Impact of Media on Children
Every single day millions of children are constantly bombarded by media. Television, Internet, Movies, Video Games, Music, Videos are some of the many forms of media that continues to feed particular messages and ideas into our children and ultimately into our culture.
Dr. Douglas A. Gentile, a developmental psychologist and assistant professor in Iowa State University’s Department of Psychology, offered an explanation.
With the 21st century offering a greater number of media than any other period in history, younger generations can view or listen to almost any sort of content at the touch of a button.
“I think that alone makes the fair question, ‘Might it have a different effect than we’ve ever seen before in human history?'” Gentile said.
Gentile would go on to discuss how our concepts of normal behavior, our values, sense what is acceptable and unacceptable develops from our “spheres of influence”. First from Family, then community and the rest of society.
Influence of Media via Culture and Family
“The media influence us not just one-on-one when we watch them. They also influence us by influencing our families. They also influence us by influencing our communities. That’s one of the reasons it’s hard to tell if you’ve ever been affected because it’s not just a simple one-to-one relationship. You’re being influenced in multiple directions all at the same time,” Gentile said.
More Households have Television Sets than Running Water!
In the 1930s, when television sets first became available to Americans, families who were able to afford one, only had one for the entire house. Now televisions have become a common household item.
“Ninety-nine percent of American households have television sets – that’s more than have running water. That’s more than have telephones,” Gentile said. The average household with children has at least 3 televisions, 2 VCRs or DVD players, 3 CD or cassette players, 2 video game consoles and a computer with an Internet connection. Every single one of those items, a medium in which children and adults alike receive information on what the world is like and what “normal” truly is. With the average person watching nearly 3-5 hours of TV a day while listening to music on their ipods non stop, it would be silly to think that the constant bombardment of messages would not have an impact on how we perceive the world.
In its early days, television sets were primarily in living rooms, where entire families would view news among other shows together. Now it is common to have TVs in each of the children’s bedrooms.
Twenty percent of infants – 0 to 2 years in age – have TVs in their bedrooms while 40 percent of 3 to 4 year olds have them. Once children hit eight years of age, two-thirds of them typically view televisions in their rooms. 0 to 2 years of age. Why do they even need a TV!
30 Minutes with Father a Week. 20 Hours with TV
Gentile went on to discuss how children spend their time outside of school. During a given week, children spend about 30 minutes doing something or talking with their father while spending about two and half hours with their mother. This are figures for a week not a day. Four hours are spent doing homework. Now compare that with media consumption. Twenty Hours of Television. Seven hours of computer use unrelated to school. Nine hours of video games.
“Now I have no doubt that parents matter but they’re not getting equal time. They’re not getting anything close to equal time. That’s 41 hours a week kids are in front of a screen – that’s a full-time job the average American kid is in front of a screen and that’s the average,” Gentile said.
If these figures don’t surprise you, note that these figures were collected by parents so it would not be a stretch to say the figures are probably considerably higher. What is even more amazing is how such figures shock parents yet it does not behaviorally change the way they engage or raise their children.
“Parents underestimate how much time their kids spend in front a TV pretty greatly,” Gentile said. “Parents are less able to monitor what their kids see and hear if there are TVs in the bedroom and parents are less able to have consistent rules for children who have TVs in their bedrooms.”
Also by engaging in so much media, children are less inclined to do other activities or engage in outdoor play such as playing sports, enjoying an hobby or reading a couple good books. It is also well documented that such sluggard activities contributes to rising obesity and poorer academic performance.
Direct Visible Impact of TV in the Bedroom
“Kids get worse grades if they have a TV in their bedroom and their risk of obesity goes up 31 percent just by virtue of having a TV in the bedroom,” Gentile said. “Every parent is going to be faced with this question. Every parent is going to be asked for a TV, video games or a computer in the bedroom. There’s a simple two-letter answer. I recommend it’s used highly.”
Advertising in the modern age also focus less on product features but on emotional appeal. What does this mean? It means it appeals to some emotion, a deep innate desire and once it latches onto that feeling, it ties their product or service to that need leading to an eventual sale or action.
So is there any positive utilization of media?
Educational programs like “Sesame Street” or “Blue Clues” were created with the intention of helping young children learn. Much research and effort has been put into such shoes and it has shown that those that grew up watching it as a young child end up doing better in school even through high school.
However there are many shows out there that has shown no evidence of helping children, so one has to be careful of what they deem to be helpful to their children.
Gentile offered some word of advice to parents raising children. “If you want your children to be brilliant, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more brilliant, read them more fairy tales,” Gentile said, referencing Einstein. When fairy tales or books are read to their children, it helps them to focus, listen, learn more vocabulary, learn to understand images, how to properly speak and helps stimulate their imagination and thinking skills.
The Brain Becomes what the Brain Does
“Everyone thinks brain science is difficult. It’s not. It’s very simple. Here it is in one sentence, ‘The brain becomes what the brain does,'” Gentile said. “What is most important is having an ongoing dialogue where you talk about why things happen in shows the way they do,” Gentile said. “You are in a very powerful position. When parents set limits on how much time their kids watch and what they watch – that is a powerful protective factor for kids.”
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