Mass media—newspapers, magazines, comic books, radio, video games, movies, and especially television—present a very different form of socialization than any other, because they offer no opportunity for interaction. Television is an influence on children from a very young age and affects their cognitive and social development (Elkind, 2007;Wright et al., 2001).
Television is the medium with the greatest socialization effect, surpassing all the other media by far in its influence on the young child. The very fact that television is not an interactive agent is greatly significant to the development of young children. While watching, children have the feeling that they’re interacting, but they’re not. That’s one of the disadvantages of television as a socializer—it satisfies social needs to some extent, but doesn’t give children the social skills (or the real-life practice in those skills) that allow them to function effectively with people. Since the average child watches 3 to 4 hours of television a day, the time left for playing with others and learning social skills is drastically reduced. Even infants average about an hour and a half of television viewing a day between the time they are born and age 2 (Wright et al., 2001).
Of course, parents can control the time their children spend watching television, but many don’t. They can monitor the selection of programs, but some allow their children to watch whatever happens to be on. Some parents don’t consider how they can use television to teach decision making. They don’t make children aware that when one program ends they can either weigh the various merits of the next offerings or turn the set off. Some children, especially those with a remote control in hand, flick through the channels periodically, randomly stopping at whatever catches their interest at the moment. That’s very different from critically examining options and consciously deciding on one. This is where parent education could be effective. Some parents who grew up with television themselves haven’t given much thought to the effects of that medium, and how to decrease these effects.
Children learn through watching television. Some of the things they learn are beneficial; others are not. They learn about the world and the ways of the society. They learn something about occupations, for example, getting an idea about what a nurse does, what a doctor does, and how the two relate to each other. They learn about the institutions of the society—what goes on in court, for example. They learn the language to go with these roles and settings—and they learn some language you’d rather they didn’t know!
Children also learn about current themes and issues, both from newscasts and dramas—issues such as kidnapping, the homeless, and the spread of AIDS. Most of these issues and themes are not happy ones, and many are very frightening, especially when children watch programs that are intended for adults.
Children learn more than facts from television; they also get a good daily dose of stereotypes and a lot of misleading information about their world. Most of all, they get a big helping of violence and another of commercial advertising.
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