- Family and Parenting
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 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
- and 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 we cover what parents need to know.
The Influence of Media on Obesity
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. Ads on television, in magazine, 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. A number of methods are used to influence food choices and children are more susceptible to these messages because they don't differentiate what is just a marketing ploy and what is real.
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 "cool"/beautiful looking people consuming it. These tactics influence children more easily than adults and it seems they become more deeply embedded in their decision making process.
Limiting television viewing time and encouraging physical activity are precautions that parents should consider. Discussion about food ads can also help develop critical thinking about them. To do this, parents need to be present during at least some of the time children are watching.
More Information about Television and Obesity
- 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?
Choosing Television to Promote Health
The influence of media on children, television in particular, is capable of being positive despite many of the negative images as long as good choices and critical thinking are used. Starting young is the best way of avoiding issues. Here are some recommendations for quality viewing.
- Tasty Time with ZeFronk | Disney Junior India
Tasty Time with ZeFronk is a series of shorts starring ZeFronk, a French wiener dog who hosts a cooking show from inside his doghouse. (encourages kids to make their own snacks)
- The Wiggles
The Wiggles show and site has many educational tools, games, and acitivities. Here is access to some shows that focus on food and nutrition.
- Sesame Street
Tools to use to teach a healthy lifestyle.
- Cooking with Cutty
Learn about good health, nutrition, and sports habits.
Media Influence on Women's and Girl's Body Image
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, bulemia, 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.
Learn More About Media Influence on Body Image
Helping Kids Develop a Healthy Body Image
Media Influences on Behavior and Sexual Roles
The influence of media on children also effects 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 to 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, women as 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 women should not only look, but also how they should behave.
What Does Advertising Tell Us About How Normal Women Should Behave?
Avoiding or Counteracting the Influence of Media Related to Sexuality Issues
There are a number of ways parents can exert some control over the influence of media on children. With younger children it isn't too complicated to limit their exposure to television and other types of media. However, 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 young children can be important. As mentioned above you can filter out content that is inappropriate but as they get a bit older a parent can discuss what they've seen on TV. A discussion about what was "off" about how people were depicted in a particular show is more useful at this stage.
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 2 dimensional character.
This article on Sexual Con Games covers some tips on counteracting Media Messages.
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 catastrophy, 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 in fact, 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 they way they think and behave.
Learn More About How Advertising in the Media is Shaping Our Lives
- National Geographic
Discusses the spread of consumerism to developing countries and the devastating results.
- The Bribed Soul: Ads, TV and American Culture
A conversation about how advertising rules everything we see and experience in American Culture.
An audio interview regarding the book "Born to Buy".
- Media Smarts
How Marketers target kids.
More about Consumerism
What Parents Can 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.