Sometimes the things that are considered innocent can be one of the worst things that will have surprisingly negative effects. Today it is normal for children to spend unrestricted time watching TV, playing video games, reading magazines, listening to music, and watching movies. How much do parents really know about what kinds of media their own children are exposed to? What affect is it having on their personality, education, emotion, and mind? Even though unlimited media exposure is considered normal for children of all ages, the media is shaping them in many negative ways that parents don’t even realize. How the media is shaping children is something parents need to realize and take a stand against, even if it is not the conventional way accepted today. It is the parents’ sole responsibility to monitor and control what media their children view and know that failing to do so is setting children up for failure.
One of the main issues that arise from the unmonitored and unrestricted use of the media by children and young adults is violent thoughts and or actions. The studies done so far suggest that violence has a stronger affect on boys than girls. This could be linked to the fact that a higher percentage of boys are drawn to video games and action movies than girls. Even programs designed for kids are contributing to the violence problem. On average 20-25 aggressive acts are seen in every hour of children’s television (Phillips). This number of aggressive acts in children’s programs is higher than on regular prime time adult TV shows. It is not surprising then that 14 year olds who watch more than three hours of TV per day are five times more aggressive than a 14 year old that only watches one hour of TV a day (Phillips). A study conducted by Albert Bandura at Stanford University revealed some shocking results. The study had children divide into two groups: one watching a video where a doll is getting beat up and one where the doll is treated normal. After watching this, the children were observed playing with toys, one of which was the doll. The children who had seen the violent video were able to recreate in detail what they had seen done to the doll. This affect is called the Bobo Affect. This affect is not only shown in children but also in adults (Phillips). There have been cases of adults watching and becoming obsessed with horror movies and then reenacting them with real people. These examples show that there are real dangers that are associated with seeing violence, especially at a young age.
One of the main contributors to violent behavior is video games. While TV shows display aggression and violence, video games take it to a new level. Video games allow the player to control the action. Most video games are based around death and destruction. The goal of these games is to kill the enemy or destroy what is seen on the screen. This hands-on gaming experience allows everything to feel real. These video games can feel so real that excessive game play can blur the lines between reality and fiction. This is what seems to have happened in the case of 18-year-old Devin Moore. He was obsessed with the Grand Theft Auto video game series. In this game, you can steal cars, kill or fight anyone that is around you, rob people, and basically do whatever you feel like. After being questioned by the police about a stolen car, he grabbed one of the cop’s guns and ended up shooting and killing three officers (Phillips). After he was caught he said, “Life is like a video game. You have to die sometime” (Phillips). This case highlights how real these affects can be in young adults. Although it is not fair to say the only reason this happened was because of the video game, Grand Theft Auto, the ideas and actions of the game heavily influenced how Moore rationalized and carried out his actions.
Several different studies have been conducted regarding the effect video games have on the brain. All of the results seem to be fairly consistent. The brain and how it functions are affected by playing video games. According to Dr. DelMonte, ThD and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, research done at Indiana University proves that after one week of playing violent video games certain parts of the brain experienced negative changes. The regions of the brain that experience these negative changes are the emotional, attention, and inhibition regions (Park). Depressed activity in these regions of the brain is similar to what is observed in serious sociopathic disorders (Park). Some of the less serious symptoms of this would be higher aggression levels and depression (Phillips). One of the reasons video games are so popular is the way they reward the brain. The concentration during the game and the reward once the task or level is finished reward the brain with bursts of dopamine. This makes game play more rewarding than many other activities are (DelMonte). Because video games do reward the brain in a certain way it makes sense that children are drawn to them and want to spend more time playing them.
Although media violence tends to affect boys more, body image and celebrity influence issues tend to affect girls more. These issues have a tremendous effect on the development and growth of young girls. The problems presented can shape them and change them well into their adult lives.
Over the last 50 years, eating disorders have been on the rise (Morris and Katzman). Eating disorders are very serious and can lead to health problems, death, and can be a life long struggle to regain control once the disorder has started. One study that showed that even in a group of girls where most of them fall into a healthy weight category, 44% thought they were overweight and 60% of them were trying to lose weight (Morris and Katzman). Studies like this show how strongly girls feel about their body image and how badly they are misjudging what is healthy. The primary reason for the increase in negative body image and eating disorders is the media and how they portray the way women should look. If somebody turned on the TV, watched a movie, read a magazine or tabloid, most likely they would find women who are very slim or underweight. Bombarding young girls with images of models and celebrities that are unrealistic weights makes them feel that they need to fit that mold to be accepted as pretty and worthy of attention. This feeling of wanting to be accepted is what motivates girls to find ways to lose weight, most of them detrimental to their health. Weight loss in young adult girls is usually done in an unhealthy way because they aren’t educated on how to lose weight properly. Most of the time dieting in this age range includes severely limiting calories or taking diet pills. An alarming and shocking percentage of Playboy Magazine models are underweight, about 70% of them (Morris and Katzman). Although children should not have access to magazines like these, they still show the perception of what is considered beautiful in the media’s eyes. What type of message does this send to girls who idolize these models or watch the TV shows based on following their lives? It is a parent’s job to help guide young girls and teach them what is healthy and how to love you own body. It may be impossible to shelter a child from all of the media showing what women “should” look like but knowing when to limit it or say no to a particular TV show is crucial. The media can be used as a starting place to talk to young girls about body image and eating disorders when they are seen to help counter act the negative effects that the media is forcing upon them.
