Senior Lecturer in Media & Communications
Culture and Communication
University of Melbourne, Australia
What are you currently working on?
Within the CAM areas, I am currently working on projects involving digital youth and their parents in multiple countries – Australia, China, Singapore, and the USA. My ongoing projects include (1) Australian parents’ discussion-based mediation of social media newsfeed advertising, (2) Chinese and American teen social media users’ information management on video-sharing mobile apps and the role of parental mediation, (3) Gen Z Instagram users’ responses to data-driven personalized advertising in Australia, and (4) the roles of parents, teachers, and friends in children’s online risk-taking behaviors in Singapore. Outside the CAM areas, I am undertaking several projects on COVID-19 as many other scholars in the world would do now, including Instagram users’ emotional responses to influencer marketing during the pandemic and Asian Australians’ trust in diverse media platforms as COVID-19 information sources.
What has been your most memorable project so far, and why?
All my projects involving children and parents are memorable, but the most memorable one is my PhD dissertation research. That was my very first research project focusing on children and parental mediation. It examined the role of parental mediation in Korean children’s responses to online advertising, which was considered a fairly new topic when I embarked on my dissertation journey in 2009. At that time, little was known about children’s interactions with digital advertising and what parents could do about it. As an emerging scholar, I was quite excited about exploring the new realm and had an ambitious data collection plan, which required international travels between Minnesota and Korea and multiple cold callings to, and meetings with, school teachers in Korea. Being a graduate student with little money and no RAs or collaborators, it was extremely challenging to conduct paper-and-pencil surveys with children aged 9-12 and their parents. I visited 14 classrooms at six elementary schools in five different cities to conduct in-class surveys with about 500 children. Then, I returned to those schools to collect about 400 parent take-home survey questionnaires. Manually entering all survey data into my laptop was another task to talk about! It was a lot of work, for sure. At the same time, the entire process was exceedingly rewarding. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting with kids, learning about their experiences as internet users and consumers, and understanding the unprecedented challenges that parents had to deal with in the rapidly changing media and marketing environment. The joy of research that I experienced 12 years ago still motivates my research on children and parents living in the commercialized media environment.
Which achievement are you most proud of, and why?
While I am proud of a number of grant projects and papers published in academic journals, the achievement that I am most proud of is my co-authored book “Screen-Obsessed: Parenting in the Digital Age” (World Scientific Publishing,2019). In my field of research (quantitative communication and marketing research) and where I was trained as a scholar (USA and Singapore), journal articles tend to be considered the gold standard and monographs are relatively rare. Therefore, writing a book was a daunting task to me. I was fortunate to have my long-time collaborator Dr. May O. Lwin (Nanyang Technological University) who was willing to take on the new journey with me to write one of the first books focusing solely on parental mediation. The book reflects key insights we gained from 10 years of research on parental mediation and our shared views on effective parenting that can help children successfully navigate through the rapidly changing media world. We dedicated the book to our children – my son Andy and May’s daughters Kayla and Sabelle – who continue to inspire our research on youth, media, and parental mediation.
What is an important question from parents and practitioners that we as academics cannot provide a good answer to yet?
I don’t think we have a clear answer to the question of “how new forms of digital advertising affect children and what parents can do about it.” I would like to see more research on children’s responses to and interactions with covert advertising and the role of parents. Compared to research focusing on parental mediation of children’s media use, research examining parental mediation of covert advertising such as native advertising, personalize social media newsfeed advertising, online behavioral advertising, and influencer marketing is still scant. Given that advertisers increasingly implement covert advertising by blurring the line between commercial messages and non-commercial content, which can possibly lower young consumers’ ability to cope with the persuasive messages, it is important to investigate how various groups of children – young and old in developed and developing countries – deal with diverse forms of covert advertising and what parents (can/should) do to influence children’s understanding of, and response to, covert advertising.
Additionally, as many other CAMers have mentioned, we, as scholars, often struggle to respond to parents who want immediate and clear-cut answers. For instance, when I had a webinar for parents in Singapore early this year, one of the questions that I got was “at what age should parents get their children smartphones?” My answer was, “it varies.” Truly, it depends on a host of factors including the child’s personality, parent-child relationship, social norms, digital literacy, and other personal, cultural, social, and contextual aspects. It is hard to provide a comprehensive and crystal-clear answers to such questions.
What would be your work motto?
Follow your passion. Push the boundaries. Be open-minded.
Which of your publications is your favorite, and why?
Other than the book mentioned above, my favorite publication is “Parental socialization of children’s Internet use: A qualitative approach,” which was published in New Media & Society in 2015. As I said earlier, my research approach is informed by quantitative research methods including surveys, content analyses, and experiments. This publication, however, utilized a qualitative research method. By conducting in-depth interviews with parents of children aged 7-12, this study revealed the gap between “what parents actually do to monitor and supervise their children’s internet use” and “what they believe they should do.” To conduct and analyze the interviews, I self-taught qualitative research methods by reading numerous method books and research articles. Per a reviewer’s suggestion (i.e., read Sherry Turkle’s “Alone Together”), I also purchased and read the entire book, which was quite helpful. I also sought my “quali” colleagues’ advice on qualitative writing styles. I was thrilled and proud when my manuscript was finally accepted for publication after many rounds of revisions and numerous hours of self-teaching. In fact, it was my first qualitative research work published in a major communication journal. I like this publication because it echoes my work mottos: Follow your passion (I really wanted to understand what parents “felt” about parental mediation of children’s internet use) and push the boundaries and be open-minded (I adopted a research method that was new to me, strived to learn it, and made it published).
If you had unlimited resources, what kind of project would you want to do and why?
Unlimited resources sound good! I would love to conduct large-scale, multinational, interdisciplinary, and longitudinal research to investigate children’s use of multiple digital devices, their responses to diverse forms of covert and data-driven advertising, and the roles played by internal and external socialization agents including parents, peers, and school education in Asia-Pacific. I would like to gain a deeper understanding of the Asia-Pacific region because the majority of studies in this field have either been conducted in the US or in Europe. I want to pay close attention to marginalized and socially disadvantaged groups of children in both developed and developing countries to make policy recommendations applicable to a wide range of communities. Finally, I want to work with content creators and story tellers to make research findings more accessible and useful to the public, including children, parents, and anyone who wants to make a better world for digital kids.
If you had to give one piece of advice to young CAM scholars, what would it be?
I have two pieces of advice if you don’t mind. First, build a support network that can help you throughout your career. In your support network, include multiple mentors and colleagues with different perspectives and experiences. The variety will help you make a balanced decision. Second, don’t be afraid to work with new people. Interesting and innovative ideas often emerge when you collaborate with strangers.
Who would you like to put in the spotlight next, and why?
I would like to nominate Sven Joeckel at the University of Erfurt in Germany who is doing fascinating and innovative research on youth and digital privacy.