Influence of Media on Child Conduct and Behavior

Parents can’t escape the effect media has on children. According to a study conducted by the Children’s Hospital of Boston and Harvard University, young people spend more time watching television, playing computer games and listening to music than any other single activity except sleep. Instead of trying to keep programs from children, parents must understand how to use media to bring out the best in their children.

Media and Violence

Parents and educators have long worried about the impact watching violence on television will have on children. Research suggests that their fears are well founded. A 2003 study completed by Missouri Western State University showed that children do become more violent after watching a violent program. The study followed children between the ages of 5 and 12. Their initial behavior was recorded. The children were then shown a "Tom and Jerry" cartoon clip. The behavior after the cartoon was also recorded. Every participant participated in more violent behavior after the cartoon than before.

Media and Education

Parents can take comfort in knowing that just as children can learn negative behavior from television, they can also learn positive skills. In a study completed by Princeton University, researchers found that children aged 2 and older learned from a wide range of media, including television, computer and Internet. For example, a group of preschoolers was shown episodes of “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.” Their behavior was tracked both before and after watching the program. The children showed greater persistence in working on tasks, were more apt to follow rules and had greater patience for waiting than they did before watching the program. This change continued for two weeks.

Media and Healthy Behavior

Because of the pervasive use of media in children’s lives, media affects children’s health. The time spent watching television or playing video games is time away from active play. The Harvard study found that high use of media in children leads to obesity. In addition, watching programs and movies can lead many young people to have a distorted view of beauty and health. This gives the young person a poor body image and can lead to depression and eating disorders.

Parent’s Roles in Media

The Children’s Hospital of Boston suggests that parents remember the five Cs of media. First, parents must control the amount of time children spend on media. Children should be limited to one to two hours a day total. Second, parents must understand that content matters. What children watch is as important as how much children watch. Choose programs that model behavior you value in your community. Third, parents must understand the context in which children use media. Sitting down and watching a show passively with friends has a very different impact than playing a first-person shooter video game alone. Fourth, parents must teach the children to think critically about what they watch. This means that parents must watch with the children. Ask question such as “How do you think that character feels?” or “What would you do in this situation?” Finally, parents must teach children to create a sense of media mastery. This means that children and their parents must feel that they are in charge of the media in their lives. Media is not in control of the family.