“That’s the only place where you can get this information today!”. An exploratory study on Parenting WhatsApp Groups with a sample of Italian parents
From Firenze University Press Journal: Studi sulla Formazione
Davide Cino, Università Cattolica di Milano
Alessandra Gigli, Università di Bologna
Silvia Demozzi, Università di Bologna
Using parenting websites, blogs, and forums for information- and support-seeking is a common trend among parents in socially and economically developed countries, especially for mothers (Lupton et al., 2016). This phenomenon has been positioned by scholars within the “intensive parenting” framework (Blum-Ross and Livingstone, 2017), a middle-class childrearing philosophy considering parents accountable for most of their children’s outcomes in life (Shirani et al., 2012). Scholars have speculated that in the digital age this ideology has developed into “transcendent parenting,” which goes “beyond traditional, physical concepts of parenting, to incorporate virtual and online parenting and how these all intersect” (Lim, 2016, p.21).
As an example of that, several studies have found in Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) with peers one of the ways for parents to orient themselves and discuss a wide variety of topics concerning the offspring to perform paren-ting effectively, such as health, diet, and parenting ideologies (Brady and Guerin, 2010). In the realm of school-family interactions, transcendent parenting can take place through the use of Parenting WhatsApp Groups (henceforth PWGs), as platforms affording parents to share information with peers concerning “homework, school-related activities, as well as social events involving their children” (Lim, 2016, p.123). Given the emphasis placed on academic performance and children’s school experience (Schneider and Coleman, 2018), as well as the above mentioned ease in using digital parenting resources, parents may use technology to monitor their children’s lives as they unfold within interacting micro-systems, the school being one of the first they have experience of (Bronfenbrenner, 1979).
In this sen-se, related to the intensive parenting myth is the discourse surrounding parent involvement which indicates a climate of enhanced participation of parents in the child’s school life, framing the “good parent” as the one who fosters partnership with school and promotes the overall child’s wellbeing and success (Bartolomeo, 2004; Contini, 2012; Daffi, 2006; Lamarca, 2005; Levorato, 2001; Gigli, 2007, 2011, 2012, 2016, 2017; Gopnik, 2016; Schleicher, 1992). While the literature on parenting has investigated multiple platforms parents can use to communicate with peers to find social and emotional support while building on bridging and bonding social capital (Drentea and Moren-Cross, 2005; Pedersen and Lupton, 2018), very little is known about the use of WhatsApp groups gathering parents of children in the same classroom/school to discuss students’ school life.
As the discourse on the topic becomes of interest for laypeople (Lavenia, 2018), educationalists can provi-de empirical data to better frame this phenomenon. This contribution makes a step in this direction by investigating whether and to what extent a sample of Italian parents use PWGs to communicate with peers (i.e. other parents) about their children’s academic life. WhatsApp is the most used Instant Messaging App in Italy (VincosBlog, 2017), affording the possibility of engaging in synchro-nous group-based communication which, differing from standard texts, allows for new dynamics to develop between wide groups of users (Church and de Oliveira, 2013). In this sense, we argue, it is important to locate its use within the context of the wider literature on digital families (Mascheroni et al., 2018). Little to no data, however, is available concerning this phenomenon in Italy.Building on a broader study concerning the role of Information and Communication Technology (ICTs) in the relationship between the family and the school systems, the present work explores the role of PWGs as sites of peer interaction for contemporary parents. Specifically, we report our exploratory findings from quantitative and qualitative data collected with an online survey administered to a sample of 302 Italian parents. This study is among the firsts to theoretically and empirically tackle this phenomenon, opening new avenues of research to look at for future inquiry.
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