The digital lifeworlds of young Nigerians – Exploring rural and urban teens’ practices with, and negotiation of, digital technology

Doctoral Thesis


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This study investigates the digital lifeworlds of rural and urban 13- to 18-year old young people in an African, specifically Nigerian, context. Children and young people’s digital lifeworlds and practices with technology in the global North is well researched and documented. By contrast, research focusing on their counterparts, particularly pre-teens’ and teenagers’ digital practices and participation in Africa is still largely limited and exploratory; and the field underdeveloped. This is more so despite the important role played by digital communication technologies in children and young people’s everyday life. Privileging the use of a mixed methods approach, this study conducted 16 focus group discussions with 175 participants and a survey of 380 respondents in public and private schools sampled across two of Nigeria’s major geopolitical zones. Supported by the child-centred approach and the domestication framework by Silverstone, Hirsch and Morley (1992), the study provides a multi-layered portrait of the ways in which Nigerian teens access, understand, work and play with and negotiate the digital technologies that are available to them. The study also broadly pays attention to how young people constitute their digital lives and the role played by contextual dynamics and community networks such as family, school and others. It was found that young people in Nigeria have a considerable access to and are predominantly using mobile phones and the Internet (via the ‘mobile internet’). However, this did not preclude the divides and marginalities between children from dissimilar social backgrounds. Teens’ significant outcomes with technology mostly centre around the need for communication and interaction with friends first, and then family. They also primarily use technology to cultivate and maintain their peer culture, for self-care, dealing with mental wellbeing, and as a critical resource for education and information-seeking. Nigerian children’s digital practices are substantially shaped and at the same time undermined by various mediators or digital gatekeepers. These include parents, teachers, guardians and older adults who are presented mostly as prohibitors and moral panic mongers. Issues such as the absence of digital literacy and skill on the part of the children, their parents and teachers also limit the teens’ agency and digital opportunities and result in unchecked risks such as access to pornography, meeting online with strangers/online grooming, distractions, identity issues/negative role modelling. Moreover, the opportunities and benefits of technology in children’s lives remain precarious, stratified and complex. This study attempts to place children’s digital lifeworlds in its wider socio-spatial context and experience, contributing an important dimension to children’s digital practices, especially as there exists a resonant paucity of and apathy towards research and scholarship in children and media studies in Africa. Techno-shaming children into silence, fear, scepticism, guilt or moral panic is a common, but flawed strategy. Instead, it is suggested that government, schools and families should reconsider the precarious subjective-subordinate and marginalised position of young people and allow them the agency to contribute to decisions relating to their digital lives. Adult decision makers must focus on expanding Nigerian teens’ digital opportunities and rights. There is equally the need to develop resources that might help empower parents, families and adults by providing knowledge of the opportunities and risks of the digital age.