Family ties

Gustav Borgen [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

For my final post, I was looking for research and articles that might discuss the links between generational attributes and the popular culture of that generation. However, there doesn’t seem to be much literature to support broad sweeping statements about the media consumption of an entire generation, or evidence that the rebellious rejection of parental values is common adolescent behaviour. Instead, I found studies showing that adolescents are influenced largely by their parents tastes in music, reading and television viewing, and that these preferences can either impact or be mitigated by education.

A study about intergenerational media habits (Notten, Kraaykamp & Konig 2012) found that the reading habits of parents’ influences the habits of their children. Unintentional influence occurs through exposure – children who see their parents reading highbrow material are more likely to also read high brow books as teens and adults, and children who seen their parents reading more low brow material are more likely to read low brow material as teens and adults. However, it seems to be the intentional influence that really makes a difference. Parents who, regardless of their own reading preferences, encourage their children to read, create an enduring influence on their children who are more likely to achieve academic success and read highbrow material as teens and adults.

The same study (Notten, Kraaykamp & Konig 2012) found a slightly opposite effect with regard to television viewing habits. Although the children of parents who mostly watched highbrow content also tended to watch highbrow content as teens and adults, and the same occurred in families that mainly watched lowbrow television content, the best predictor of television viewing habits was educational level achieved. So, unlike reading, where the parental influence leads to improved educational outcomes and reading habits, the converse is true for television. All intentional and unintentional parental influences are mitigated by the child’s educational influences. Another interesting finding was that, if parents do not discuss or critique the television shows they are watching, their children assume that their parents approve of or agree with the contents. This highlights a need for parents to avoid mindless consumption of either high or lowbrow media, and be sure to share their opinions and values about the content with their children.

Similar intergenerational continuity studies show that music preferences of the parents also influence children (ter Bogt, Delsing, van Zalk, Christenson & Meeus 2011). Rather than the stereotypical notion of adolescents rebelling against their parents and society at large through their choices in music, this study found that, for the current generation of adolescents and their parents at least, the broad genres that were preferred by the parents (rock, pop, classical, country, jazz, etc) were largely preferred by their children also. It was acknowledged that these are the first two generations to have relatively consistent genres of music where these comparisons could be made. Of course the artists, songs and sub genres will change in each generation, but in general, the authors found the music people listen to in their adolescence and early adulthood is what they continue to like best into their adulthood, and tends to influence their children’s preferences even into adolescence and adulthood.

Interestingly, while different music types were linked with varying educational levels for the parents’ generation, this distinction no longer exists for the current teenagers in the study. In fact, the findings suggested that the more highly educated adolescents of this current generation have broader tastes in music than their parents, and are able to appreciate multiple genres such as classical, pop and rock, at the same time.

Although neither of these studies took into account peer influence on adolescent popular culture preferences, they both showed much stronger links to parental and educational influences than I expected. The idea of teenagers embracing popular culture that shocks and challenges their parents, as an act of rebellion and to develop their own individuality, might not be as wide spread as I’d thought.



Notten, N., Kraaykamp, & Konig, R. P. (2012). Family media matters: Unravelling the intergenerational transmission of reading and television tastes. Sociological Perspectives, 55(4), 683-706. doi:

ter Bogt, T., Delsing, M., van Zalk, M., Christenson, P., Meeus, W. (2011). Intergenerational continuity of taste: Parental and adolescent music preferences. Social Forces, 90(1), 297-319.



Keeping them entertained

While I’ve been reading about the use of popular culture to make curriculum more appealing to young people, I’ve also started noticing that there is a lot of youth and popular culture that exploits educational elements in its endeavors to reach an audience.

In the Tobuscus song above, he teaches Timmy to create a viral video, with the instruction to make it educational so parents will let kids watch it. However, the role of educational content does seem to go beyond just appealing to the parents. Instead, it leverages our intrinsic motivation to learn for the purposes of increasing the entertainment value

Unlike edutainment, where the primary objective is learning, and the entertainment is introduced to help achieve that learning, there are many creators around whose objective is entertainment first, and the educational content is really the means of achieving that.

