Almost all young children in the United States are exposed, on a daily basis, to entertainment and education delivered through other media besides print and television. Films (in theaters and on cassette or DVD), radio, sound recordings on compact disc and audiocassette, computer games, plus access to the Internet are the main sources.

The entire entertainment industry now has a tremendous influence on American society. Whereas a few movie stars, musicians, and sports figures were the entertainment models for generations during the 20th century, today, the visual and auditory stimuli of the new media bombard most homes and communities. Some of this exposure is educational, positive, and directed at an appropriate level for young children. A considerable amount of current fare, however, is violent in nature, is provocative, and is presented in ways unsuitable for children’s level of maturity (DeGaetano, 2005; Levin, 2005). With the rapid expansion of electronic transmission devices, young people are exposed more than ever to both good and bad influences.

Producers and advertisers expand successful films and television shows by flooding sales counters with associated toys, clothing, and DVDs. Similar marketing comes from developers of video and computer games. These games influence individuals’ values, compete for children’s attention, and certainly reduce the amount of reflection and interaction time children have with both adults and peers (Singer & Singer, 2001). Although some maintain that such games are opportunities for children to “let off steam,” others insist that there are better ways of achieving this goal.

In 2002, the U.S. Department of Commerce (2004) found that 74% of married couples with children had a home computer and that 87% of those maintained Internet access. In addition, over 90% of American elementary schools have Internet access. Meaning that the wonders and dangers of global electronic communication are available to a large majority of American children.

The Internet is now the world’s largest source of information; it completely dwarfs even the world’s renowned libraries. The amount of information is extraordinary for today’s young people; it also carries great potential for misuse. For example, many primary-school-age children regularly “surf the ‘Net’” and tell about their findings. Pornography is widely available to any child willing to misrepresent his or her age. Even more alarming are the steadily expanding hate-group Web sites, some of which are designed for children. Some help arrived with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998, and Web-filtering software continues to appear on the market.

Internet filtering systems are a must to make Internet use in schools and homes safer. WebBlocker is installed in many schools, and a 2003 Supreme Court decision permits such programs to be used by public libraries. CyberPatrol and Net Nanny are examples of useful filters for home computers. A filtering system is a resource that must be harnessed successfully by families, schools, and communities if its potential is to be productive (Hafner, 2002).

On the positive side, electronic media provide children with opportunities to practice skills, solve problems, create illustrations and graphs, and expand their knowledge base. For example, some primary-school children use the Internet to practice chess, send e-mail, and retrieve information from Internet bulletin boards. We can best assess the impact of these media on children’s learning by observing how children use them.

When parents and other adults watch DVDs or television or use the computer with children, the children benefit more from the programs and the adults learn more about the children. Adults discover what children know and what interests or bores them. The adults may then act to enhance their children’s learning. Adults may introduce children to the original stories from which the TV programs were adapted, helping them to learn to make comparisons and develop better discrimination skills about stories and presentations. For children to be engaged in positive learning, it seems urgent that schools, parents, teachers, and other concerned individuals develop partnerships for interpreting and dealing with the products of both currently available media sources and those soon to appear in their communities (Murray, 1997; Paik, 2001). Helping children develop skills as critical consumers of media (Hesse & Lane, 2003) can help to reverse the negative influences of the media industry. Communities’ influences on children’s learning vary, but community programs, such as museums, zoos, and recreational services broaden children’s perspectives.

When Meringoff (1980) compared children’s reactions to stories presented through television, books, and radio, children seemed to view television events as something not directly associated with themselves, but they appeared to personalize the events in books. Berns (2006) and Singer and Singer (2001) surmised that because the reader is more intimately involved in the book, it is a stronger socializing agent. However, the stronger personal influence of printed materials over television or the Internet could also reflect the manner in which the two are presented to children (Neuman, 1995). Young children first know about books because someone reads to them and interacts with them about the story, whereas more often than not children are left to watch television or to use computer games by themselves. We know that children are socialized on how to react to books; thus, they get more personal meaning from them as they become readers themselves. Some researchers (Desmond, 2001; Neuman, 1997) suggest that when parents or other adults interact with children viewing television or using the computer, those children develop better interactive and processing skills.

The entertainment industry influences the actions, dress codes, and values of many adults. It also captures and holds children’s interests for a large part of each day. As a teacher or community worker, you must understand that this influence on children both enhances and inhibits their growth as human beings. You should not underestimate the effect of this influence but rather try to incorporate it into your teaching or advising so that children assimilate it in a healthy context with the rest of their education. For example, knowledge that children pick up from TV can be startling but relevant, and schools, communities, and families may reinforce the unexpected learning in positive ways.

The teacher in Amanda’s kindergarten class was introducing the letter–sound relationship of “J.” When soliciting words children could recall, Mrs. Pineo got judge from Juan. So she asked if anyone knew what judge meant. Children responded, “it’s someone who would send you to jail if you did something wrong ... especially if you murdered someone, he’d be sure to send you to jail!” When asked how they knew this, the class as a whole replied, “It was on television!” That evening during dinner, Amanda announced to her family, “a judge would put you in jail if you did something really bad- like murder.” The give and take of the subsequent table conversation between Amanda and her parents provided further clarification on how Amanda was assimilating information from school, the media, and home.

One desirable outcome of our highly mediated world is that all people see and sense the diversity of individuals we have in modern American communities. As we view televised images of children playing in the streets of Guatemala, Canada, or Kazakhstan, we see them delighting in the same things that children in Seattle or Pittsburgh find desirable. Cultures across the world are borrowing steadily from each other and far more rapidly than previous generations. In American Skin (Wynter, 2002), a hopeful thesis on diversity is advanced for the transracial effect now found throughout the United States. Wynter makes a persuasive case for most Americans no longer reacting to racial and ethnic differences but adopting wholeheartedly the interesting and beneficial features of other cultural groups. This appears to be a positive departure from our society’s background of ethnocentrism.