Lim, S. S. and Tan, Y. L. (2004) Parental Control of New Media Usage – The Challenges
of Infocomm Illiteracy, Australian Journal of Communication, 31(1): 57-74.
Parental Control of New Media Usage in Singapore –
The Challenges of Infocomm Illiteracy
ABSTRACT: This study focuses on infocomm illiterate parents in Singapore and the
challenges which they face in guiding and controlling their children’s new media usage.
Singaporean families are fast embracing new ICTs, such as computers and mobile phones,
for their functional and symbolic value. However, these new technologies are
predominantly the domain of the young; and older, infocomm illiterate Singaporean
parents are finding it difficult to keep up with these technologies which are assuming
growing importance within the household. As a consequence, these parents are seeing
their traditional roles as teachers, guardians, decision-makers and gatekeepers challenged.
This study observes that infocomm illiterate parents have minimal control over their
children’s new media usage. Furthermore, apart from a role reversal where infocomm
illiterate parents receive instruction from their children on the use of new media, a
situation of dependency has developed where some parents rely heavily on their children
for help in the use of new technologies.
KEYWORDS: parental control, new technology adoption, communication patterns,
Singaporeans are adopting new ICTs at a rapid pace. This enthusiasm for new
technology is fuelled by the belief that ICTs are especially important for education and
upward mobility. Singapore has one of the highest mobile penetration rates in the world
at 76 per cent of the population owning mobile phones (Infocomm Development
Authority of Singapore, 2003b). In addition, nearly two thirds of Singaporean households
have at least one personal computer and 56.8 per cent of all households have Internet
access (Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore, 2003a). Computers are also
widely available throughout the education system, public libraries, internet cafes and in
government and industry.
Given the widespread use of ICTs and new media, especially amongst the young,
Singaporean parents have been urged by local advisory groups to take a more active
interest in their children’s new media usage (see for example, Parents Advisory Group for
the Internet, 2004). Indeed, strong parental control is a key cultural trait of Singapore.
The Singapore population is predominantly composed of three ethnic groups – Chinese,
Malays and Indians. For all three groups, filial piety is considered a virtue and children
are expected to obey parental orders (Committee on the Family, 1994). While no
systematic study of parental guidance of children’s media usage has been conducted in
Singapore, there is evidence to suggest that a particular group of Singaporean parents
may find it difficult to guide their children in new media usage as they do not themselves
understand new media. A survey on infocomm literacy1 in Singapore found that 95 per
cent of Singaporeans aged sixty and above are not infocomm literate, as compared to 76
per cent of Singaporeans aged fifteen to nineteen who are (Infocomm Development
Authority of Singapore, 2001). This statistic suggests that households comprising older
parents with adolescent children will see a chasm between the infocomm literacy levels
of these two generations. This study seeks to understand parental control of new media
usage and intra-family communication in such households in Singapore.
ICTs provide communication links between households and amongst individual
household members. They are incorporated and redefined in accordance with the
household’s own values and interests (Silverstone, Hirsch, & Morley, 1992). The
convergence of family dynamics and technologies has been described as the interaction
of the “social space” where family behaviour occurs and the “technological space” in
which household technologies are embedded and used (Venkatesh, 1996; Venkatesh,
Kruse, & Shih, 2003). Such interaction determines the nature and patterns of technology
use that eventually result in the social transformation of the household. Similarly, Kling
(1980) argued that technologies acquire meanings in relation to social interaction and
family dynamics. Objects also function as an extension of the self, imbued with personal
and family meanings, and the ways in which people discuss technologies reveal their
identities, needs, desires and their way of interpreting the world and of relating to each
other (Lunt & Livingstone, 1992).
The term “moral economy” thus emerged to describe the household as both “an
economy of meanings and a meaningful economy” (Silverstone et al., 1992, p. 17).
