ICA 2023 Award Winners


The ICA Children, Adolescents, and Media Division is thrilled to congratulate the 2023 CAM Award Winners. The awards recognize some of the best scholarship and service contributions from its members. Learn more about the 2023 recipients of the top papers, top dissertation, best published article, engaged research, senior scholar, and top reviewer awards.

Top Paper – Meryl Alper

Associate Professor, Northeastern University

“‘I Get to Earn Screens, Which is Terrible’: Parental Mediation and the Family Context of Autistic Children’s Media Use”

Meryl AlperCongratulations on winning the Top Paper Award! Can you provide a brief summary of your key findings?
Thanks! This paper draws on material from my forthcoming book, Kids Across the Spectrums: Growing Up Autistic in the Digital Age, which will be published with MIT Press in August 2023. The book is specifically a study of what young people on the autism spectrum are doing with media and technology in their daily lives, and more broadly about what it means to be “social” with technology in a hypermediated society. Dominant ways of framing disability are often medical or rehabilitative in nature, so this book tries to draw attention to how these young people engage with media as kids, not just as students or patients.

In this paper, I explore one aspect of that usage, which is in the context of family life and how media and technology play a role in autistic children’s familial relationships. In the book, I talk about siblings too, but for this paper, I focused exclusively on parents and parental mediation theory. Specifically, through ethnographic research, I examined how parents of autistic children ages 3-13 engage in different forms of parental mediation that may be similar to caregivers of non-autistic children, but also important ways that can differ. One of those main divergences was in how strongly the language of behaviorism explicitly and implicitly infused these parents’ mediation practices (e.g., using media as a reward or to be withheld for a desired behavior). In this way, their approaches to media management did not neatly fit into parental mediation theory. I argue that this has implications for screen media guidance, as well as reconsiderations of parents as the sole driving force in mediation (as in many cases, therapists who regularly visited the home were a strong influence on how parents of children on the autism spectrum parented around media and technology.)

What was your most memorable experience while conducting this study, and why?
My brain works in a way where I can usually always remember something physically about each site visit that I make with families in their homes. It definitely makes writing ethnographic description easier! One of my more memorable interviews though was with the boy whose quote appears in the title of this paper (“I get to earn screens, which is terrible.”) In the quote, he is discussing his displeasure with his parents’ reward and reinforcement system for earning screen time, which his parents doled out in a very regimented manner. I really appreciated this 10-year-old’s candor.

What current research of yours are you most excited about, and why?
Lately, I’ve been doing some research that is a bit aged up to teenagers and young adults, focused on autistic TikTok (#autisktok), and how youth on the autism spectrum are using the app to engage in identity work, storytelling, and community building in ways that are quite different from other online spaces that they’ve had some access to in the past. I’m excited to bring together a team of neurotypical and neurodivergent researchers to do this collaborative work, and also to delve into specific topics related to mental health and well-being that emerge in the data.

Top Student-Led Paper – Matt Minich

Ph.D. Candidate, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Co-Author: Megan Moreno

“Real-World Adolescent Smartphone Use is Associated with Improvements in Mood: An Ecological Momentary Assessment Study”

Matt MinichCongratulations on winning the Top Student Paper Award! Can you provide a brief summary of your key findings?
We found that in the moment, smartphone use by adolescents has positive associations with mood. Surveyed using an EMA procedure, adolescents reported better moods when using their phones and tended to report that their moods improved while they were using their phones. This could mean that adolescents sometimes use their phones in order to manage or modify their moods, which is a component of behavioral addiction.

What was your most memorable experience while conducting this study, and why?
We found evidence for the initial finding of this study (moods were higher during phone use) almost immediately, but the finding that moods improved during phone use took some time to emerge. Once we found that — and tried every way to could to invalidate it as artifactual — we knew we had identified a robust and valid relationship. It was just another of many nights in front of the computer, but I’ll never forget how exciting it was to see converging pieces of evidence for that pattern in the data.

