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Influence of Media on Children

I worked with children throughout college. I have an MA in Speech-Language Pathology and am interested in kid-related issues.

How Does Television and the Media Influence Children?

Have you ever wondered about the influence of media on children?

Television can be a powerful entertainment and education tool for children given the right programming. However, studies have shown that television, and media in general, can also have a very negative influence. Some studies indicate that if exposure is unmonitored and unlimited, it can:

  • shorten attention span
  • distort body image
  • work in conjunction with other factors to escalate obesity
  • create fear
  • increase aggressive and anti-social behaviors

Learn about what the research shows regarding the influence of media on children, the dangers, and how to counteract the potential negative influence here on this page as I cover what parents need to know.

The Influence of Media on Obesity and What Parents Can Do

The influence of media on children extends to health-related issues. Although television has the power to educate on nutrition, exercise, and a wide variety of health-related issues, it can also be a negative force through images and advertisements which influence viewers to make poor food choices or to overeat.

In addition, excessive television viewing can result in inactivity which further contributes to excessive weight gain and poor fitness levels.

Children are specifically targeted by some advertisements and are even more vulnerable than adults to their influence. Their minds are still developing and without guidance, they can't critically analyze what they watch and realize what they are seeing is merely a marketing scheme.

Ads on television, in magazines, and online influence food choices, often choices which are high calorie and not nutritionally sound. Food ads also appear to influence children to snack more often. Adults must assist children in questioning and thinking critically about the messages they see on TV.

It is estimated that children in the U.S. see over a thousand fast food commercials every year and per Pediatrics December 2006 a total of about 3,000 ads in general per day (print, internet, television, billboards, etc combined).

A number of methods are used to influence food choices and children are very susceptible to these messages. Food is made to look more appealing in ads by brushing it with oil to make it glisten, by having the actors smile and appear to be having a very good time, or to make it look really "cool" by having celebrities or beautiful looking people consuming it. These tactics influence children more easily than adults and it seems the messages become more deeply embedded in their decision-making process.

There are a few options for parents though to help limit the impact of these marketing efforts.

  • Limit television viewing time and encourage more physical and hands-on activity.
  • Discuss food ads with kids to help develop critical thinking about what they are seeing. To do this, parents need to be present during at least some of the time children are watching.
  • With the youngest kids, parents can restrict viewing time to pre-recorded content which eliminates ads.
  • Strive to expose children to programming that will help establish healthier habits. The influence of media on children, television, in particular, is capable of being positive. Starting young is the best way of avoiding issues. Here are a couple of recommendations for quality viewing.
    - Tasty Time with ZeFronk from Disney Junior
    - Cooking with Cutty on CuttyTV

Learn More

Media Influence on Body Image and What Parents Can Do

The influence of media on children also extends into how we view ourselves and others. Television shows portray women in a certain way. Generally focusing primarily on their attractiveness, or at least Hollywood's version of it. Women's satisfaction with their bodies is influenced by these images, but young girls are even more affected because their self-image is still developing and their bodies are still changing.

These images from movies, television, and all kinds of advertisements bombard women; often with the effect of creating an unattainable image in their minds of how they should appear. Anorexia, bulimia, low self-esteem and a host of other problems can result. These images, of course, can also affect the expectations that men have regarding how women "should" behave and look.

Talking with young girls about the images they see and giving them better role models can be important.

In recent years, the question of body image and boys has also gained attention. It seems that media increasingly idealizes a certain type of build and in response, young boys begin to believe that they should match that ideal image.

Luckily there are things parents can do:

  • For any child, parents can assist them in developing a healthier attitude toward their body. It always helps to be a good role model. For a start, it's important to avoid being judgmental about body shape and attractiveness or any obsession with weight loss. Instead, focusing on the importance of eating healthy and being active can encourage lifelong good habits and a healthier body image.
  • In addition, viewing media with kids to help them more critically analyze what they are seeing can help them realize that the "ideal" may be a myth. One important thing to discuss is photo editing/Photoshop, great camera work, makeup, costuming, etc. which creates much of what they see in ads and on screen.
  • Of course, another great way of fostering a more positive body image is to praise kids for their skill, achievements, and even more importantly, their efforts, persistence, and problem solving to attain goals. This helps assure their focus is on developing these more important attributes.