Silverstone (1992, pp. 21-26) identified four elements in the dynamics of the household’s
moral economy; namely ‘appropriation’, ‘objectification’, ‘incorporation’ and
‘conversion’. While objectification and incorporation occur within the internal structure
of the household, appropriation and conversion extend the boundaries of the household
into the outside world. Through appropriation, objects are taken possession of by an
individual or household and meanings are ascribed to them. Objectification is expressed
in the usage and display of objects in the home environment and tends to reveal the
values of those who feel comfortable with or who identify with these objects.
Incorporation refers to the ways in which objects are used and integrated into the daily
rituals of the household and the individuals within. Conversion in turn connects the
household’s moral economy with the public sphere. ICTs exist as both objects of
conversion (and conversation) as well as facilitators of conversion (and conversation).
Livingstone (1992, pp. 117-123) proposed four additional constructs for understanding
the use of technologies in the family: ‘necessity’, ‘control’, ‘functionality’ and
‘sociality/privacy’. She argued that because of their different roles and experiences,
different members of the household have varying perceptions of technology and this can
lead to misunderstandings and tension.
1 Infocomm literacy was defined by this study as the ability to use infocomm applications such as personal
computers and WAP phones to conduct transactions such as e-learning and internet banking.
These theoretical constructs help us to understand the impact of ICTs on family
and household dynamics. Various dimensions of ICT usage in the household have been
analysed. In particular, researchers have focused extensively on the influence of ICTs on
family closeness and cohesion. Specifically, computer technology and the Internet have
been seen to have both positive and negative influences on family togetherness and
interaction. Positive influences of computer technology include enhanced interaction
between parents and children (Ferrari, Klinzing, Paris, Morris, & Eyman, 1985). Kuo and
Lee (2002) investigated the displacement effect on other activities as a result of Internet
usage and observed that whilst there appears to be a displacement of some activities,
Internet use does not affect the time that children spend with their families. Lenhart,
Rainie and Lewis (2001) found that while the Internet may not have improved family
relationships, it has contributed to family activities through facilitating the planning of
activities by email. Negative influences of computer technology include the risk of
isolation of certain family members as they get addicted to computers and neglect
responsibilities and contacts with others in the family (Hughes & Hans, 2001). The
concurrently negative and positive influence of ICT usage on family life is also seen in
ICTs such as the telephone. While the telephone is sometimes seen as a technology which
disrupts family interaction (Frissen, 2000), it has been observed that amongst single
parents and the young elderly in particular, the telephone helps them to stay connected
with friends and relations (Haddon, 2000). As for the television, it often occupies a centre
place in the living room and provides a place where the family can gather and share each
other’s company. This ability of television viewing to promote family togetherness can at
the same time act as a divisive factor and underscore one’s power in the home and mark
one’s territory (Ling & Thrane, 2001). Livingstone (1992) also mentioned that while
television used to bring the family around the hearth, new domestic technologies have
permitted the dispersal of family members to different rooms or different activities within
the same space. Indeed, television viewing is becoming an increasingly solitary activity
as children are more likely to watch television alone if they have their own set in their
rooms (Bovill & Livingstone, 2001).
Another dimension of the impact of ICT usage on the household is the traditional
roles that exist in the family. This phenomenon of role reversal has been studied by
Ferrari et al (1985) who noted that the usual instructive influence in families (i.e. parent
as teacher and child as pupil) is being replaced with an inverse relationship (i.e. child as
teacher and parent as pupil). Similarly, Lenhart, Rainie and Lewis (2001) observed that
teens who are more exposed to new technologies through peers or in school tend to
become instigators or teachers to the other members of the family.