What current research of yours are you most excited about, and why?
I’m currently working with my co-author (Dr. Megan Moreno) to develop another EMA procedure for a large longitudinal study on adolescent social media use. That study will track adolescent participants for two years—measuring their social media posting behavior, their browsing behavior (via EMA), and their neural responses to certain relevant tasks (using fMRI). To say I’m excited about that project is an understatement!

Top Dissertation – Sarah Devos

Postdoctoral Researcher, KU Leuven

“Unraveling Success Stories in Media: An Exploration of Their Manifestations in Popular (Social) Media and Their Effects on Adolescent Development”

Sarah DevosCongratulations on winning the Top Dissertation Award! Can you provide a brief summary of your key findings?
Thank you, I am very happy to have received this award! In my dissertation, I explored the role of mediated success stories on adolescents’ own success cognitions and mental well-being. Mediated success stories are said to reflect modern society’s conventional ideas of success, meaning that they advocate the idea that anyone can be successful through hard work and effort. Since young people regularly consume media, they supposedly are frequently exposed to such success stories. Using content analytical research, I first examine how both social and traditional media articulate success stories. Afterwards, I conducted a number of effects studies to examine the long-term (i.e., cross-sectional and longitudinal studies) and short-term (i.e., experimental and diary studies) effects of such stories on adolescents’ success cognitions and well-being.

The results of these studies revealed that content promoting Western values of success are prevalent in traditional as well as social media and seem to have an impact on adolescents’ success cognitions. Adolescents were more likely to believe that success is the result of their own efforts if they were more frequently exposed to success stories in both traditional and social media. They also had greater confidence in their own capacities to become successful immediately after exposure to such stories. Some adolescents seemed to benefit from these perceptions and felt more determined achieve their goals. Other adolescents, on the other hand, seemed to struggle with this success-oriented mindset due to the continuous pressure to perform. Hence, mediated success stories seemed to be empowering for some adolescents, but had serious drawbacks for others.

What was your most memorable experience while conducting your dissertation/doing your Ph.D. as it relates to children and media research, and why was it so memorable?
For me, the most memorable experience during my Ph.D. was conducting an experiment together with Erica Scharrer (co-author). We wanted to expose adolescents to narratives in television series that suggest that academic performance can change with hard work and effort (i.e., malleability narrative) compared to narratives that focus on inability to change academic performances (i.e., fixed narrative). However, as it was quite challenging to find the exact narratives we were looking for, we decided to make such narratives ourselves through editing clips of existing television series and manipulating the subtitles. I really enjoyed the process as this was a chance for me to get really creative. We were all proud of how the design of the experiment turned out and, and to top it off, the results confirmed our hypotheses, making it a resounding success. And, of course, winning this award also stands out as one of the most memorable experiences of my Ph.D. journey.

If you had to give one piece of advice to young CAM scholars, what would it be?
A piece of advice I would like to give for young scholars is to stay curious and keep an open mind. Don’t be afraid to explore new ideas and perspectives, and always be willing to learn from others. Additionally, seek out opportunities for collaboration, as they can provide valuable guidance and support throughout your academic journey.

Best Published Article – Devina Sarwatay

Ph.D. Candidate, University of Hyderabad

Co-Author: Usha Raman

“Everyday Negotiations in Managing Presence: Young People and Social Media in India,” Information, Communication & Society

Devina SarwatayCongratulations on winning the Best Published Article Award! Can you provide a brief summary of your key findings?
Thank you so much! This article is a step towards contributing to the steadily growing literature from the Global South regarding young people’s digital cultures that helps us unpack how children and adolescents from countries like India use platforms and technologies not originally built for their contexts. We argue that young people (10-18 years in this study) live in a digitally connected world and demonstrate agency in navigating their social media lives even as complexities of parental mediation and school life moderate their interactions. Foregrounding young people’s voices to understand how to negotiate access, manage privacy and safety, and develop skills to solve problems can significantly aid digital and social media literacy efforts, parental advisories, and policymaking. This article not only foregrounds young people’s voices about their social media lives in India, but also offers insights into their management of access including aspects of privacy and safety on social media as well as negotiations of self-presentation, identity management, and problem solving skills. The key takeaway is that young people will lead active social media lives and it is important to start having conversations with them regarding their online engagement early on such that literacy efforts can recognise their agency to diversify and learn from their lives with/in social media. The article offers some insights into the complex contexts within which young people interact with digital tools as they enter into everyday negotiations with parental authority as they balance education, leisure, peer relationships and life aspirations.

