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Sociology of Youth

Youth Thematic Group 'Spotlight On'!
By Unknown
Posted: 2023-07-17T00:36:14Z

Welcome to our monthly 'Spotlight On' where you can find out who's who and what members are up to in their professional and/or personal lives. Contributions always welcome!

This month Sharon Greenfield shares some insights and life experiences. Take it away, Sharon!

Hello, my name is Dr Sharon Greenfield and my work specialises with young people and digital expressions of grief in the context of digital health. I am a member of the Digital Ethnography Research Centre (DERC) at RMIT and am currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow on an ARC project exploring online hostility in digital cultures.


I started my work exploring primary school technology pedagogy and digital health research 15 years ago with Intel Corporation. There I researched how young people learn both in the classroom and in school gardens using digital software and hardware technologies. Now here in Australia, I’ve researched young people’s use of digital media in play and for belonging for the Young and Well CRC, as well as worked on projects around young people in cybersafety and youth suicide prevention. Additionally, I have consulted for the World Health Organization (WHO) helping them navigate questions around young people’s social media use. I am committed to contributing to a foundation of solid research focusing with young people, resilience, and digital health.


There are a few important aspects of my work that I want to touch upon. Firstly, as digital scholar Nancy Baym suggests, we must “recognize that the internet is woven into the fabric of the rest of life” (2006, p. 86). As such, I firmly believe that a polymediated approach is necessary to understanding how young people engage in digital media. Polymedia is defined as a gestalt of environments for digital media expression (Madianou & Miller, 2012); the notion is that how and where we choose to use digital and social media is intertwined with other aspects of our lives. That is, our offline affects and molds our online experiences. Thus, for young people, the familial aspects of their lives immensely affect their digital expression. Additionally socio-economic class, social gender structures, and racial/cultural/ethnic factors impact the access and engagement young people have with digital media. Our research with young people in digital health should encompass the gestalt of who young people are - not just focus on the digital media they create.


Secondly, when it comes to the health and well-being of young people, the recent Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the challenges they already are facing. The data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows that young people accounted for 14% of all the intentional self-harm deaths in 2020 (AIHW, Australian Government); and this rate is much higher among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people. For the 3 million young people living in Australia, these next few years are going to be incredibly impactful on their growth. Young people during the teenage years begin to solidify their identities to developmentally become who they will be. Their health and well-being will likely influence their educational achievement outcomes and their successful transition into a healthy adult lifestyle. Thus it is paramount now to put funding towards research that looks to understand and support this developmental transition stage.


Lastly, for young people who are navigating grief and bereavement this time is exceptionally difficult. Loss creates a new identity paradigm that young people must navigate using active grieving strategies which includes digital expression (Colon & Sinanan, 2010). Digital media has come to play a pivotal role in the experience of grieving and bereavement (Gibbs et al., 2012). Currently I am writing a book entitled Exploring Digital Bereavement: Young People, Digital Media, and Grief, which focuses on their digital media use during this impactful time. Additionally I hope to illuminate the lack of research funding for grieving young people and digital health research in Australia. Whether it’s informing digital mental health resources, building resilience models, or bringing to light the multiplicity of needs of grieving young people in Australia, I feel we must put more funding into research to give our young people the best tools and education for their well-being in a rapidly shifting world.