Learn More

Helping Kids Develop a Healthy Body Image

Media Influences on Behavior and Sexual Roles and How To Counteract It

The influence of media on children also affects how kids perceive what is and is not acceptable. Smoking is an example. When celebrities and role models are depicted smoking; it appears to be a normal and acceptable behavior. So too with drug use, drinking, cell phone use when driving, physical violence, and so forth.

Parental role modeling, the behavior of peers, and other factors play into this as well, but the effect of media is indeed strong.

Certainly, the media often portrays men as aggressive and women as more passive. In addition, women are often portrayed with a focus on their beauty and sexuality. These images, often repeated, can influence how both women and men feel they should not only look but also how they should behave.

Of course it not impossible to counteract these negative influences. There are a number of ways parents can exert some control or counterbalance.

  • With younger children, it isn't too complicated to limit their exposure to television and other types of media. However, later on, it becomes increasingly important for parents to take an active role in how kids evaluate what they see in print, on television, and on the internet.
  • Viewing media with children can be important. Parents can discuss what they've seen on TV. For instance, a discussion about what was "off" about how people were depicted in a particular show is more useful at this stage. "Was that realistic?", "Why or why not?" "What do you think really would have happened if she acted like that?" are some of the kinds of questions that might be asked.
  • Encouraging kids to develop a healthy respect for both genders (races, or anything else) is a good idea. If a kid is enthusiastic about a sport, for instance, it's good to expose them to athletes of both genders and to encourage them to see the strengths of both. Growing up with a healthy respect for both genders helps kids to reject some of the images that depict the opposite gender as a two-dimensional character.

This article on Sexual Con Games covers some tips on counteracting media messages.

What Does Advertising Tell Us About How Normal Women Should Behave?

Consumerism: The Ugly Truth about Media?

We are all susceptible to the messages we see in the media, but the influence of media on children is particularly powerful. Many of our basic beliefs are formed in our early years and media can hold sway if not monitored and regulated by parents.

Per Wikipedia, consumerism is the "equating of personal happiness with the purchasing of material possessions and consumption." Nearly all forms of media are filled with both overt and subliminal messages encouraging us to buy.

Academic experts have attributed depression, anxiety, and other emotional maladies with consumerism. It is said by some to be leading us to a social/financial catastrophe, and certainly, even religious leaders have seriously challenged the value of our consumer-based culture.

Reports have indicated that many families in the US have their TV on an average of 6 ¾ hours per day potentially giving their TV a stronger foothold in a child's education than their school teacher. According to The Sourcebook for Teaching Science, the average child views 1500 hours of television per year compared to spending only 900 hours per year in school.

With so much time to educate and entertain, it becomes clear that television is indeed a powerful force in how we perceive things; both for adults and for children. Certainly, for advertisers, children are a desirable target as they are even less likely to be consciously aware that those who promote products are attempting to shape the way they think and behave.

Helping children develop media literacy is a good start in helping kids see how media tries to pull them in. For instance, helping them analyze:

  • what is a sales pitch (being able to identify it in their daily lives)
  • what is fake vs. real (comparing ads to the real thing)
  • why marketers depict things a certain way (Why is Beyonce drinking Pepsi while singing and wearing that glittery outfit?)

Learn More

More about Consumerism

What Else Can Parents Do to Battle the Influence of Media Advertising?

With media advertising often targeting children specifically, it is important for parents to learn what they can about the techniques used by ad companies. The resources below will help.

Parents can then engage their kids in looking critically at the marketing that is thrown at them in an effort to thwart the influence of media on children. Several of the links will provide tips for parents of young children and teens to make them more marketing savvy.

Countering Media Advertising

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2008 Ruth Coffee

Influence of Media on Children: Find What You Need? Let Us Know!