What was your most memorable experience while conducting this study, and why?
This article is based on the doctoral research of Devina Sarwatay supervised by Prof. Usha Raman at the Department of Communication, University of Hyderabad, India. As is the case with most doctoral projects, we also had our share of adventures in this one. The most memorable experience has to be during fieldwork when we managed to lean on our communities and complete data collection with their support before the initial lockdowns came into effect. Additionally, our collaboration worked splendidly and we put this article together in the middle of the pandemic! All of this fills us with gratitude and winning the award is the cherry on top; we could not have asked for a better response to all our hard work; thank you, again.

What current research of yours are you most excited about, and why?
We’re going to be part of an international team that will be dabbling in generative AI and digital creativity in the Global South and need we say more about why it’s exciting?!

Engaged Scholar – Vikki Katz

Professor, Chapman University

Vikki KatzCongratulations on winning the Engaged Scholar Award! Can you provide a brief summary about how your work has contributed to CAM research through community-engaged scholarship?
Thank you! I am so grateful for this honor. My core question is: how do diverse children and families collaborate to learn about and with digital technologies? I’ve examined how experiences vary among families headed by immigrant parents, lower-income families of all racial/ethnic backgrounds, and working-class families across the U.S. and in communities in six states. A major focus of my work has been digital inequality. Lower-income and minority families are disproportionately likely to be under-connected, and that results in children growing up with less access to learning opportunities than their more privileged peers.

Digital inequality is a newer and less entrenched form of inequality than, say, inequities in health care access—so there are many more avenues immediately available for reducing and resolving it. And because of that, I’ve had wonderful opportunities to engage with stakeholder communities that include federal and state policymakers, producers of high-quality media for children (including PBS and Sesame Workshop), and school district superintendents, educators, and parents. Sometimes engaged scholarship has meant co-development of research designs and objectives with stakeholder communities; other times, it has meant translating findings into formats and frames that stakeholders can easily use to serve young people.

What has been your most memorable experience while conducting engaged research, and why?
Can I cheat and give you two?

On the “big P” policy side, it was briefing U.S. Congress members and staffers in the Library of Congress, after the “Opportunity for All?” report was released. That was definitely a moment when I looked around and thought: Wow, it is a LONG way from where I grew up (in Johannesburg, South Africa) to standing in this place!

On the “small P” policy side, it was working with the wonderful leaders of the Chula Vista Elementary School District (near San Diego, in California) and its largely immigrant Latino parent population to co-develop an app that would better connect families with their children’s schools. There’s a lovely write-up on that process here for the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, my partner on that project.

If you had to give one piece of advice to young CAM scholars, what would it be?
If you want to conduct research that can impact policymaking, which could mean a school district’s superintendent or a state governor, the most important thing I’ve learned is this: Decisionmakers trust numbers, but they remember stories.

What do I mean by that? For a policymaker to commit resources (people, time, money) to a new initiative, your evidence must show them how many people are affected by a problem. For me, that has usually meant a representative survey of the population of interest. But the numbers are much more likely to drive decisionmakers to action when combined with qualitative data that showcases how that problem affects specific kids, specific families. So I would encourage CAM scholars who want to do this kind of engaged work to think creatively about mixing research methods in order to provide stakeholders both the breadth and depth they need to make decisions that make the world better and easier for young people to live in.