Part of the interaction in the family about ICTs deals with rules and restrictions
laid down mainly by parents and sometimes by older siblings regarding ICT usage and
media exposure. Earlier studies saw parents attempting to control usage of the telephone
and restricting access to “inappropriate” television content (see for example Silverstone,
1990). However, with the entry of new media, recent studies suggest that parental control
of children’s media usage seems to have shifted from restricting access to undesirable
content (on television or the Internet) to restricting the duration of activities which could
encroach into time spent on homework and sleep (Pasquier, 2001). Parental control also
appears to differ with each technology or medium. A study of Norwegian families for
example, found that restrictions on computer usage is less than of television usage
because computers are deemed important for children’s academic and professional
development (Vestby, 2003). This is unsurprising given that marketers have consistently
stressed the educational potential of computers and there is enduring appeal to such
marketing discourse (Murdock, Hartmann, & Gray, 1992).
At the same time, new media has increased the attractiveness of the home as a
place of leisure (Pasquier, 2001). Newer information technologies such as the computer
and the Internet have clearly bridged the gap between work, functional activities and
recreation and have recast leisure activities in a new light. Thus, online chatting, playing
games and watching videos on the computer have emerged as new forms of leisure.
These multiple functions of the computer allow a higher level of interactivity and
sociability compared to traditional media. However, the interactivity and sociability
brought about by new media are affected by the spatial organisation of the home and the
technologies within it. Green (2001) argues that if an area of the house has been
designated as a space for communal relaxation and leisure, ICTs which are meant for
personal use such as those for children’s leisure, may dominate family space to such an
extent that parents are compelled to relocate them to private spaces such as children’s
bedrooms. As a consequence, children’s bedrooms are becoming increasingly important
spaces for leisure and learning. This promotes the cultivation of “bedroom culture” where
children and young people spend increasing proportions of their leisure time at home in
their own private space than communal or family space (Bovill & Livingstone, 2001, p.
In light of the existing literature, this study considers the following issues in the
1. In what ways have the introduction of new ICTs affected communication patterns
and interaction within the family?
2. How does infocomm illiteracy manifest itself and what is its impact on intra-
3. Has there been a reversal of roles within the family vis a vis the introduction of
Given the research goals of this study, a qualitative research method was selected
over a quantitative one so as to understand in greater depth how family interaction may
have changed in light of new technology adoption. The value of using qualitative
research methods for studying family interaction has been acknowledged (Handel, 1992).
In particular, qualitative research involving in-home interviews has been used effectively
in the study of media usage in families. See for example Morley (1992) and Ling and
The semi-structured interview was adopted as the research method for this study,
enabling the interviewer to probe deeper when the interviewees introduce a point of
interest while still keeping the discussion within the topic of interest (Smith, 1995). In-
home semi-structured interviews were conducted with eight middle to upper-middle class
Singaporean families, where one child and one parent from each family were interviewed.
These eight families consist of six Chinese families, one Malay family and one Indian
family. All of the children interviewed were attending either secondary or tertiary
institutions. All of the parents interviewed were at least sixty years of age, thereby falling
within the age group with the highest level of infocomm illiteracy in Singapore. It should
be noted that households with parents aged sixty years and above typically constitute
about 10 per cent of the total number of family-based households in Singapore,
(Department of Statistics, 1993). The bulk of family-based households in Singapore is
constituted by families with parents aged between thirty-five and fifty-nine years of age.
The child and parent of each family were interviewed separately so that they
would not mutually influence each others’ responses. To provide a more precise
definition of the technologies investigated in this study, a list of eight different
technologies was presented to each interviewee at the onset of the interview. Each family
interview lasted between one and a half to two hours and generated ten to fifteen pages of
transcripts. Interviews were conducted in the homes of the interviewees so that they could
answer the questions in a comfortable and familiar setting. This arrangement also
provided the researcher with the opportunity to explore the positioning of various
technologies in the home.
The “meaning condensation” approach was used to analyse of the interview
transcripts (Kvale, 1996). Large amounts of interview text were compressed into brief
statements representing the various themes raised by the respondents. These various
themes were then classified under the headings of ‘appropriation’, ‘objectification’,
‘incorporation’ and ‘conversion’ (Silverstone et al., 1992: 21-26) and ‘necessity’,
‘control’, ‘functionality’ and ‘sociality/privacy’ (Livingstone, 1992: 117-123).
