Children today are exposed to a very varied and complex mix of media – TV, the internet, video games, DVD movies, printed media and much more. So media influence on children is well nigh inevitable. However there is no reason to assume that all of this is negative; much of this influence can be educative and positive.
What research tells us about media influence on children
Media exposure is often linked to rise in crime, substance abuse and violence. Numerous studies have demonstrated that children exposed to violence on TV, in video games and in movies have very definite impacts. Children can behave in a more aggressive and harmful manner. They tend to become less sensitized to suffering and pain of others. They may also become more fearful of the world around them.
Children who spend a lot of time with media could have trouble distinguishing the ‘real’ from the ‘unreal’ and could need help distinguishing reality from fantasy. In a sense, children need to ‘unlearn’ what TV and other media teaches them. There is no doubt that scenes of violence, nudity or sex or even suggested sex and nudity can be harmful.
How advertising affects kids
Advertising is something else that determines media influence on children. Children watching TV are bombarded with advertisements for foods that may be unhealthy, expensive games and gear, blockbuster films and so much else. Attractively packaged and presented, children are soft targets for advertisers. Not only that, they pit kids against parents.
Consider this scenario – the kids see the advert for candy bar, which they ask for. The parent refuses to buy it and this is viewed as the parent denying this happiness to the child.
What parents can do to control media influence on children
- Setting limits is of course the most important way to control media exposure. The number of hours in a day or week that the child can access the TV, computer, video game, PSP or other electronic device should be decided and strictly enforced.
- Physical activity should be encouraged to counter and balance media exposure. If kids are out playing several hours a day, it’s that much less time spent before the TV, computer and so on.
- Get the TV, computer and other gadgetry out of the bedroom, and place it in a neutral part of the house. This helps control media influence on children because parents know what sort of material the child accesses, at what times and how much media consumption there is overall.
- Be vigilant about finding out the ratings of a TV program, a movie, a video game or a book before allowing your child to access it.
- Make judicious use of parental controls on the internet, the TV and so on. This will help block inappropriate content so that it doesn’t reach your child.
- Subscribe to TV channels that are age appropriate and free of commercials to help control media influence on children. Since advertising can have such an insidious influence on children, it may be worth your while to pay more for channels that have better, educational content.