Skip to main content

American magazine

Children, Youth and Digital Culture

Professor: Margot Susca, Ph.D.


Twitter: @MargotSusca

Course Hashtag: #COMM515

Course Meeting Time and Location: Wednesdays, 8:55 a.m. to 11:35 a.m., MCK T01

Office: MCK 311

Office hours:
Tuesdays: Noon to 3 p.m.
Thursdays: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
By appointment

“Television is a stable companion after school hours, music is a mood creator, and electronic games may be catalysts for meeting friends. In very concrete terms, the media help structure time and space for their users, just as their various genres, formats, and social uses serve as symbolic means of meaning making and interpretation for the young.” –Kirsten Drotner

Course Description

The growth of digital media has transformed how we communicate and engage, both with each other and with the larger society. Real-time, 24/7 connectivity to friends, family, and acquaintances has become a social norm. The so-called “digital generation” is at the center of this transformation as corporations, meanwhile, work to tap a teenage market worth more than $150 billion annually. But what--if any--are the cognitive, behavioral, social and emotional effects of this connectivity and technology that is so prevalent in children’s and adolescents’ lives?

This course will explore the role that children and adolescents play in today’s digital media culture--as active participants, content creators, and consumers. Further, the course will map the ways youth audiences engage media and are affected by it. We will examine the confluence of technological, social, political, and economic forces that have shaped, and continue to shape the digital content and services designed for young people. We will draw from a growing body of research to learn how youth are embracing social media, mobile phones, gaming, and other digital media, and integrating them into their personal and social lives. We will focus attention on the important role that new media play in the socialization of youth, exploring how the features of interactive technology tap into key developmental needs such as identity exploration, self-expression, peer relationships, and independence. We will assess the commercial nature of digital media, with particular attention to the strategies and techniques employed by companies to target and engage children and teens. We will explore the role of the Internet as a forum for democratic discourse, political participation, and civic engagement.

Finally, we will cover some of the major controversies--over issues such as violent videogames, sexual and indecent content, Internet safety, “cyberporn,” commercialization and targeted marketing, and online privacy--that have generated broad public debate and prompted advocacy groups and policy makers to action. Three credits.


By the end of the semester, students should have a solid understanding of the following:

  • the major forces that have influenced the emergence and growth of today’s digital media culture;
  • the key players, institutions, and stakeholders involved in this emerging media culture – including companies, nonprofit organizations, think tanks, and government agencies;
  • the theories and methods by which scholars study youth involvement with digital media;
  • an overview of what researchers have learned about the impact of digital culture on young peoples’ social relationships, personal identities, and daily behavior patterns;
  • the ways in which digital media are affecting representation, identity, and participation;
  • the major policy issues and public debates generated by digital media in the lives of youth;

Textbook and Required Readings:

  • Montgomery, K. C. (2007). Generation digital: politics, commerce, and childhood in the age of the internet. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. ISBN:0262512564
  • Other required readings will be posted chronologically to the “Course Library” tab of our Blackboard site.

TWITTER: The instructor suggests the use of Twitter as a means of finding major U.S. and global news and articles related to course topics. Frequently, the instructor will share or re-tweet relevant articles and links there related to the issues covered in class using #COMM515. Students may use this hashtag to communicate with each other and the professor outside of class.

BLACKBOARD and STUDENT EMAIL: There is a Blackboard (Bb) site for COMM 515. The instructor will use Bb as a primary means of communicating with the class. Please ensure you check the class Bb site and your AU email each morning before class. You are responsible for ensuring that you receive the email I send to your AU account.

EMAIL: Please put COMM 515 in the subject line of all emails sent to me. I try to respond to all student emails within 12 hours, but I may not answer emails as quickly on weekends or after 6 p.m. Please plan accordingly.

Structure of the Course


This course relies heavily on your careful reading and your participation, as your insights and questions are vital for learning and achieving the objectives of this course. Each class session will combine a variety of formats including: lecture/discussion, film screenings, textual analyses, guest speaker presentations, and collaborative learning activities. Students are expected to come each week prepared to contribute their knowledge and insights to the class discussions.