Horrible Histories author Terry Deary considers himself as an entertainer rather than an historian, who thinks that schools and public libraries should be closed down. Yet his success is derived from the educational value of his material. This is in contrast with the creators of Sesame Street, who were trying to use the power of television to achieve positive objectives such as preparing children for school.

Similarly, it is unlikely that the creators of Epic Rap Battles of History were intending to provide any genuine educational value with their battles between Batman and Sherlock Holmes. However, 15 of the 20 most viewed videos featuring historical or political figures, rather than just fictional characters and pop stars, so it is clear that the academic material must appeal to their audience.

A similar pattern can be seen with popular satirical news programs. In the US, Stephen Colbert and  John Stewart (until recently leaving) were popular and trusted sources of political news. In Australia, shows such as “The Weekly” with Charlie Pickering and Shaun Micallef’s “Mad as Hell” are also popular. All of these hosts are comedians. Charlie Pickering and Shaun Micallef have legal backgrounds, but left law to take up careers in comedy. None of them were aspiring journalists who discovered that comedy helped them to deliver their news to a wider audience. They all discovered that they could use the news to extend the reach of their comedy.

Being a non-teacher who spends a lot of time listening to discussions about student’s lack of intrinsic motivation, and their desire to just “get their bit of paper and graduate”, it sometimes starts to feel that learning is such a negative experience for many people, adults and children, that they have to be tricked into it. However, if we were so adverse to learning, there would be no audience for these comedians and entertainers who introduce academic content into their material.

While some speak of “education as a bitter medicine that needs the sugar-coating of entertainment to become palatable“, I also think that education is the fibre that makes the entertainment more satisfying.

Youth culture, education and copyright.

Copyright on the penguin photo used in Socially Awkward Penguin meme is owned by National Geographic. This meme was created by someone else (not me) at and is embedded in this page.

Earlier this year, a great post appeared on Buzzfeed about a broken door at a German university, and the fantastic student meme response that resulted from it. Memes are recommended for classroom teachers to make classroom rules more fun, or to open up discussions about the units of work, and to connect with students. There are various examples around of using memes almost like flash cards to help with their own learning, including Danielle Henderson’s Feminist Ryan Gosling tumblr site that helped her reinforce the academic concepts that she was learning about, and went on to be featured on many websites, magazines and news sites, and nominated for a Young Adult Library Association award. Coding and decoding memes has its own set of rules and is an important digital literacy for engaging in many online conversations around politics and current affairs.

This suggests that it is a good thing for students to use memes for the purpose of their formal and informal learning. Unfortunately, meme creation is not necessarily  allowed under Australian copyright laws. Under these laws, users need to obtain the original author or creator’s permission, unless the work is covered by fair dealing laws (ACC, 2014). Most instances of meme use in a classroom would be covered by fair dealing, as they are being used for educational purposes. My first example – the memes about the broken door – although being produced in an educational institution, are not being created for study or research purposes, however they are satirical and therefore may be covered by fair dealing (if something similar happened in Australia).

However, what happens when students do create something for study or research purposes, but then want to share it? For example, do the images I’ve used in this blog breach copyright? While I am allowed to make a copy of them for study or research purposes,   this assessment piece is posted on a public blog and I would be breaching copyright if I had made copies of the images. Fortunately, I’ve embedded most of them, effectively linking to them, which is allowed. The few that I have uploaded were allowed under creative commons licenses. Do young people understand the difference?

Each year in New South Wales, a selection of the student artworks for the higher school certificate are exhibited in galleries around the state through Art Express. Appropriation, derivative and mashup artworks are important art genres, especially for the purposes of reimagining popular culture through different racial, gender or other sociocultural perspectives. While year 12 students are covered by fair dealing in the creation of their artworks for assessment, if they are fortunate enough to be chosen for the Art Express exhibitions, they are required to seek permission from the original creators of any artworks they’ve used.