Christine Seibold on March 07, 2020:

I like this blog very informative article on Influence of Media on Children. The overuse of digital gadgets might cause disability in the advancement of a child's social abilities. Extreme exposure to television is a risk aspect for overweight in preschool-aged youngsters, Somewhat remarkably, the impact can be gauged in the youngsters' nutritional habits, weight, health, fitnesstipsweb.com as well as habits as teens, according to research by researchers at the University of Michigan. This consists of the capability to make close friends in person, take obligation for actions, display good manners, make use of respectful language, control feelings, as well as temper, adhere to verbal directions, and also develop empathy for others.

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Virginiangare on May 24, 2013:

About attention is so true. I never let my son watch TV for more than an hour

geosum on May 10, 2013:

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Tea Pixie on May 26, 2012:

I like the information you have provided. I spent years in public television and I truly believe that there are educational opportunities on TV, but it's the already educated who put their kids in front of those programs. I also believe in the value of media literacy - not to set kids up to be technologically savvy, but so that they can understand one basic action: turn off the tv/internet/radio if you don't agree with the programming. All stations are ratings driven (because the ratings are used to secure advertising dollars) and if more people turn off "non-nutritional" programming, ratings numbers will be smaller. If ratings are smaller, advertisers won't pay. If advertisers won't pay, the program will get taken off the air. The same goes for the internet; if you don't 'click through' they won't get paid.

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anonymous on September 11, 2011:

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anonymous on August 10, 2011:

Kids need to be limited in the amount of TV they watch and what they watch... that would be a good start. Blessed by an angel.

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AuthorNormaBudden on July 02, 2011:

For the most part, thanks to the programs my kids watch on satellite television, most of the programming watched in our home is free from advertisements. My children seem to realize their self-worth and are open and honest about their feelings. I guess I have been blessed in yet another area of life.

hjrankin on June 21, 2011:

Like your lens. How much do we just take for granted the influence the media has on our kids!

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phoenix arizona f on June 06, 2011:

We let our son watch Netflix and I love that they have a children's movie section. He learns a lot this way, but no advertisements.

PrepareToBloom on May 23, 2011:

Television should not only be monitored with young kids, but it should be monitored and limited for all people. Watching TV is a sedentary "activity" that involves sitting. Please google the negative health effects of sitting to find out how excessive tv time can have deleterious health effects. Also, the content in this lens mentions how excessive tv might lead to Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Please be advised that this isn't JUST limited to girls! Boys are also susceptible to the negative influence of TV on their views of their bodies and their behavior.

akumar46 lm on May 23, 2011:

Influence of Media on Children can be worse ,so we must act carefully...thanks for nice information.

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anonymous on May 16, 2011:

Do you guys understand the word media propaganda? If that could work so well in making the whole fool then influencing the mind of children is very easy task and have strong influence on their personality and future life. Media is power tool to shape the masses.

thebabyshop on May 11, 2011:

Yes, media is definitely an influence on children! It has been for decades. Before it was TV that had the biggest impact, today, the internet is taking the lead. My daughter is only one, but I when I see her watching commercials when we watch TV I realize how long and how often we're exposed to commercials and media from such a young age!

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Parentalrights on May 10, 2011:

Thank you for a packed and informative lens that can help empower parents to make the best decisions for their kids.

Jerrad28 on May 09, 2011:

I think as long as parents keep a positive and interactive relationship with their children, detrimental media can be offset. Parents should not use tv and video games as a babysitter or way to keep their kids occupied so they can get away

Wedding Mom on May 07, 2011:

Media is like parents' worst and best enemy. This is truly an insightful and wonderfully discussed lens. It is such a pleasure to read it. Love your lens

RetroMom on May 06, 2011:

Don't leave your children unattended. So that you can explain everything that's confusing for them.

OrganicMom247 on May 01, 2011:

Media is plays a very significant part of our lives but I do agree that anything in excess is a problem. We need to know the things that is going on between us and media does provide it to us but it is up to us viewers when to draw the line. Thank you for tackling up this topic, you've made such a wonderful and informative lens!

pinkrenegade lm on April 27, 2011:

Media can be good and also bad for children. That's true. But with proper guidance of the parents or guardian or an adult, there will be no problem with it.

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TheOmegaJuggalo on April 20, 2011:

The article was nicely written, and you presented it well.

However, I think blaming technology is a parental strategy that lets the parents themselves ignore the fact that they're inadequate of raising an intelligent child.

