New Project Examines How Children Construct Narratives of Self and Other

By Dan Mamlok and Sandra Chang-Kredl

How do children experience offline and online activities and what do these entail? How do children understand themselves in relation to the media they use? How do parents perceive their children’s experiences? What are some common narratives children learn through offline and online activities, and how might these narratives influence their identities and their understanding of the other? These are some questions we are currently studying.

In recent years, Project SOMEONE has explored various aspects of online hate speech and violent extremism. The initiative has developed 11 projects that aim to advance critical thinking, social pedagogy, and curricular plans for preventing hate speech. Considering the growing participation of children (including young children) in digital media, this study expands the initiative to examine how children 12 and under—typically the cut-off age for social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram—are initiated and subsumed within a culture of popular texts, including games, TV shows, video games, YouTube videos, books, and cultural artifacts.

This research project is comprised of theoretical and empirical research. The theoretical segment on the construction of children’s identity is based on sociological and psychological theories. In brief, we are looking at how children develop their social identities, and how they internalize certain social categories, such as gender, race and class. Understanding how children perceive and internalize these concepts is crucial for recognizing the ways in which children will ultimately develop their understanding of the other. This will, in turn, help us to develop pedagogical approaches to work with children of different ages, through recognizing cultural artifacts as social texts, thus advancing a more critical worldview.

The qualitative study is based on play observations and discussions with children between the ages of 4 and 11, and interviews with their parents. In congruence with the theoretical framework, the purpose of the qualitative research study is to investigate the processes through which children’s identities are influenced by the cultural artifacts they use and to which they are exposed. Currently, we are working on data collection through child-led play sessions with the young participants and interviews with their parents in their home environments. This will allow us to deepen our understanding of how children’s interactions with social texts can influence their construction of self and other, and create strategies for developing critical thinking and agency among this population.

In our next posts, we will elaborate on the theoretical framework and share some initial findings from our qualitative research study.