Two exams

There will be two exams (one midterm and one final) that may consist of essay, short answer, and/or multiple choice questions. Exams will include material from lectures, discussions, videos, scheduled speakers, readings provided in class, and required reading assignments listed on the syllabus. Once the first person completes the exam and leaves the room, no one may enter the classroom to begin the exam. If you miss an exam, proper written documentation will be necessary to validate your absence. All make-up exams for the midterm are essay format and must be taken during the instructor’s office hours (or another mutually-convenient time) within seven calendar days of the original testing date. Make-ups for the final exam will be at the professor’s discretion and based on the end-of-semester calendar. Worth: 45 percent


There will be a minimum of five unannounced quizzes, which will assess that you’re keeping up with weekly readings. I will drop the lowest grade. Quizzes always will take place during the first 10 minutes of class and cannot be made up without an approved excuse. Worth: 20 percent

Class Participation and Attendance

Your attendance and participation will form a small but important part of your semester grade. Students are expected to attend class weekly, regularly contribute to class discussions, demonstrate knowledge of reading assignments, and act professionally and considerately individually and in groups. Attendance is considered crucial to your mastery of the material and will be taken at every class meeting. Because concepts in this class build on each other, missing class is strongly discouraged. Worth: 5 percent

Consistently arriving late or missing class will result in deductions from your course grade. Specifically:

Policy on Absences
  • Absences should be accompanied by an official written excuse (official absence= documented illness, religious observance, a University-sponsored event, family emergency).
  • You get one unexcused absence this semester without penalty then…
    Each unexcused absence after the first one will remove two points from your final quarter grade.
  • Policy on Being Late
    Late three days? Lose all 5 percentage points for class participation/attendance.

Professional conduct is expected of you at all times throughout this course. Turn your cell phones off when class begins and don’t use the Internet for social purposes. Students who continually have to be told to get off Internet sites that are not being used for class threaten their grade for Class Participation.

Research Paper, Documentary or Magazine Article

You will choose a major issue related to children/adolescent digital media and explore it for a major research project, short documentary or magazine article (your format depends on your AU area of expertise and interest). Questions to consider: What is the purpose of your project, what have others said about this topic, who is affected and how, and what evidence have you found to support your project theme/focus. Full details will be posted to the Assignments tab on Blackboard. Worth: 20 percent.

Culture Jamming Project

The goal of this culture jamming project is to break through media silence on youth media issues through a medium of your choice. The idea for this project is to get information out to the public that they might not come across otherwise. Artistic creativity, therefore, is not necessary for the project but bring your sense of humor and satire to the table. Full details will be posted to the Assignments tab on Blackboard. Projects will be presented to the class in mid-April. Worth: 10 percent.

“Culture jamming refers to a collection of strategies for understanding, resisting, and subverting dominant cultural practices.” –Josh Stenger


The following categories will determine your grade:

Quizzes: 20 percent

Final Exam: 25 percent

Midterm Exam: 20 percent

Research Paper (or other): 20 percent

Culture Jamming: 10 percent

Class Participation and Attendance: 5 percent

Total: 100 percent

Deadlines are essential for media and communications practitioners. As such, late work is not accepted without an approved excuse. I do not except emailed work.


  • A and A- grades represent work whose superior quality indicates a full mastery of the subject.
    An A represents work of extraordinary distinction. 
  • B+, B, and B- grades represent work of good to very good quality but that does not merit special distinction.
  • C+, C, and C- grades designate an adequate command of the course material.
    These grades are satisfactory for undergraduate students.
  • D grades indicate work that shows a deficiency in knowledge of the material. They are unsatisfactory.
  • F is a failing grade representing work that deserves no credit.


Note: This schedule of topics and readings may need to be changed to accommodate guest speakers, weather closures, and/or contemporary events. Readings listed here should be completed by the date they appear on the syllabus. Those readings from Generation Digital refer to our course textbook, which is listed on p. 1 of this syllabus and available at the campus bookstore and from online retailers.All other readings marked (Bb) are available under the Course Library on our Blackboard page. This course is designed to expose you to top thinkers and research (offering multiple viewpoints and opinions) in various areas related to children and digital media at a level appropriate for a 500-level course. It emphasizes leading research in the areas of children’s digital media usage, identity development, pro-social benefits of media usage, negative effects of media usage, risks of online participation, and regulation of digital media. The course will not work if you don’t read. Really. Please plan accordingly.  