Senior Scholar – Erica Scharrer

Professor, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Erica ScharrerCongratulations on winning the Senior Scholar Award! Can you provide a brief summary of how your work has evolved over your years in CAM?
Thank you so much, and what an honor! I am thrilled and so very grateful. Deepest thanks to my nominator and to the selection committee.

One of the main threads of my CAM work takes shape through a long-term community-engaged research project in media literacy and it has both evolved and stayed the same, in different ways. It includes the same school and some of the same teachers, has always focused on 11- and 12-year-old students, and has been in place for a long time. But it has changed in terms of topic/focus as different pressing questions arise. For instance, this year, we are focusing on personalized ads online and influencer marketing in our media literacy work, two important aspects of digital marketing. It has also changed in terms of methodology. Over the years, I’ve focused more and more on qualitative methods with a smaller group of early adolescents compared to quantitative or mixed methods approaches with a larger group. Making this change was partly pragmatic: juggling multiple schools and many, many early adolescents became too unwieldy, and I thought it was better to focus on a lasting partnership with one school. But part of it is that although I was trained quantitatively and like to use both set of methods, I very much appreciate the ways that qualitative methods can bring out the nuances and complexities of young people’s thinking about media.

What is your favorite piece of CAM-related scholarship that you have published, and why?
I‘m going to go way back to one of the first media literacy studies that I published, a piece titled “I Noticed More Violence”: The Effects of a Media Literacy Program on Attitudes toward Media Violence” published in 2006 in Journal of Mass Media Ethics. Although I am a firm believer in mixed methods (see above), it’s one of the rare times that I actually pulled off combining a pre-post, control group vs. treatment group design with the thematic analysis of students’ responses to a prompt inviting them to critically analyze a cartoon clip with violence. The mixing of the quant. and the qual. helped strengthen the study, in my opinion. And I also appreciated the opportunity to explore the conceptual links between media literacy and ethics, especially the ethics of media creators and industries. 

I’m also happy with my much more recent pieces with a wonderful group of graduate student collaborators/co-authors, such as our recent articles in International Journal of Communication and in The Communication Review stemming from our media literacy work with Grade 6 students on gender representation in the media. Not only was the collaboration really meaningful and fun, but I think that it’s difficult to find a topic in media studies that is more important than representation and it was very cool to see the ways that our group of early adolescents considered gender, a concept that is certainly shifting in important ways in society. 

If you had to give one piece of advice to young CAM scholars, what would it be?
I would say to pursue the questions that you think are the most vital for society and, for those in academic settings who find themselves in a stable employment scenario and therefore with the “luxury” of thinking outside of academic reward structures, consider ways to make your work have an impact in the world. This advice might seem obvious, and, indeed, many CAM scholars—both inside and outside of academic settings–are already doing this. (It’s one of the things that I love about CAM.) But for me, since I’ve always been in academia as a CAM scholar, it hasn’t always been obvious because academic reward structures and logics can be all-consuming.

Top Reviewer – Anne-Linda Camerini

Lecturer and Researcher, Università della Svizzera italiana

Anne-Linda CameriniCongratulations on winning the Top Reviewer Award! If you had to give one piece of advice to CAM members on how to provide top reviews, what would it be?
When reviewing others’ submissions, think about the feedback you wish to get from them on your submission(s). This feedback should be kind and constructive to support submitters in revising their work for the presentation at ICA conference or, if not accepted, for another conference or journal submission. I very much appreciate the best practice guidelines provided by ICA and invite all, from young to experienced scholars, to keep them in mind when reviewing.

What would be your reviewer motto?
Critique with kindness.

If you had to give one piece of advice to young CAM scholars submitting to ICA next year, what would it be?
I very much look forward to next year’s ICA conference in Australia, where we couldn’t meet in person in 2020 due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. To young CAM scholars who may not yet have a fully developed manuscript, I suggest submitting to the Research Escalators Sessions to present less developed research and get feedback from experts in the CAM community. And although Australia is not around the corner for most of us, if funding is available, I warmly suggest attending the conference in person to network and learn from other scholars during informal talks between the sessions.