One way of teaching students about copyright is to encourage the use of creative commons material. This method was used in a workshop teaching Australian preservice media teachers about copyright, after they’d spent some time learning about what could and couldn’t be done by their potential students under fair dealing laws. Interestingly, locating appropriate creative commons material took so much time that seeking copyright owner’s permission and potentially paying to use the material might have been more efficient.

This suggests that teaching students about copyright is important, but extremely difficult. In education, the lines between formal and informal learning are blurring, yet what is legal for students to do inside and outside the classroom are quite different. Leaked documents about the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement suggest that copyright will become even more restrictive when it is introduced, with many advocacy groups such as the Australian Society of  Archivists and Choice concerned about the implications.

However challenging, young people do need to understand how copyright affects them in their academic and personal lives. Otherwise, they will almost inevitably, though inadvertently, be breaking the law if they apply the same principles they learn in school to their real life situations.

In the presence of a responsible adult

Finally, a lie too big. Gif found here, and presumably copyright BBC

I remember learning a lot about the human condition and the type of person that I wanted to be from the books I was reading in my youth. Judy Blume, Margaret Atwood, Jane Austen, Elizabeth Jolley, Isabell Allende, Jean M. Auel (don’t judge me!) – I look back and see tale after tale of strong women.

So in this blog post I wanted to see who the male equivalents are for today’s youth. Of course I know about Peeta and Gale from the Hunger Games trilogy, but I’m interested in knowing who else is out there that represent strong, inspirational ideas of masculinity.

According to this article in the LA Review, a lot of young adult fiction is about males rejecting power, success, or the other trappings of white male privilege. Like the author, I’m not sure whether this is a good thing. At the end of the Hunger Games, I was glad that Katniss and Peeta ended up together, but a bit disappointed that they went and hid out on a farm, scarred and scared by their pasts. Surely adult males can be in positions of power and be good people?

Scrolling through all of the rebuttals to the argument above in the blogosphere, which were really just endless lists of books with a male protagonist, there was a comment on this piece that encouraged me:

“Where are the examples of young men who take advantage of the social power offered them by virtue of their gender and then use it for good? I don’t think she’s saying that she wants society to revert to 19th century gender roles; she’s saying what if my kids *want* to be CEO’s or politicians? Where are the books that tell them it’s not inherently wrong to be a man in a position of social power? Where are the books that show men in these positions being kind and charitable and hardworking? (Really, though, she should have acknowledged that there aren’t many books out there that show people of any gender in power behaving well. In fiction, power usually corrupts.)”

So, perhaps the challenge is to find instances of any adults behaving well. My knowledge of YA fiction is pretty narrow – I’ve read the Hunger Games, I saw Divergent, and I love Neil Gaiman, but that’s about it. However, even in those limited texts, I can’t think of any adults that make a really good role model. Tris’s mother and father made a fairly good impression, but they were both in the Abnegation faction, again suggesting that you can’t be in a position of power and be good.

Dredging through my memories, the only positive adults in the books specifically written for teens that I can think of are the “inspirational teacher” characters – Dumbledore, Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society, etc, who are at least in positions to influence others.

For some time now, it seems that parents were either bad, absent, or dead in YA fiction, and it turns out that writing parents into YA fiction is quite tricky. However, apparently with the rise of reality fiction, present and involved parents are making a bit of a comeback. According to this article, John Greene didn’t consider parents to be important to the plot of his novels until he became one himself.

I was able to find a few more blog posts on the topic of parents in YA fiction (but surprisingly few scholarly articles) some of which are listed below. However, I’ve struggled to find anything on adults as role models in YA fiction, which is possibly more to do with my search techniques than anything else – (Adults AND Young Adult fiction seem to cancel each other out). Hopefully, some of the new “parent” characters will be three dimensional enough to have successful or at least satisfying careers, contribute to social change, and be present and supportive of their children.

Other blogs discussing the representation of parents in YA fiction:



What to watch?

