Children and the Media (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Feb 25, 2011


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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