FINDINGS AND DISCUSSION
All of the households interviewed owned a comprehensive array of ICTs. Every
household, regardless of income level or housing type, had at least one fixed line
telephone, one television, one computer, one stereo system and one VCD or DVD player.
Most of this equipment was in the living room – the main common area – while the
computer was almost invariably in the children’s bedrooms. In addition, almost every
member of the family, except for the grandparents, owned personal mobile phones. In
half of the households interviewed, the children had in their own bedrooms their own
fixed line and mobile phones, televisions, stereos, computers and occasionally DVD
players. This “multiplication of personally owned media” (Livingstone, 1999: 62) is
hardly surprising given the high penetration of ICTs in Singapore. All of the families
interviewed thus lived in media-rich environments and provided interesting insights into
the impact of new ICTs on family interaction. Various salient trends were noted and these
are discussed in the subsequent sections.
Contrasting levels of incorporation and appropriation
All of the children interviewed displayed an extremely high comfort level with the
different ICTs, and had incorporated and appropriated them to a much higher degree than
their parents. They found some technologies, especially their computers and mobile
phones, indispensable and had drastic reactions when asked what they would do without
these technologies. They readily explored and exploited the multifarious capabilities of
the different technologies and as a result, these technologies constituted an essential part
of their lives. In contrast, the parents interviewed tended to take a functional view of the
“I must check my mobile phone for incoming SMSs every morning when I wake
up…I use my mobile phone to call, SMS or play games when I am waiting for
friends. It also acts as my personal alarm clock!”(Child 1)
“I use the mobile phone only when I need to make calls. I turn it off most of the
time.” (Parent 3)
“My computer is for me to do my homework, search for information, play MP3
files or use live streaming to tune in to my favourite stations and also to watch
anime and to chat with friends… it’s something that I use very often and to me,
it’s so much part of my life… When I have the computer, I have everything. The
rest I can do without because the computer can replace a lot of things.”(Child 5)
“I use the computer when I need to do something for my work, at most two hours
a day.”(Parent 7)
As a result of their higher levels of incorporation and appropriation, the tendency
to use ICTs in facilitating conversion (and conversation) was also greater amongst the
children. This is especially so with their frequent usage of the computer and the mobile
phone. Information technologies were looked upon as a key tool for managing their social
“My mobile phone provides a way to communicate with my friends. I use it to
SMS my friends. Without it, I would feel like I have one less way to talk to
them…sometimes my friends come over to my house to play games on the
Playstation with me.” (Child 3)
“I use the computer to check email and chat with my friends using IRC and ICQ.
It’s a good way of keeping in touch since you can see who is online and most
importantly, it’s easy to use and free of charge.”(Child 1)
The parents, on the contrary, have extremely limited knowledge of these new
technologies even though these would otherwise provide an excellent common ground to
communicate with their children. Instead, the parents’ inability to understand and convert
new technologies has reduced and negatively affected their interaction with their children.
Note the communication barriers which exist between the parents and children of some
families on the topic of new technologies; and the resentment of the children:
“Talking to them [my parents] about new technologies like mobile phones and
computers only makes me feel frustrated.” (Child 1)
“If they [my children] tell me about the new technologies, I can only understand
very simple stuff. If they start talking to me about the more complicated ones like
the Internet and how they chat with their friends there, I would never
understand.” (Parent 1)
“When I want to talk to my parents about the new things that I find on the
Internet, they either don’t understand or are not interested.”(Child 2)
“I don’t understand what the Internet is; I have never even seen what they mean
by going online. When my children talk about the Internet, I don’t understand and
I don’t care.”(Parent 2)
Instead, the only technology which is facilitating similar conversions between
children and their parents appears to be television. This supports Ling and Thrane’s (2001)
observation that older generations are still more comfortable with the older media such as
the television and reject the Internet as a source of leisure and enjoyment. This
conversion and conversation revolving around television programmes appear to form the
basis for much of the communication that takes place in most of the families interviewed:
‘The television promotes interaction because when the shows are interesting, we
will discuss them and my son will usually tell me which shows are nice.’ (Parent
‘I can still talk to them [my parents] about television programmes. Maybe only
the newer technologies make a difference because they are unfamiliar with them.’