Working in an academic library, our collection development policies are driven by the teaching and research needs of the university. This provides some pretty clear guidelines to select within, and there is only a small amount of discretionary selecting done for non-scholarly resources.

I was walking past the trolleys of returned material recently and, slightly smugly, noticed the movie “Elephant” waiting to be reshelved. When I first came to the library  where I work in 2005, I was a Library Assistant in the Acquisitions section. One day I was doing the invoices for a box of DVDs that had just arrived and was despairing at the titles the AV Librarian had been selecting. I don’t remember what they were, but they weren’t anything a self-respecting 19 or 20 year old university student would be watching, unless they were taking it home to spend some quality time with mum for Mother’s Day.

As a Library Assistant, I wasn’t supposed to select material myself, and only the AV Librarian was allowed to order DVDs. But, feeling brave, I sneaked in orders for a couple of DVDs that I personally liked. I ordered “Elephant“, “Ghost in the Shell” and “Amores Perros“. I figured that I could put a related-to-curriculum spin on my actions if I was found out. However, I never did have to justify myself to anyone, and subsequently saw my little contribution to the Library’s collection go into reasonably high circulation. I felt like a proud parent when I became an Information Librarian a couple of years later and helped students coming in looking for manga videos.

Now, after 10 years living in a regional town that is 3 hours away from the nearest art house cinema, with two young boys who influence the small amount of movie viewing I do get time for, I would be hard pressed to select movies any better than the ones the poor AV Librarian did back then. So now I’m interested in whether there are any best practices here.

Browsing through a book on the subject “Developing Library Collections for Today’s Young Adults” (2013) the focus was on books, and generally referred to publishers lists, or subscription journals of reviews. I was surprised – for a fairly recent book I’d expected some mention of social media or sites such as Good Reads, but didn’t find it.

I also had a look at the collection development policies for some public libraries, for example this one from Coffs Harbour, whose criteria for selection of Young Adult Books are”
  • Literary merit,
  • award winners,
  • best sellers
  • Imaginative and original writing
  • Well sustained plot with effective characterisation
  • Australian authors
  • Current reading trends
  • Attractive physical presentation
  • titles listed in the Premier’s Reading Challenge.

And even though there is a lot of information on the Library’s website for teens, there is nowhere they (or any other patrons) are invited to suggest new material.

I’m  not feeling that these are going to help me discover what movies we should be purchasing to appeal to the young adults coming through our library.

So, instead, I’m going to set myself an exercise and see whether I can come up with some good practices myself.

An obvious choice would be to ask students to nominate titles, but this can be difficult. At the moment we are working on developing a library at our new campus due to open next year, so we are holding a competition asking the students to place suggestions. This is taking a lot of work and resources, and we are getting only minimal engagement. This doesn’t surprise me, university students are notoriously time poor and we are in the middle of major assignment period, so things like this are just a distraction.

I’ve been referring to Common Sense Media to check the appropriateness of movies for my children. I suspected it would be a bit young for the age groups that I’m hypothetically purchasing for, but I was able to limit my search to movies recommended for 17 or 18 year olds, and then sort by the highest ranking. After scrolling through pages and pages of horror movies and block busters, “Zero Dark Thirty” seemed to be the only one that had any scholarly value and a high ranking. On closer look though, all of the young people doing reviews were around 14 and 15, so I can’t regard Common Sense Media as useful for this purpose.

Mark Furnell is the movie reviewer on Triple J, so I had a browse around on his site. It turns out that you have to listen to each of his reviews to hear his rating. After listening to a few, I’ve decided to purchase “Paper Towns“. He gave it 4 out of 5 stars, and although I’d thought it was more geared towards high school students, Mark advises that it pulls apart lots of young adult movie cliches, especially the Manic Pixi Girl trope, so it might be of value to the English and Theatre Media students.

