Understanding the Impact of Media on Children and Teens

Media Matters
Year Published: Not Dated
National Media Education Campaign
American Academy of Pediatrics

This article outlines ways in which parents can derail the powerful influence of the media on children. When parents help children look with a critical eye at television programming, advertisements, and celebrity endorsements, they have empowered their children to become critical thinkers. The power of media may not be immediately evident in young children, The gory scenes on television and in video games show children that conflict should be handled with violence, not words. The scenes gain power as thousands flash across the screen over their first ten years of a child's life. The cumulative effect of those scenes may crop up in adolescent conflicts, and the teen may handle the situations with methods remembered from media. The young person who begins to use cigarettes and alcohol replays those thousands of television and print advertisements that portray both behaviors as cool and attractive, not unhealthy and deadly. Sexually charged sitcoms and music videos depict sex as a fun activity with few lasting consequences. The scenes of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies are left on the cutting room floor. One of the most disturbing by-products of media fascination with beautiful people and fantasy situations is an epidemic of eating disorders. Studies show that girls are particularly vulnerable. Some begin dieting as early as eight or nine years old, believing that they must live up to the images of beauty they see in the media. Few are aware that the photos they see of thin, gorgeous models have been retouched, airbrushed, or even built as a composite from several different models' body parts. What can we do to make young people more informed, critical analysts of media messages? We can talk to them about how the images are made. We can explain how companies target young consumers with their advertising. We can set limits on the amount of time children spend playing video games, watching television, or surfing the net. Media influences are everywhere. We can't avoidthem but we can teach our children to look at them with a critical eye, analyzing and evaluating the message.

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