Even so, in some families the common conversion of television programmes can be an
“Our most watched programme is ‘Zhenqing (Heartfelt Emotions)’, and we will
sit down together to discuss the characters, how bad they are etc. But it’s not
every time that you find a programme which the whole family likes. ‘Zhenqing’
was a rare one.”(Child 5)
Ignorance and dependency
Due to the differing levels of incorporation, appropriation and conversion, the
children have a much greater understanding of these technologies and their functions. In
contrast, their parents have grown increasingly ignorant about the capabilities of these
new technologies. Many comments made by the parents interviewed revealed their
limited understanding of many of the new technologies:
“My children use their mobile phones to play games and what is that – the press
and press thing to communicate with friends?” [Tries to imitate the action of
pressing mobile phone keys to compose SMS messages] (Parent 2)
“For the computer, I don’t know the more complicated things like downloading
stuff and chatting, I only know more of word processing, browsing and checking
email.” (Parent 7)
While these parents’ infocomm illiteracy can be attributed to their lower levels of
education and their general lack of exposure to ICTs, another contributory factor is the
apathy which some parents displayed:
“When my children talk about the Internet, I don’t understand and I don’t care.”
“My child will do it for me. It’s not that I can’t learn. I just can’t be bothered to
This apathy and ignorance contributes to a situation of dependency where parents begin
to rely heavily on their children for assistance in operating these new technologies:
“…my mum doesn’t want to learn at all…She just wants to learn how to call out
and receive calls. She said she doesn’t need to know how to use the other
functions. We have to check her mobile phone constantly to check if the battery is
flat because she doesn’t know how to check. I would be very glad if I manage to
teach them something.” (Child 7)
Noticeably, many of the children interviewed exploit their parents’ infocomm
illiteracy by not engaging in the activities for which the technologies were originally
purchased, e.g. schoolwork in the case of the computers. There was often incongruence
between the activities which the parents had bought the new technologies for, and the
activities which the children actually perform on them:
“I am usually playing games on my computer. Sometimes when I open picture
files, my parents think that I am doing my school project but it’s actually for my
own game picture collection.” (Child 7)
"For the computer, instead of doing homework and finding information, I play
games online, chat to people and download songs…most of the time I am doing
things that I am not supposed to do. If they [my parents] discover me doing
something else other than work on the computer, they will definitely scold
Reversal of roles
The children’s extensive knowledge of new ICTs is manifested in their
confidence in operating them and the wide range of functions that they are able to
perform. This knowledge is a key contributory factor to role reversal, where children take
on the role of teaching adults how to operate the technologies:
“I know how to operate all the functions on every device. Even if I don’t know
any, I just read the instruction manual. It’s very easy…I will teach my parents if
they ask me to. They usually only want to know how to use the basic functions and
they praise me each time I teach them something. I feel proud that I can be more
knowledgeable than them in using the new technologies and I feel happy to help
“Most of the time they [my children] teach me how to use them [new
technologies]. They are more familiar with the technologies and they try to teach
me using simple language and less technical terms. Sometimes they even help me
to remember by sticking papers to the controls.”(Parent 1)
However, this role reversal is not without its problems but may in fact be a source of
family friction. Far from being happy to teach their parents, most of the children
interviewed appeared reluctant to take the initiative to teach their parents. Many
expressed negative feelings about the teaching process:
“I feel kind of frustrated when I have to teach the same thing over and over again.
