Net Time Negotiations Within the Family

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Drawing on data from one-on-one and focus group interviews with high school students from schools in agricultural California, this research examines how American families negotiate what we call net time. The article explores intra-familial bargaining over time spent on the internet. Analysis pays special attention to families that prioritize capital-enhancing activities such as schoolwork and college applications. In these families, access to resources is guided by implicit social contracts between parents and children, as well as between siblings. The findings illuminate how these social contracts imply particular rights and responsibilities depending on the families' level of wiredness: highly wired, partially wired, and unwired families. Comparing the experiences of students from these three groups reveals that members of each kind of family experience a different form of net time. While youths from highly wired families enjoy individualized net time, members of partially wired families divvy up household net time. The most disadvantaged youth come from unwired families in which family members must make sacrifices for youth to obtain net time outside of the household. The examination illuminates the logics that underpin the familial negotiations over each kind of net time. Ultimately, familial social contracts over net time have the power to encourage or hinder use of net time for capital-enhancing activities.