Week 1
January 14
  •  Introductions
  • Syllabus Review
Week 2
January 21
 Children in the Digital Age Readings:
  • Generation Digital, Chapter 1, At the Center of a Cultural Storm
  • Generation Digital, Chapter 2, Digital Kids
  • "Always connected: The new digital media habits of young children." (Bb)
  • "Eight Traits of the New Media landscape" by Henry Jenkins (Bb)
Week 3
January 28
 Children in the Digital Age Readings:
  • Generation Digital, Chapter 5, Born to be Wired
  • "Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media" (Bb)
Week 4
February 4
 Identity and Socialization Readings:
  • "Identity Construction on the Internet" by Sandra Calvert (Bb)
  • "Constructing Identity Online: Identity, Exploration and Self-Preservation." (Bb)
  • "Why Youth (Heart) Social Network Sites: The Role of Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life." (Bb)
  • "Teens, kindness and cruelty on social network sites"(Bb)
Week 5
February 11
Identity and Socialization Readings:
  • "Gendered Media: The Influence of Media on Views of Gender"
  • "Virtually Queer Youth Communities of Girls and Birls" (Bb)
  • "Gay Adolescent Development and the It Gets Better Project" (Bb)
  • In class: ·Andrea Hackl, who researchers LGBTQ issues and cyber-bullying, guest speaker
  • Watch Miss Representation
Week 6
February 18
Political Involvement and Civic Engagement Readings:
  • Generation Digital, Chapter 7, Peer-to-Peer Politics
  • "Youth as e-Citizens: The Internet's Contribution to Civic Engagement" (Bb)
  • "The networked young citizen: social media, political participation and civic engagement" (Bb)
  • "Digital media and youth engagement" (Bb)
  • "Young Citizens in the Digital Age: Disaffected or displaced?" (Bb)
  • "Youthful Steps Toward Civic Participation: Does the Internet Help?" (Bb)
February 25
Pro-social and Educational Benefits Readings:
  • "Effects of Prosocial Media Content on Children's Social Interactions" (Bb)
  • "Attention, Comprehension and the Educational Influences of Television and New Media" (Bb)
  • In class: Watch PBS' Digital media: New Learners of the 21st Century

Week 8
March 4

Midterm Exam

Week 9
March 11

Week 10
March 18
Theories of Digital Media &Media Effects Readings:
  • "Growing up with television: The cultivation perspective" (Bb)
  • "Social Learning Theory" by Albert Bandura (Bb)
  • "Cultural Studies, Multiculturalism, and Media Culture" by Douglas Kellner (Bb)
  • In class: Watch: Media Education Foundation's Tough Guise 2
Week 11
March 25
Children's Media Industries, Marketing and Commercial Culture Readings:
  • "The development of a child into a consumer" (Bb)
  • "Children, Adolescents and Advertising" (Bb)
  • Generation Digital, Chapter 6, Social Marketing in the New Millennium
  • "The Economic Structure of the Commercial Children's Media Industries" (Bb)
  • "The Children's Television Business" (Bb)
  • In class: Watch Media Education Foundation's Killing Us Softly
Week 12
April 1
 Risks and Dangers Readings:
  • Generation Digital, Chapter 4, Web of Deception
  • "May I Have Your Attention: The Consequences of Anywhere, Anytime Technology" (Bb)
  • When is it Too Much? Excessive Internet Use and Addictive Behavior.
  • Growing Up Tethered Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less From Each Other (Bb)
  • "Hooked: Rethinking the Internet Addiction Debate" (Bb)

Week 13
April 8
 Culture Jamming Project Due—Presentations in Class
Week 14
April 15
Video Games, Violence and Aggression Readings:
  • "Video Games" (Bb)
  • "Children Viewing Violence" (Bb)
  • National Television Violence Study—Executive Summary (Bb)
  • "Training Recruits and Conditioning Youth: The Soft Power of Military Games" (Bb)