If I have the time I will teach them patiently. But when I am not free, I feel like
screaming at them for asking the same questions over and over again.”(Child 1)
The frustration displayed by the children must have been apparent to their parents as it
has further inhibited some parents from asking their children to teach them how to use the
technologies. Instead, such parents simply take the easy option of depending on their
children to operate the equipment for them. The dependency situation described in the
previous section is thus exacerbated. However, some parents have become acutely
conscious of this “shift in power”. One parent for example, tried to mitigate her
infocomm illiteracy by attending courses, so that she could reduce her reliance on her
“I don’t want to learn from the children)! [Gives a terrified look] I don’t want
them to scold me. When I see how my son scolds his father when he teaches him
how to use the computer, I get very scared. You know we old people are a bit
forgetful sometimes. I don’t want him to scold me like that! I took up computer
lessons in the mosque. It’s cheap - only $25 - and the people there are very very
patient. They repeat over and over again until you understand.” (Parent 6)
Diminution of control
While Singaporean parents are widely perceived as strict and draconian, the
interview findings showed that infocomm illiterate parents are unable to exert much
control over their children’s new media usage. As seen earlier, computers are considered
important for schoolwork and many of the parents interviewed did not appear to realise
that their children were not engaging in academic activities but in chatting, playing games
and downloading entertaining content. Restrictions have been imposed only on activities
which are obviously unrelated to schoolwork:
“It is only when they play games that I place restrictions on how long they use
the computer because they can sometimes forgo their meals and sleep…I never
restrict them if I know they are doing schoolwork. I never place limits on what
they can do but I always advise them to finish their homework before they do
other things like playing games.”(Parent 1)
Some parents rely on the older children to rein in their younger siblings. Actions taken by
these older siblings may be more effective because they are familiar with these
technologies and know how to “hit them where it hurts”.
“If the new technologies come in the way of our leisure activities, my eldest
daughter will scold the younger ones. If they are playing Playstation and refuse to
go shopping with us or come out to have dinner, my eldest daughter will give
them a good scolding or confiscate their Playstation.” (Parent 8)
Diminution of parental control may also be due to the growth of “bedroom
culture” (Bovill & Livingstone, 2001, p. 179). In all of the households studied, older
technologies which are used more by the parents, such as the television or the radio, are
usually placed in the living room. It is clearly regarded as a common space and the
technologies placed there are to be used communally. The newer technologies such as the
computer are usually placed in the child’s bedroom, along with the child’s personal
television and stereo system. As observed by Bovill and Livingstone (2001) of European
households, one significant impact of bedroom culture is the dramatic reduction in the
amount of family interaction. Similarly, in the households interviewed, time spent on new
technologies tends to encroach into the time that would otherwise be spent on family
interaction and communication:
“After coming home, I just switch on my computer. I used to spend more time
watching television with my parents before I owned a computer.” (Child 1)
“We spend more time doing separate things like using the computer on our own
in different parts of the house instead of going out for example.” (Child 6)
The situation seems to take a turn for the worse when newer technologies deviate from
sociality and encourage privacy and solitary usage instead:
“I lock myself in the room and play my own games and watch cartoons. I don’t
step out of the room after dinner. In fact, I lock the door… Especially after getting
the VCD player in my room, I step out of the room even less… Last time my
Playstation was in the living room. Now that I have everything in my own room, I
don’t need to fight with them (my siblings) anymore.” (Child 8)
In some instances, the advancement of technology has also contributed towards
loss of control by parents. In particular, parents’ traditional gatekeeping duties have been
compromised because their children’s channels of communication have diversified:
“…last time I could still stop them by saying that I needed to use the phone when
they chatted for too long because the Internet used the same phone line. Now that
they have broadband, I can’t stop them anymore. They just chat the whole night
on the computer.” (Parent 6)
It appears that infocomm illiterate parents have only one more avenue for
asserting control over their children vis a vis new technologies and that is through
granting or withholding financial support for the purchase of new technologies. However,
