Media’s Impact on Youth
Story by Kymberly Breckenridge
Illustrated by Tatyana Starikova
You watch an image of a glistening glass filled with iced soda, and suddenly you are thirsty. A commercial showing frolicking young women in tight bikinis, and a flash of your most hated body part enters your head. A piece of music comes on the radio and whips you up until you are dancing in the car. We are all affected by media because it is designed to grab our attention and change our way of thinking. And we are adults with fully developed brains and years to work on our belief system. Imagine the impact media has on growing minds with no ability to reflect upon their actions and no experience seeing the world other than what television or video games present.
When my seven- and nine-year-old watch television, it’s as if they fall into a trance, eyes glued to the set, allowing the flow of information to enter their memories without question. They are unable to communicate with me unless I physically turn off the media device, and even then it takes them a good couple of minutes to form complete sentences. But in the spirit of full disclosure, I have come to rely on iPads and Disney movies to babysit my kids, even while I write this article. The story of media and how we use it to raise our children is so complicated, so layered in guilt and keeping up with the Joneses, that many choose to ignore the problem altogether.
The influence of the media on the psychosocial development of children doesn’t have to have negative consequences. My daughter learned how to count in Spanish thanks to Dora the Explorer, just as I learned the importance of kindness from Big Bird. There are wonderful learning apps out there that engage young learners through multiple mediums to teach anything, from math and language arts to coding. When used correctly and in the right context, media can enhance any learning, as most of us have multiple intelligences that we can draw from simultaneously.
However, recent evidence raises concerns about media’s effects on aggression, sexual behavior, substance use, eating disorders and academic difficulties among our youth (though I might suggest it affects our families as a whole). If we think of our youth as sponges absorbing information, it is reasonable to assume that every trite movie or television show they watch gets filed away as “facts” of the world. It is then up to us, the parents who allowed the child to view the material, to responsibly talk to them about the material they just saw. Ask questions like: “What message do you think the director/advertiser was trying to convey? How did that make you feel about yourself?” Media by itself is not dangerous unless it is unexamined by those around the child who have a firm grasp of media’s intention on the world.
In an article published in its journal Paediatrics & Child Health, the Canadian Paediatric Society asserts: “An individual child’s developmental level is a critical factor in determining whether the medium will have positive or negative effects.” CPS cites literature that suggests excessive television viewing can lead to childhood obesity, violent behavior, irresponsible sexual behavior and increased reckless spending due to influential advertising. Our little ones might seem more grown up due to the media surrounding them, but biology remains steadfast. Preadolescents and adolescents will view content in completely different ways than adults.
Technology is part of our now and part of our future. As parents, we need to embrace the inevitable while giving our children the tools to examine the media for entertainment or educational purposes.