Influence of Media on Children
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
- Children, Adolescents, Obesity, and the Media | From the American Academy of Pediatrics | Pediatrics
An article describing numerous research studies regarding the link between media and obesity.
- Obesity Prevention Source
A short review of the link between TV viewing and obesity as well other sitting-time activities
The link between watching TV/video games and obesity. Could watching TV double the risk of obesity?
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.
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?)
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
Tips for parents about how to facilitate critical thinking regarding advertisements
- Media Awareness
Resources for educators and parents to combat the influence of advertising.
- Teens . Advertising . Children and Media . PBS Parents | PBS
Learn ways to decrease the influence of advertising in your teen's life.
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