigensinn (self-will). That requires the overall social and political will and effort to recognise the situation in life of socially disadvantaged families, and hence the problems burdening them, so that we can find ways to enable children thus affected to participate fully in society.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of SalzburgSalzburgAustria
  2. 2.University of KlagenfurtKlagenfurtAustria
  3. 3.University of SalzburgSalzburgAustria

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