Lessons >>> Lesson 22
Media offer entertainment, culture, news, sports, and education. They are an important part of our lives and have much to teach. But some of what they teach may not be what we want children to learn.
Children, being more susceptible at such a young age, are at a high risk of being influenced negatively by the media. For example, they don't really follow plot lines as well as an adult. They generally tend to focus on pictures, so as a result, when a child sees violence on television, they see a guy running around with guns shooting people in the face and they aren't shown all the repercussions behind all the senseless slaughtering. And it's not just that children don't understand the ramifications of violence, a lot of the time they aren't even getting the chance to see it. Very often violence and murder appear to be without consequence and they are represented as the ready "solution" to a problem. But in "real life," violence and murder normally have profound and lingering effects on both the people involved and on their friends and families. This painful reality is normally glossed over or ignored in film and TV drama.
With the average child spending 4 hours a day with television, computers, and video games, they end up being exposed to an extreme amount of violence. Children, or anyone for that matter, become desensitized. Violence is nothing new to them. In one study, children who, after watching a violent program, saw a fight in real life didn't call for help or intervene as quickly as others who had not just been watching a violent program.
Video games are probably the most dangerous due to the fact that, according to researchers, "they are interactive, very engrossing and require the player to identify with the aggressor". These video games train aggressive thoughts by teaching and letting kids practice aggressive solutions to life situations. In one study, a researcher sampled 33 of the more popular video games and found that not only did about 80% of the games have violent content, but 21% of the games had violence towards women. As the popularity of violent video games increase and it's users become desensitized to all the bloodshed and violence to which they are exposed to so frequently, the games will just evolve and become more violent, realistic, and more played.
Children are prone to mimic and copy what they see. In a matter of seconds, most children can mimic a movie or TV character, sing an advertising jingle, or give other examples of what they have learned from media. Sadly, these examples may include naming a popular brand of beer, striking a "sexy" pose, or play fighting. Children only have to put a movie into the VCR, open a magazine, click on a Web site, or watch TV to experience all kinds of messages. It really is that easy.
Messages about tobacco and alcohol are everywhere in media. For years, cigarette advertising has specifically targeted young people. And the research suggests that these ads have contributed to the initiation of many teen smokers.
But the allure of cigarette ads is not confined to adolescents. Studies have found that younger children who pay closer attention to cigarette ads are much more likely to view smoking favorably and to become smokers. In fact, one study found that twice as many children as adults were able to associate Joe Camel with Camel cigarettes and found the ads appealing.
Kids see characters on screen smoking and drinking. Like advertisements for cigarettes, the way smoking is depicted in movies sends young people the message that smoking is sexy, rebellious and cool, and that "everyone does it". Movies rarely show the health consequences of smoking - no lung cancer or heart disease. Likewise, cigarette-puffing action heroes aren't shown gasping for breath as they chase down bad guys.
Media heavily promote unhealthy foods. Ads for junk food and sweets have been found to influence children's short and long-term food preferences. Furthermore, there is evidence that children's television viewing is positively related to their consumption of candy and snack foods.
Paradoxically, at the same time that some ads sell snack foods to kids, others emphasize a female body image that is unrealistically thin. While children are encouraged to indulge in high-fat foods, girls are also given the strong message that they must not get fat. These two contradictory messages can lead to unhealthy eating behaviors.
Girls of all ages worry about their weight. Many of them are starting to diet at early ages. Media can promote an unrealistic image of how people look. Often, the thin and perfect-looking person on screen or in print is not even one whole person but parts of several people! This "person" is created by using body doubles, airbrushing, and computer-graphics techniques.
Studies have shown that children who feel alienated and don't have an adult to help them through the trials of growing up may be most susceptible to the negative effects of the media.
Parents need to set limits and be actively involved with the TV shows, computer games, magazines, and other media that children use. But this is only one step in helping media play a positive role in children's lives. Because media surround us and cannot be avoided, one way to filter their messages is to develop the skills to question, analyze, and evaluate them. This is called media literacy or media education.
Just as a print-literate child learns to be critical of the things he reads, he should also be able to do the same with moving pictures and sounds. Your child can learn to understand both the obvious and hidden messages in all media. Once children learn media education skills, they will begin to ask questions and think about the media messages they watch, read, and hear. And they usually will enjoy doing it!
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