Young girls also seem to imitate what they see celebrities doing or saying without knowing what it means or negative affects it could have on them. One first grade teacher, Julie Seborowski, says her 7-year-old students hum songs that have suggestive lyrics and flirt with the boys in the class (Scelfo). This is just the start of what celebrity’s influences can have on girls. As girls get older the problems get more serious, like imitating what they wear, partying, drinking, and drug use. It seems like most young starlets have had a stint or two in rehab, not to mention promiscuous behavior that is made to look fun and carefree with no real consequences. When young girls try to act out the behaviors they have witnessed it can lead to teen pregnancy, addictions, and the impaired judgment from drugs or alcohol can lead to rape or abusive situations.
Educators say that girls’ dressing provocatively is not to attract the attention of boys but rater to be popular and fit in among the other girls (Scelfo). The problem with this is that they are attracting the attention of boys, attention that just reinforces that having the perfect body makes you fit in and wanted. Imitating partying, drinking, drug use, and promiscuity are ways that girls feel they will fit in. If a girl perceives that everyone else is doing it, even if it is not true, it makes her want to also (Scelfo). This perception and wanting to fit in can lead to a destructive path. This can be stopped if parents take the time to listen to what their daughters like, who they like, and what they watch and read. Listening to what celebrities they or their favorite bands like may seem boring but know who they look up too and what influences they are presenting is a great way to counteract the negative effects. If parents know what is going through their heads they can talk about it and steer them away from making bad or dangerous choices.
If so many young girls did not look up to and idolize celebrities, there would be less negative influences on them. Trying to give girls other good role models is a way to reinforce better behaviors. Celebrities also need to realize that every step they make is being followed by millions of girls, but since this doesn’t seem to be a priority of theirs, it is in the parent’s hands to stop the imitating before it’s gone too far. Who buys the skimpy clothes, the magazines, or the music of these young girls? The parents are the ones supporting these influences and allowing it in their homes.
A factor that people may argue in favor of computers and video games is that IQ scores have been rising (Phillips). Although they have been rising up to 25 points a generation, educational scores have been dropping (Phillips). It seems that the types of thinking involved in education are different from IQ tests. A decrease in physical activity and creative play may be the difference. A balance between computer, video game, and TV time with outdoor, creative, and interactive play would benefit IQ as well as educational scores.
The extended amounts of time spent in front of a screen, whether it be computer or TV, can lead to health problems other than just psychological disorders. Children who lack enough physical activity are at higher risks for Attention Deficit Hyper Activity Disorder as well as other learning disorders (Phillips). Obesity is one of the biggest concerns for children right now. Obesity has become a huge health issue that can become a lifelong problem (Phillips). Teaching children good physical habits like limiting TV and video game time would make a substantial difference. Another side affect of too much inactivity is sleep problems, attention difficulties, and elevated verbal aggression (Phillips).
There are some positive effects from the media. Some positives of the media are public service announcements about disease control, abusive situations, and help for them (DelMonte). There are many anti-drinking and anti-drug commercials directed at teens and children giving them information of how dangerous these things can be. These ads and announcements are good ways to start talking to children about topics that may otherwise be difficult or awkward. The sooner these topics are brought up and discussed the greater the chance is the child will make the right choice when and if the situation does come up.
There are some positive educational benefits from the media as well. Age appropriate TV shows can help coordination and stimulate the brain, though outdoor play especially with family members, has the same if not better affects (DelMonte). Educational magazines can offer benefits as well, like Highlights Magazine, it has puzzles and games which some children find rewarding to complete (Del Monte). Even though there are some good things about the media, it needs to be in moderation with other forms of entertainment and activities.
Overall, parents need to spend more quality time with their children, teaching them the values that they want them to have, if parents do not step up and teach them the media will. Children need to be taught the difference between what is real and what is fake, that video games are in an electronic world and we are living in the real world where every action matters. In a child’s mind, the lines can become blurred, especially with how realistic everything is made to look in the media. Monitoring what children are watching and making sure it is age appropriate is very important. Media rated with high levels of violence or language should be considered carefully as it can have a greater impact if the child is not emotional mature enough to handle what they are seeing. Remember, the media is a great tool to bring up important but awkward topics, these topics, like drugs, sex, and violence, need to be addressed by parents before their kids come to a point where they are faced with these situation and don’t know what to do. They are more likely to follow what they have seen if they don’t have any other strong influences telling them otherwise. Parenting is an active process; it is something that takes effort and dedication. The parents that are willing to put in this time and effort will have a stronger relationship with their child. This relationship enables parents to be one of their child’s primary influences and teachers. The key here is that parents need to take responsibility for what they allow their kids to do. It is the parent’s job to raise their kids, if they don’t the media will.
DelMonte, Desiree. “Research Paper.” Message to Kristy Ruthstrom. 7 March 2012. E-mail.
Morris, Anne, and Katzman, Debra. “The Impact of the Media on Eating Disorders in
Children and Adolescents.” Paediatr Child Health. 2003 May-Jun; 8(5): 287-289.
Web. 19 Mar. 2012.
Park, Alice. “How Playing Violent Video Games May Change the Brain.” Time
Healthland. Time Mag., 2 Dec. 2011. Web. 5 Mar. 2012.
Phillips, Helen. “Mind-Altering Media. (Cover Story).” New Scientist 194.2600 (2007): 33. TOPICsearch. Web. 19 Mar. 2012.
Scelfo, Julie. et al. “Girls Gone Bad? (Cover Story).” Newsweek 149.7 (2007): 40. TOPICsearch. Web. 19 Mar. 2012.