I am a Lecturer in Developmental Psychology and Childhood and Co-Director of the OU's Centre for Children's Wellbeing body, mind & media. Before joining the OU in 2016, I was based in Ireland where I researched and lectured at University College Dublin and other universities and NGOs. 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. My PhD (UCD) was a critical and child-centred examination of psychological approaches to children's self-concept/self-esteem .
My work is designed to unfold the nuance and complexities of children’s lives, experience and well-being. As a humanities-trained psychologist, interdisciplinary engagement is fundamental to my stance and I advocate for holistic, ‘both/and’ frameworks to bridge knowledge from child psychology and childhood studies, disciplines often positioned in opposition to one another. As a researcher who has worked in the media, I also seek to communicate with diverse audiences, making complex stories and issues accessible through public engagement.
My body of work has contributed to understanding children’s and adults’ constructions of children’s self-concept and mental health, and their engagement with food, learning and media. A key contribution has been a critical examination of the construct of self-concept/self-esteem that is so widely invoked in psychological research, working with young people to identify factors and meanings salient for children’s active and social selves that are not represented in widely used psychological research scales. This raises questions about scales’ validity and thus also of research claims based on them. More broadly, it challenges developmental psychology to enhance its research through partnership with children and young people.
Working with children and young people as well as with the adults who seek to support and understand them, such as parents, teachers, other professionals and researchers, I have a particular interest in integrating findings of complex, mixed methods studies, to illuminate children and young people’s worlds at both large and small scale. Underlying my work is the view that adults have a great deal to learn from children – when they are prepared not only to listen to children, but also to hear them.
A 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. I have built effective relationships to fulfil the remits of a range of studies for these bodies.
My research in the fields of children and food, digital media, school, self-concept and others 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 am co-chair of E102 An Introduction to childhood studies and child psychology and contributed to the production of E808 Children and Young People’s Worlds.
I currently supervise Masters, EdD and PhD students in the areas of children and food, food marketing, experiences of school, and digital media. I welcome expressions of interest from potential doctoral students in the fields of children’s experiences of food, learning and media.
Regarding food, food marketing and children I have examined under-explored areas such as preschool children’s understanding of food, food brands, and food advertisements, and, most recently, food marketing to adolescents in digital media.
New media present great methodological challenges to researchers outside the closed, private corporations that dominate the digital landscape. They raise ethical issues regarding access to children’s and young people’s online data, and social justice concerns regarding equity of access to these data and above all the poorly understand impact of those who work to influence children and young people – whether advertisers, platform designers or others.
I led on a major WHO report (November 2016) specifying this research landscape and the present challenges. Building on this, I have been invited to give keynote conference and workshop presentations to international and national conferences and policy and government forums for the European Commission and WHO, and in the UK, Ireland, Slovenia and Canada.
This work on food marketing to children and young people also receives widespread interest in national (Ireland and UK) and international media. Most recently (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)
My programmes of research are being developed in collaboration with leading national and international experts in the fields of food and food marketing, children and school and children’s resilience. These include colleagues at universities and NGOs in the UK, Ireland and South Africa, including, in the UK, the University of Liverpool, Imperial College London, and Ulster University (Coleraine); in Ireland, at University College Dublin; in South Africa at the University of Pretoria, and with the World Health Organization (European Region).
See external collaborations