Week 15
April 22
Regulation, Protection and Policy  Research Project Due


  • Digital Generation, Chapter 3, A V-Chip for the Internet
  • Enhancing Child Safety and Online Technologies. Final Report of the Internet Safety Technical Task Force. (Bb)
  • Mobile Apps for Kids: Disclosures Not Making the Grade. Federal Trade Commission Report (2012). (Bb)
  • FTC Strengthens Kids' Privacy, Gives Parents Greater Control Over Their Information By Amending Children's Online Privacy Protection Rule. (Bb)
  • "The New Age of Food Marketing: How companies are targeting and luring our kids -- and what advocates can do about it." (Bb)
  • "What Pacifica Tells Us About Regulating Broadcast Violence" (Bb)
Week 16
April 29
 Final Exam8:55 a.m. to 11:25 a.m.


There is a wide range of university services available to support you in your efforts to meet the course requirements, including: Academic Support Center(x3360, MGC 243) offers study skills workshops, individual    instruction, tutor referrals, and services for students with learning    disabilities.

Writing support is available in the ASC Writing Lab or in the Writing Center, Battelle 228. Counseling Center (x3500, MGC 214) offers counseling and consultations regarding    personal concerns, self-help information, and connections to off-campus    mental health resources.

Disability Support Services (x3315, MGC 206) offers technical and practical support and assistance with accommodations for students with physical, medical, or psychological disabilities.

If you qualify for accommodations because of a disability, please notify me within three weeks of the class start date with a letter from the Academic Support Center or Disability Support Services so that we can make arrangements to address your needs.

Please do not even think about cheating on exams or plagiarizing in papers. Plagiarism is to present any information or language that was prepared and written by someone else as if it were your own work. This would include copying and pasting information from the Internet without attributing the source. It would also include passing off another student’s work as your own.

Standards of academic conduct are set forth in the University’s Academic Integrity Code. By registering, you have acknowledged your awareness of the Academic Integrity Code, and you are obliged to become familiar with your rights and responsibilities as defined by the Code. Violations of the Academic Integrity Code will not be treated lightly, and disciplinary action will be taken should such violations occur. The Academic Integrity Code includes but is not limited to: plagiarism; inappropriate collaboration; dishonesty in exams, papers; work done for one course and submitted for another; deliberate falsification of data; interference with other students’ work; misrepresenting yourself (or having someone misrepresent you) as present during roll call; and copyright violations.. Please see me if you have any questions about the academic violations described in the Code in general or as they relate to particular requirements for this course. This is a useful web site to help you recognize and avoid plagiarism:

Standards of academic conduct: Standards of academic conduct are set forth in American University’s Academic Integrity Code. By registering, you have acknowledged your awareness of the Academic Integrity Code, and you are obliged to become familiar with your rights and responsibilities as defined by the Code, especially concerning plagiarism.Violations of the Academic Integrity Code will not be treated lightly, and disciplinary action will be taken should such violations occur.Please see me if you have any questions about the standards described in the Code or as they may relate to particular requirements for this course.

Emergency preparedness for disruption of classes:In the event of an emergency, American University will implement a plan for meeting the needs of all members of the university community. Should the university be required to close for a period of time, we are committed to ensuring that all aspects of our educational programs will be delivered to our students. These may include altering and extending the duration of the traditional term schedule to complete essential instruction in the traditional format and/or use of distance instructional methods. Specific strategies will vary from class to class, depending on the format of the course and the timing of the emergency. Faculty will communicate class-specific information to students via AU e-mail and Blackboard, while students must inform their faculty immediately of any absence. Students are responsible for checking their AU e-mail regularly and keeping themselves informed of emergencies. In the event of an emergency, students should refer to the AU Student Portal, the AUEmergency Preparedness Web site and the AU information line at (202) 885-1100 for general university-wide information, as well as contact their faculty and/or respective dean’s office for course and school/ college-specific information.