children, mental health, socioemotional development

DIGYMATEX focus groups of kids and teens point the project in new directions

The EU-funded DIGYMATEX Project recently carried out five focus group sessions bringing together a total of 19 young people in different parts of Greece.

This was done to hear about children relate to devices in their own words, and to use the results to help shape the design of digital maturity questionnaires that will be a key tool in the next phase of the project.

The focus groups were categorised according to age and gender into two groups of 9-year-old children (one of boys and one of girls), a group of 15-year-old boys, a group of 17-year-old girls and a group of 17–18-year-old boys.

“The key objective of the focus groups was to gain an initial understanding of children’s usage of ICT (information and communication technology) and digital technologies, in general, which would be then used to inform the questionnaires.

“We tried to identify relevant constructs, questions and themes that were likely to be useful in terms of the questionnaires, and determine if different age groups would require different approach/questions,” DIGYMATEX researcher Vasiliki Koniakou.

“Our questions were primarily focused on the usage of ICT/mobile ICT, social networking sites (SNS), and the dimensions of digital maturity we have identified.”

The six key Digital Maturity dimensions were identified by DIGYMATEX researchers as being

  • Digital Literacy
  • Prevention Awareness
  • Adequate Interpersonal Behavior
  • Adequate Goal Pursuit
  • Adequate Emotion Regulation
  • Adequate Need Satisfaction.
The DIGYMATEX Digital Maturity Daisy, showing the six dimensions of digital maturity

“Based on how the discussion unfolded in each focus group, we realized that different age groups tend to be more talkative when addressing specific topics. Hence, we suggest having shared key themes, but using different questionnaires (eg. shorter for the younger children) and focusing on different topics for different age groups,” the DIGYMATEX research team said in its report to the EU on the sessions.

For older teens, the questionnaire will therefore focus primarily on their behaviour in relation to social network sites. Specifically, questions will look at the circumstances in which they joined the sites, how the sites serve as a vehicle for the expression of their self-image and identity, and how use of the sites influences their socialisation and their lifestyle and habits. Additional questions will look more broadly at how the teens access online advice related to health and diet, as well as at how they react and to whom they turn for advice when faced with unpleasant experiences.

For younger children, the questionnaire will focus on their use of devices and access to them, including diversity of devices used, time restrictions and other forms of parental mediation. A second focus of the questionnaire will look at their self-protective skills online and access to information, as well as what kinds of upsetting experiences they encounter online and how they react, to whom they would turn and what kind of impact it would have.

The group discussions focused on eight primary areas of interest:

  • Children’s and teens’ feelings about the COVID lockdowns and remote schooling.
  • How they would deal with a day without digital devices.
  • The first device they remembered using.
  • The reasons and motives for using digital devices.
  • Their perceptions of their online competence and that of their parents.
  • Parental involvement in their online behaviour and any usage restrictions
  • How they handle upsetting or unpleasant things encountered online and their skills and resources for self-protection
  • Influences on their consumer behaviour.

“These focus groups were both insightful and exciting for our team,” commented Koniakou. “Through this process, we got valuable insights about the reasons and motives for which they use digital technologies, expressed in their own words, and highlighted with expressions that concurrently communicated their views, attitudes, and feelings.”

“Particularly, some of their phrases made a lasting impression to us, each one for different reasons,” she added.

For instance, discussing their favorite digital devices, one of the ten-year-old girls told the DIGYMATEX team that her favorite device is her digital camera because she can use it to take pictures and capture memories. Answering the same question, a boy from the group of the nine-year-old participants, touched upon technological emancipation, drawing the line between coming across a digital device that his parents have switched on for him and actively using one at this own initiative.

The same participant said that he would ‘explode’ without his cell phone, adding that if his parents would take his gaming console away, he would ‘rage’ and ‘jump off the balcony’.

“We found the response and the vivid way the boy chose to communicate his feelings very interesting, and indicative of how emotionally invested he feels,” Koniakou concluded. “Similarly, demonstrating comparable degrees of emotional investment, one of the adolescent males told us that for the seconds he though he has lost access to his Instagram account he felt his world ‘had collapsed’ as ‘no one would be able to reach’ him, and he might have lost all his messages, pictures, and memories.”

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