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Mythbusters: Children and the Digital World (page 2)

By — Digital World Parenting Special Edition Contributor
Updated on May 17, 2010

MYTH: Adolescents use online communication primarily to communicate with strangers.

Recent surveys show that teens mostly use the Internet to communicate with friends and maintain already existing relationships. Although the possibility of teens contacting and being contacted by strangers via the Internet is a cause for concern, it is not the predominant way that the Internet is used by youth. This has not always been the case; in the early years of the Internet, chat rooms were the rage and teens were more likely to be in contact with strangers. Today, with the popularity of instant messaging and social networking sites, youth predominately use the Internet to connect with offline friends. In a 2007 survey, researchers found that an overwhelming majority of teens who use social networking sites do so to keep in touch with either friends they see frequently (91 percent) or friends they see rarely (82 percent). Adults should not be complacent, however; a national survey conducted in 2006, for instance, found that 40 percent of fourteen-to twenty-two-year olds who use social networking sites such as MySpace had been contacted online by a stranger whom they did not know before. Moreover, as new fads - like blogs - are introduced, stranger contact may increase. Finally, even teens who only seek to communicate with friends may do so in inappropriate ways that leave them vulnerable to harassment - posting provocative pictures of themselves, for example, that may be meant for a close group of friends but are available to a very wide audience.

MYTH: Television is appropriate for all ages, so long as it is educational.

Although watching educational programming can be beneficial and has been associated with positive outcomes for children of preschool age and older, no research to date has been able to demonstrate benefits for infants and toddlers associated with watching educational television. In fact, research actually suggests that, for very young children watching any television is unlikely to be beneficial and could be harmful. Experts seem to agree that while the content of programming is incredibly important for preschool and older-aged children, with educational viewing being associated with more positive outcomes than entertainment viewing, when it comes to infants and toddlers, there is no research evidence to suggest that watching any kind of television is appropriate or beneficial.

MYTH: Ratings systems are reliable ways to know the content and appropriateness of a movie, television, or video game program.

In one study, researchers recruited parents to rate the content of computer and video games, movies, and television programs. Raters felt that industry labels were "too lenient" when compared with what parent coders would find suitable for children. In addition, ratings are rarely well understood by the general public. Perhaps because of ratings' inconsistencies or perhaps because parents are not fully aware of the information offered by media, many parents do not consistently use the ratings to guide their children. Though 78 percent of parents say they have used movie ratings to direct children's movie viewing, only about half say they use music advisories, video game ratings, and television ratings (54 percent, 52 percent, and 50 percent respectively). Even among parents who report using industry-provided ratings and advisories, most do not find them to be "very useful" according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey.

MYTH: Electronic media are keeping kids from reading. If we want kids to read more, we need to limit television, video games, and other such distractions.

It does not seem that time with media greatly displaces reading or doing homework, largely because American youth spend so little time doing either. When TV first became available, TV viewing replaced "functionally similar" activities, such as listening to the radio, reading comic books, and going to a movie.

Studies have not consistently found that time spent watching television, in general, reduces adolescents' time spent in school-related activities. Most cross-sectional correlational studies, for instance, have not found a significant link between television viewing and less reading.

Prepared by Ann Cami based on information contained in The Future of Children: Children and Electronic Media, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn and Elisabeth Donahue, eds., Volume 18, Number 1, Spring 2008 www.futureofchildren.org.

For more information on this topic, please contact the issue editors of this volume: Jeanne Brooks-Gunn brooks-gunn@columbia.edu or Elisabeth Donahue edonahue@princeton.edu. 

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