Googling “Cannes Film Festival”, I skipped the official website and went to the Guardian’s complete list for 2015, where the face of Amy Winehouse filled my screen. Now, I remember Amanda Palmer raving about the “Amy” documentary earlier this year – although neither of these ladies would be contemporaries of the 19 year olds I’m purchasing for. However I’m going to take a chance that they’d be interested in Amy Winehouse’s life, in the same way that I was interested in the documentaries of the musicians that were slightly ahead of my age group.

Finally, I Googled “Best films of the last 10 years”, which resulted in so many lists that I gave up on my experiment. I’m very concerned that I’ve only got three movies and no diversity whatsoever. Some of the lists of best films looked quite good, and if pressed I would probably work through them as they did tend to display a bit of multiculturalism. The trouble is that I couldn’t determine the demographic of the people curating the lists or the readers of the website. Without knowing this, I wouldn’t feel confident that these are the movies that would resonate with young adults.

So, I’ve concluded that it is lucky that I’m no longer working in Acquisitions, and that I’m not employed at a public or school library. Looking through the lists, I don’t even recognise most of the directors and actors. And I suspect that, once you are out of touch, it takes a lot of effort to rebuild that knowledge. I have a lot more sympathy now for the AV Librarian back then, but I’m also going to talk to our current Acquisitions staff and ensure they are utilising the knowledge and opinions of the younger Library staff that we have.


Pattee, A. (2013) Developing Library Collections for Today’s Young Adults. Scarecrow Press

It takes a village…

Left 4 Notch 4: Blood on my Chunks by on @DeviantArt

“It takes a village to raise a child” African Proverb. 

My children have far too much screen time, and I’m not sorry.

I have two boys who over the past couple of years have spent a lot of their time either playing video games, or watching Youtubers play video games. At first I tried to limit this screen time. The oldest was on a reasonably strict diet of no more than 2 hours, with regular breaks. When he started playing Minecraft, it took him months to convince me to let him play online, and then I only let him join a server with strict family friendly policies, drilled him on the rules of not giving too much information to strangers, hovered around reading all of his chats over his shoulder, and constantly emphasised the need to be a good digital citizen. I believe this approach paid off, he behaves well and responsibly online, and appreciates everything he earns or is given.

However, as is often the burden of the older child, his little brother had a much easier ride. By this time I was too tired to argue, or to enforce my own rules, so younger brother was joining any server he wanted, engaging in Hunger Games events and other survival games. Unlike his older brother, who had been forced to play offline for months, during which he had developed his skills at mining, building, and finding food, younger brother just wandered around asking random strangers if he could live in their house, use their equipment or have their food. To my horror, I was raising a couch surfing freeloader.

Fortunately, my fears were unfounded. While he did have plenty of assistance from the other players, they were also quick to tell him when he was overstepping the boundaries. Occasionally he would come to me in tears because he’d been suspended from a server for bad behaviour. Over time, I started noticing that he was building more and more, going to Youtube for help and instruction when he needed it. Having already learnt that my youngest preferred to figure things out for himself (he hated being read to as a toddler, and I’m pretty sure he taught himself to read specifically so that he could play video games), this connected learning experience was perfect for him. Certainly the suspensions were a lot more effective at teaching him how to behave online than any thing I could have done.

As older child has progressed onto World of Warcraft and other multiplayer games, he’s been showing me Youtube videos like The Top 10 ways to suck at World of Warcraft, that are essentially etiquette guides to the games.

As well as these, the various other Youtubers post series like Draw my Life, sharing their experiences and celebrating their geekness, which I find a refreshing change from the cult of sport or pop stars. Many of the Youtube stars that my boys watch raise money for charities such as Save the Children or Comic Relief, are very careful about copyright – acknowledging when they can’t show or play part of a game to avoid breaching it, or sharing their experiences of being cyberbullied or trolled while online.

I’m actually quite happy to have my children exposed to these funny, intelligent and supportive communities. They are not perfect, often swearing a lot or demonstrating questionable good taste, and the advertising and product placement in some videos can be extreme. Yet there are also positive adult behaviours and relationships being modeled in ways that my introverted, anti-socialness does not provide, and I believe both boys benefit from this.