People force their kids to go to public school, raise them to believe that working an unhappy life is the way to live, and then blame TV. Classy.

Not giving you any grief... just stating an honest opinion.

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plushdeco on April 12, 2011:

It's not a question on how media influences children. It does the same with adults. Most families spend their whole free time in front of TV so basically parents influence kids more than TV itself. If the parents would spend time with their kids, read, hike, play, talk then wouldn't be any problem.

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It is amazing how today's media can influence our kids so much..but I think with proper supervision you can reap all the benefits today's media can offer them

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Yes.. Media influence children in all possible way.

Just limit TV time for a start.

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Ruth Coffee (author) from Zionsville, Indiana on January 29, 2011:

@steveroper: We agree completely on that. A pet peeve of mine...we spend our lives watching other people live it!! From sports to reality TV. Too many people are passive about life and expect to be entertained rather than entertaining themselves.

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Grenerdheadat lens - and something to which we all (especially parents) should give a lot more thought. I read on another lens that, on average, before a child is old enough to enter 1st grade, he or she has watched a number of hours of TV equivalent to the hours needed to earn a bachelors degree. Now, that's stunning!

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I am always looking to help my children navigate the messed up messaging that the media feeds to us. Thank you for providing all this great info!

Anthony Godinho from Ontario, Canada on January 15, 2011:

A lot of truth portrayed through this lens that we can all learn from. TV and entertainment has almost taken over a lot of our lives to a point that we have become slaves to it. There needs to be a balance and definitely we need to set a good example for our younger generation. Well presented!

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I believe that in most households there is just too much TV. We spend too much time watching other people doing stuff and not actually doing anything ourselves. We actually built our

Kleeneze business in what would otherwise have been TV time. 5 years later we semi retired! We think that was a better use of our evenings!

MargoPArrowsmith on November 14, 2010:

People should watch TV with their kids and talk about it.

ZablonMukuba on November 05, 2010:

the media plays a powerful role on our kids and we have to protect them against it

anonymous on November 04, 2010:

Keeping kids safe is the responsibility of parents. If you let them watch, watch with them. TV is not a babysitter.

Nathalie Roy from France (Canadian expat) on November 04, 2010:

^TV is not bad, but should be watch under supervision. My son is not allowed to watch more than 30 min a day (he rarely watch that much anyway) and since we are in France, he watch DVD only because here kids TV is filled with advertising toward them (toys, junk food). When we were in Canada it was not a problem because in Canada it is forbidden to have advertising for kids.

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Andy-Po on August 30, 2010:

Very interesting. My son is just 7 months old and already fascinated by the TV (not that I let him watch it much yet) so I imagine it will be a very powerful influence as he gets older.

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Thank you so much for these articles! They helped a ton with my persuasive english essay. I never really realized how much effect the media has until I really dug deep into research... This is insane! I watched SuperSize Me in health class and it finally made me understand that my generation is becoming really involved with the media--and that's a scary thought! Now, its one of my goals to raise awareness about how harmful the media really is.

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Demaw on March 24, 2010:

People are living in a media driven culture, how can children not be swayed when adults are?

kariano on February 10, 2010:

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Earth_Friend on February 05, 2010:

Nice lens! Television is getting worse and worse, kids need to start doing more activities instead of planting themselves in front of the television. Take a look at Green Tips For Kids , there are some fun ecofriendly activities for kids.

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This is a very good lens. The television and other forms of media carry both benefits and disadvantages to people especially children. That is why, it is important for parents to know the shows that interests their children. It would even be best if the parents could watch along with their kids so that they can guide them further and answer questions raised by their children. 5*

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Influence of Media on children is very important subject. It's great that we can read information about it.

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anonymous on September 16, 2009:

Am posting this twice, because this is an important topic to me. About 50% of what's on TV is total junk and holds no verifiable truths whatsoever. Same with internet and books. My teenager, not a young kid, was kind and loving and honest until she was abducted by the show "Heroes" while simultaneously reading the "Twilight" books. When we will get over killing and blood lust for sport and stop confusing wrong with right for entertainment purposes, who knows. To me, it's just not ok simply because 'everyone's doing it'.

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