Today, all members of our society are influenced both directly and indirectly by powerful media vehicles, including printed materials, television, sound recordings, and the Internet. Publicists, promoters, and sales personnel have at some point used all of these media to advocate what people should wear, what they should eat, and what values they should hold. Vivid colors and language tell us what is happening in the world and how to react to the events shown. Although much of our society’s media seems dominated by superficial chitchat, hyped news events, and depictions of violence, it is also a source of education, humor, and nonviolent entertainment. Just remember that the effect of media will vary with a child’s age and stage of development.
Most realize that although the different media forms can be used elegantly for mediated learning, their major objectives are entertainment and product promotion. In the following section, we discuss what we broadly term the entertainment industry in its role as a general, society-wide influence on young children. We first discuss two of its primary forms, print and television, and then treat other current media under the rubric of the industry in general.
The kind of books and other print media that children read and have read to them influences and supports their emotional, social, and intellectual development both directly and indirectly. Print materials, such as books, magazines, and newspapers, reach the child indirectly, through parents, caregivers, and teachers, and directly, such as when children participate in a library presentation or select particular publications to buy or borrow. The printed material made available to children implies the values of the home, school, and community (Aldridge & Kirkland, 2006).
Print media affect children’s development indirectly through the publications their parents read. Books and magazines inform adults how to lead healthy and productive lives and proclaim the dangers of unhealthy practices. Advertising affects the types of clothing, food, and (especially) toys bought for children. Some toys engage children’s imagination and are designed for groups of children playing together. Other toys are more suitable for children playing alone. Children’s potential for social and intellectual development is affected by which type of toy adults are motivated to buy.
Studies on early literacy indicate that the amount and types of printed materials that adults have in the home, as well as how adults interact with these materials around children, affect the children’s interest and literacy achievement (Desmond, 2001). From the books that adults read to children, children internalize attitudes, feelings, and biases about their own and other cultures. Zach, in the chapter’s opening vignette, had a chance to express aggression in acceptable ways through Three Billy Goats Gruff. He was influenced in the kind of clothes he wanted by the story Max’s Dragon Shirt. Books, like peers, provide children with a vision of their world that sometimes reaffirms their own lives and sometimes challenges their perspectives.
Television’s substantial impact on all growing children began in the 1950s with the proliferation of TV sets. Three generations of children have been raised with TV, and very different role models, interaction modes, and experiences are now visited on American youth. Today, more than 99% of American households contain at least one television set, and children start the viewing process early even before they reach 2 years of age. Conservative estimates are that preschool children watch nearly 3.5 hours of TV per day (Gentile & Walsh, 2002), and this average continues through age 18 (Singer & Singer, 2001). In the 21st century, however, television viewing is becoming somewhat diminished because of increased use of computer games and the Internet, and also because children now spend more time in child-care, school, and after-school-care programs.
Television influences children in direct proportion to both time spent viewing and the overall effect of what is viewed (American Academy of Pediatrics, 1990). Certainly, eating habits, family interactions, and use of leisure time are considerably influenced by television (Hewlett & West, 2005; Horgen, 2005; Winn, 2002). Commercials take up 12 to 14 minutes of every hour of television, and in that time, advertisers try to influence viewers with all types of consumerism. Schools and parents are far behind advertisers in finding the most effective ways of using media.
Children are especially susceptible to electronic media, and televised advertising has a huge effect. Heavy viewers are drawn to the advertised products, including unhealthy food products, and they tend to eat more snack foods and be overweight. Social interactions are also affected: Heavy viewers hold more traditional sex-role attitudes, behave more aggressively, are less socially competent, and perform more poorly in school compared to light or nonviewers. (Arendell, 1997; Desmond, 2001).
Not all TV advertising is negative, of course. There have been efforts through TV to modify behaviors such as smoking, drunken driving, and poor nutritional habits (Van Evra, 2004). How children are affected by both positive and negative advertisements also depends on such factors as parent–child interactions, how children are disciplined, and even to some degree on social–economic factors (Strasburger & Wilson, 2002).
Advertising is not the only way in which television influences viewers. Two additional, concerns about the effects of television are the amount of violence, in both commercials and programs, and the amount of time children’s television watching takes away from more creative and intellectual pursuits.
Research on the impact of television viewing on academic achievement indicates that such influence is complex in nature. Television viewing takes time away from important social interactions, such as conversation, storytelling, imaginative play, and for primary-school children, the leisure reading that promotes literacy. We must remember, however, that the amount of viewing, the kind of programs watched, IQ, and socioeconomic status are all factors that affect children’s attitude and achievement (Gunter, Harrison, & Wykes, 2003; Winn, 2002).
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