I am Co-Director of the OU's Centre for Children and Young People's Wellbeing CCW@OU body, mind & media and a Lecturer in Developmental Psychology and Childhood. I formerly researched and lectured in psychology, mental health and children's well-being at universities and for NGOs in Dublin. After a first degree in the humanities (History and German, TCD), I was a food writer and journalist before returning to education to study psychology, completing a PhD (UCD) in critical developmental social psychology.
My work is designed to unfold the nuance and complexities of children’s lives, experience and well-being. My research and advocacy also examine and challenge the systems which the adult world designs, at small and large scale, for children and young people to inhabit - encompassing psychological, school, food and media systems.
With degrees in both the humanities and psychology, interdisciplinary engagement is fundamental to my stance. I advocate for holistic, ‘both/and’ frameworks to bridge knowledge from child psychology and childhood studies, disciplines that are still often positioned in opposition to one another.
A key contribution has been a critical examination of self-concept/self-esteem, a construct widely invoked in psychological research and public discourse. Working with young people to identify what they themselves valued regarding their active and social selves, I found that many aspects are not represented in widely used psychological research scales, raising questions about the validity of such research.
Currently a substantial focus of my work addresses children's well-being by examining aspects of the food and digital media systems that shape their lives, and how young people, adults and expert practitioners view them.
My diverse funding portfolio includes competitive peer-reviewed grants from major national and international funding bodies such as the Wellcome Trust, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (Ireland), and Safefood (the all-Ireland Food Safety Authority) as well as research support from the Irish Heart Foundation and the World Health Organization.
My interdisciplinary research in several domains consistently informs curriculum development and renewal and developing materials to engage students with contemporary perspectives and fresh research insights.
Reflecting my interest in integrating different disciplines exploring childhood, I co-chair An Introduction to childhood studies and child psychology (E102, an open-access Level 1 module) and Children and Young People’s Worlds (E808, a Masters in Education module in the Childhood & Youth pathway).
I currently supervise EdD and PhD students in the areas of children and their experiences of school and of everyday violence.
I welcome queries from potential doctoral students in the fields of food, learning and digital media.
A large body of my work examines preschool children’s understanding of food, food brands, and food advertisements, and food marketing in digital media. In 2018 I was invited to give oral evidence to the Houses of the Oireachtas (Irish Parliamentary) Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs on these issues.
New media raise major social justice concerns regarding the influence of data extraction on children and young people – whether by advertisers, platform designers or others. They also present great methodological challenges to researchers outside the closed, private corporations that dominate the digital landscape. I led on a major World Health Organization report (November 2016) specifying these issues and have given keynote and invited conference and workshop presentations to international and national conferences, policy and government forums for the European Commission, the WHO, and in the UK, including Northern Ireland, Ireland, Slovenia, Portugal, Austria, Norway, Malta, and Canada. I also sit on a Food Safety Authority of Ireland Working Group on early years food and nutrition.
My work on food marketing to children and young people also receives widespread media interest. In March 2017 I was an academic adviser and contributor on a Channel 4 Dispatches programme, The Secrets of Coca-Cola (BARB-recorded viewership 1.64 million). Most recently, my analysis of food marketing during the 2018 World Cup matches received extensive media coverage in Ireland.
I collaborate with leading national and international experts including colleagues at universities and NGOs in the UK, Ireland, Europe and the US, including, among others, colleagues at the University of Liverpool, Imperial College London, and Ulster University (Coleraine); University College Dublin; and the World Health Organization (European Region).
See external collaborations