Many believe that technology has been helpful to families, but “parents don’t think devices make parenting easier,” Vicky Rideout explained during a panel at Casual Connect USA 2014.
Vicky Rideout is a leading researcher in the field of children’s media use and has authored numerous studies for academic and non-profit organizations. She approaches the games industry from the perspective of a children’s advocate rather than from a business perspective. In addition, she has worked many years for children’s advocacy groups and public health organizations as well as working on social policy issues for political candidates and office holders.
The Power of Media
After leaving politics and government, she gave considerable thought to what moved her most. She had always believed in the power of media: to entertain, to educate, to distract, to inspire, to addict, to connect, and to inform. However, she was disturbed by the role models available to girls in media. She felt inspired to work on issues concerning children and media so she founded the “Children & Media” program at the national advocacy group, Children Now.
She says, “I’ve always been offended by orthodoxy and political correctness in the advocacy world; and also by loosely lobbed charges of censorship and moral panic from the industry, intended to shut down discussions before they begin.” She decided to focus instead on research, grounding the work in objective, methodologically-sound, fairly-reported data. This research informed their policy work and helped put a spotlight on the importance of media in children’s lives.
The Echo Chamber
But she recognizes that too often advocacy groups operate in an echo chamber, talking only to themselves. Instead, Rideout tries hard to reach out to those working in the media industries, encouraging high quality media for children and searching for common solutions to problems.
The Program for the Study of Media and Health for the Kaiser Family Foundation was another of Rideout’s creations. This organization created partnerships with media companies, including MTV, BET, FOX and MySpace, to use the power of the media to communicate with youth on issues like HIV/AIDS and teen pregnancy. In the process they won several Emmys. They also worked with popular TV programs, such as Grey’s Anatomy, to embed public health information in an entertainment context, a sort of product placement for social and health issues, and their research documented the impact they had.
Today Rideout works with groups like Sesame Workshop and PBS Kids, advises media companies on their pro-social campaigns, and helps non-profits create media-based public education strategies. She emphasizes, “I continue to conduct research that keeps the spotlight on children and their well-being in this brave new media world.”