this form of control is short-lived as it can only be exercised before a particular
technological device is purchased and has no enduring effect on how the technology is
subsequently used. Furthermore, given the parents’ infocomm illiteracy, there is some
evidence to suggest that children are able to effectively persuade their parents on the need
for technologies which are not obviously entertainment-related, e.g. computers. Note the
contrast between the next two quotations:
“I am the more techno savvy person in the house and I am usually the one who
suggests buying new technologies but of course the final decision lies with my
father because he is the one with the money. Most of the time, he agrees when I
want to get a new computer or something.” (Child 1)
“…I persuaded my mum for nearly a year to buy me a Gameboy but until now she
refuses, so I think I don’t really make a difference to her decision.” (Child 4)
Furthermore, this form of financial control can only be exercised with regard to big-ticket
items such as hardware and not to accessories and lower priced devices which the
children can easily pay for using their allowance:
“I don’t think they even know I bought a Palmtop because most of the time I carry
it around with me or leave it in the room. They don’t really have a need to know
since I am the sole user. Other than the laptop and computer, most of the stuff are
bought without their knowledge.” (Child 6)
The findings reported here suggest that infocomm illiteracy is an obstacle for
Singaporean parents, not just in guiding or controlling their children’s new media usage,
but also in communicating with their children. Within the household, these new
technologies are invariably of greater importance to the children than to their parents. In
fact, these technologies have been so deeply incorporated into these young people’s lives
that using them has practically become a ritual which must be performed at certain times
of the day. Inequalities were therefore noted in the use, access and knowledge of
technologies between the two generations. The higher level of incorporation and
appropriation of new technologies by the children has raised their ICT-related skills and
knowledge relative to their infocomm illiterate parents. Therefore, while these new
technologies can serve as useful topics of conversation and communication with their
children, infocomm illiterate parents are unable to avail themselves of such opportunities.
Indeed, a distinct role reversal can also be noted where the children are instructing their
parents on the use of technologies, often developing into situations of dependency where
these infocomm illiterate parents rely on their children to operate these technologies for
them. Indeed, with few exceptions, most of the parents interviewed were generally
apathetic about new technologies, ignorant of their functions and willing to let the
situation of dependency continue or even intensify.
Given this asymmetry in the infocomm literacy of the two generations, parental
guidance and control of children’s new media usage has been significantly undermined.
Many of the children interviewed take advantage of their parents’ ignorance and use their
computers more for recreational than academic purposes. The infocomm illiterate
parents’ control of new media usage tends to be lenient and imposed only when activities
are patently entertainment-related, e.g. restricting computer game playing. This is
reflective of their inability to comprehend new media like the Internet and mobile phones,
as compared to older media like television and fixed line phones which are relatively
straightforward and one-dimensional. Their control of new media usage does not
therefore involve restricting access to undesirable content but restricting the duration of
activities. Diminution of parental control has been further exacerbated by the growth of
bedroom culture and the rise in solitary media usage.
In sum, infocomm illiterate parents face considerable difficulties when attempting
to guide and control their children’s new media usage. As Singapore’s educational
standards rise and the population becomes more educated, infocomm illiteracy will be
gradually ameliorated. The infocomm illiteracy problems associated with this particular
group of parents, specifically those aged sixty years and above, are therefore likely to
wane. However, given the emphasis of the Singapore education system on systematic
information technology instruction in schools of all levels (Singapore Ministry of
Education 2003), it is likely that Singaporean children will always be a few steps ahead
of their parents in using and understanding new technologies. The situation of parental
dependency on children, role reversal and diminution in parental control vis a vis new
technologies may therefore endure for some time, albeit to a lesser extent. While the
principal limitation of this study is the small sample size, its findings highlight various
trends which are worthy of further research. In particular, they provide useful pointers for
a quantitative survey on media usage within households and its potential impact on
family interaction, communication and parental control.
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