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Children, TV, Computers and More Media: New Research Shows Pluses, Minuses (page 3)

— National Science Foundation
Updated on Jul 1, 2008

Contrary to most people's expectations, family stress does not necessarily affect how well children learn from TV's educational programs. Not enough money, family conflicts, and maternal depression all take their toll on the home's learning environment. But only family conflict disrupts both parenting practices and educational television use. Said Vandewater, "These results suggest that families who are stressed may find that pointing children towards educational shows helps everybody cope while the child learns."

Children use computers at very young ages - 21 percent of children 2 years and younger, 58 percent of 3- to 4-year-olds, and 77 percent of 5- to 6-year-olds, in a study led by Calvert and funded by NSF and the Kaiser Foundation. According to their parents, children began to use computers on their parents' laps at about 2-and-a-half years and independently at about 3-and-a-half years.

The socioeconomic and racial "digital divide" has persisted. Children in more affluent, better-educated families were more likely to have used a computer. Latino children were less likely than white children to have used a computer.

However, the researchers did not find a gender divide at these young ages. Boys and girls begin to use computers at about the same age.

Another study, also led by Calvert, undermined the common notion that children will learn more if they can control the situation in which educational content is presented. Although children's attention dropped when adults controlled the situation, particularly on repeated material, overall attention levels were high (often more than 90 percent), and children remembered the same amount of content no matter who controlled the session.

What happens when children become teenagers?

Research findings reveal that teens' Internet use focuses on identity, sexuality, social attitudes, and values - issues perennially associated with the teenage years. Online dangers include pervasive pornography and other sexually explicit material, disembodied strangers who may pursue others or express hate and racism, and rampant commercialism. However, teenagers also find information they may be hesitant to seek elsewhere, good communication channels with their friends, and advice and support.

Kaveri Subrahmanyam, Greenfield, and Brendesha Tynes found that teens use Internet exchanges to "pair off" (exit from a chat room to engage in one-on-one instant messaging) by providing "a/s/l" (age, sex, and location) information. For example, one chat room participant's message said, "if there r any m/13/Tx in here if so im me" (that is, any 13-year-old males from Texas send me an instant message). Pairing off in this way allows teens to socialize in a relatively anonymous and gender-equal medium.

Other CDMC studies of teenagers and the Internet cover sexual information and pornography, race as a topic of discussion, teenage activities online (instant messaging with friends tops the list) and advice for parents. The press release from UCLA (see link) provides more detail on these studies.

Movies influence teenagers as well. Calvert, Katherine J. Murray, and Emily E. Conger studied U.S. and Taiwanese teens' reactions to the popular movie "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." Teenagers from both cultures who understood the movie identified with characters who showed compassion and thought before using force. Those who did not understand the narrative tended to identify with the villain, Jade Fox - a finding that has important implications for age recommendations or standards.

O'Keefe and Zehnder's study of video games emphasizes the ways in which game developers control the player's point of view. A player seeks to master the game by overcoming resistance, so designers need to both challenge the player and provide accommodation through how much a player can see and know. Three-dimensional games, for example, are better adapted to humans than 2-dimensional games. Moreover, a game can provide one of several points of view, both limiting and enabling a player.

Taken together, the studies conducted by CDMC researchers advance the scientific knowledge of how children and teenagers use and are affected by various media - TV, computers, the Internet, movies, and video games.

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