Department of Communication Studies
University of Michigan-Flint
What has been your most memorable project so far?
I worked with a school district in Genesee County in Michigan to develop media literacy tools to help parents navigate their children’s media use in the home. It felt wonderful to provide something that the community needed using my expertise that could have an immediate impact. And it showed me how hard it is for school districts to find reliable guidance on this topic. I provided guidance for young children, but they still desperately wanted information for adolescents and specifically sought out advice on applications that could help them with mediation at the touch of a button. Although I did not provide them with that, it definitely made me realize there is a big need in our communities for reliable resources based on a solid empirical background. I met with the superintendent’s office as well as several teachers from the district to help craft what they needed. Talking with the school district and collecting some survey data from parents helped me understand the intricacies of what they needed as well as what they did not know yet about media impact on children who are still developing. I ended up making videos with an accompanying brochure that pertain to children in several different developmental stages. I focused on young children from 0-2, 2-5, and 5-8 years of age. The content contains infromation about cognitive development, preferences for play and media, typical impacts from the media, and recommendations for media rules or strategies for parental mediation. I used several sources from this division to help me put together these materials.
The following link has videos and brochures.
Which achievement are you most proud of, and why?
I work on a research team with Dr. Jayson Dibble (Hope College) and Dr. Tilo Hartmann (VU University Amsterdam). We published an article in Human Communication Research about conceptual clarification of parasocial interaction and parasocial relationships. This piece got a top paper award from the Mass Communication Division of the National Communication Association.
What is an important question from parents and practitioners that we as academics
cannot provide a good answer to yet?
Which YouTube channels are bad for my children? Although we are learning more about children’s exposure to YouTube and how it impacts them every year, it is a large hill to climb. There are so many options for children to select from, it is harder for parents to monitor what channels their child watches, and there are no reliable ratings.
What would be your work motto?
Steady and persistant with a dash of passion wins the race.
Which of your publications is your favorite, and why?
My master’s thesis. It was a labor of love. My research goal has always been to understand the utility of parasocial relationships. I specifically focused on maltreated children in this study because they are vulnerable and have few options for nurturance. I wondered if media personae provide any benefit to them. Although I did not work directly with the participants because of privacy needs, the perspective I gained from seeing the protections they received from social services as well as the answers they provided on the survey, catapulted my interest in the role parasocial relationships play in the lives of people who approach relationships in a variety of different ways based on their varied past. This resulted in later work on how parasocial connections are an extension of our interpersonal relationships and follow some standard pathways when looking at variabes like attachment bonds.
If you had unlimited resources, what kind of project would you want to do and why?
I would love to write a children’s book like “Teddy’s TV Troubles” by Joanne Cantor. This book was written so children could learn to cope with frightening images on television. I like the idea of writing a book like this that could be read by a variety of people to help children understand how to navigate the media. I would want the book to work for parents and teachers alone as a tool as well as something parents and teachers could read to a child or a child could read on their own. Ideally it would incorporate parasocial connections in order for them to learn a media literacy skill. In this day and age it might be best if the book centered on YouTube channels and how children can navigate them.
If you had to give one piece of advice to young CAM scholars, what would it be?
I met wonderful research partners at conferences. In fact, I met Nancy Jennings at ICA and now we work on a team together. We are working on a fascinating project about how much children trust media personae of different races and how that can impact their comfort level around children in their real life of the same race. In fact, the paper will be presented at NCA this coming November. The opportunity to work with someone like Nancy would never have presented itself unless I met her at a conference. Building connections in an area I am passionate about has helped me build teams where I get to work on projects that are something I could not do on my own.
Brad Bond would like to know how you’re balancing your scholarship with your role as department chair?
I started as department chair just before the pandemic hit, so my experience is unique to right now. Regardless, I have a few projects I am working on and I am making progress, but using the summer wisely has always been the way that I meet my research goals. As department chair and during this pandemic, this remains the case. I am learning a new lesson in how to say no, what I said no to was different pre-tenure and pre-chair. It is easy to let service responsibilities take over your time but keeping a balance between all aspects of my academic career (teaching, research, and service) has always been my strategy to have the career I want. I work at a regional comprehensive university with a larger teaching load and once you take on any administrative responsibility your time gets very tight. You have to make decisions that allow you to have the job you like, rather than saying yes to all the opportunities that come from the administrative role. One of things that I struggle with the most is that I care deeply about my university and so I tend to say yes too much. However, I am of the most benefit to everyone if I say no sometimes.
Who would you like to put in the spotlight next, and why?
Dr. Meryl Alper, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Northeastern University. Her research on children with disabilities is fascinating and she offers a unique perspective given her decade working in the children’s media industry.