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How Media Effects Children

Television has become a significant socializing agent whose influence begins well before children enter public school. Most children grow up in homes where the television is on for an average of seven hours a day, creating a virtually closed-circuit environment. The average preschool child (ages two to five) watches about 28 hours a week, and the average school-age child (ages to six to 11) watches about 24 hours per week (Nielsen Media Research, p. 12-16). The average U. S.

high school graduate will have spent more time watching television than in any activity other than sleeping (American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Communications, p. 1119-1120). Although everyone can view television, poor and minority children rely more heavily on television as a prime source of information and education (Greenberg, p. 165-188; Huston, Watkins, & Kunkel, p. 424-433). Research on the effects of television on children has been conducted for more than 30 years. Data indicate that children are affected by direct instruction, by the disinhibition of aggressive impulses, and through value shaping (Bandura, p.

56-64; FriedrichCofer & Huston, p. 364-371; Huesmann, p. 1-6; Singer & Singer, p. 107-124). Children exposed to heavy doses of television violence can develop antisocial values, which can lead to aggressive acts and tolerance of aggressive behavior (Huesmann & Malamuth, p. 1-6). Television violence is not the only cause of aggression in children, but it has consistently been found to be one cause (Singer & Singer, p. 171-188). Heavy television viewing can cause increased restlessness as well as aggression, which can lead to academic and social problems (Eron & Huesmann, p.

195-202). There is also evidence that heavy television viewing by children can create a sense of danger and vulnerability in a “mean world” (Gerbner, Gross, Morgan, & Signorelli, p. 177-196). Some children exposed to heavy doses of television viewing may learn aggressive behavior, and other children may learn “to be a victim and identify with victims” (Pearl et al. , p. 90). Interest in the socializing influence of television has not been limited to its correlation with violence and aggression.

Numerous studies have found the potential for both negative and positive influences in regard to the acquisition of sex-role and racial attitudes (Liebert & Spraflcin, p. 34). Child development issues have been a source of additional research interest. Singer and Singer (p. 27-36) and Carlsson-Paige and Levin (p. 56-72) have identified a relationship between television viewing and displacement of children’s imaginative play with imitative play. In a Canadian study, the introduction of television in a previously television-free town adversely affected children’s reading and creative thinking (Williams, p.

82-97). Exploitation of Children and Childhood How violent is children’s television? According to Advertising Age (“Viewpoint Forum,” p. 18), the average child ages four to eight in one year watched 250 episodes of war-related cartoons and more than 1,000 30-second commercials selling war toys. Although children’s cartoons have always been violent the 1984 deregulation of children’s television has led to a proliferation of toy-based programming or program-length commercials, many of which have violence or war as the central theme.

As a result between 1983 and 1986 sales of the war toy segment of the toy industry increased 600 percent (Riley, p. 48-51), and by 1987 sales had increased 700 percent (“Viewpoint Forum,” p. 18). The toy industry’s response to deregulation was to increase the number of war cartoons per week, from 1 i/2 hours to 48 hours between 1983 and 1987 (“Viewpoint Forum,” p. 18). Children, drawn to television’s images of power (Carlsson-Paige & Levin, p. 37-38), have a power of their own–disposable income. American children between ages four and 12 average $4. 42 in weekly income.

Annually they receive a total of $8. 6 billion, of which they spend $6 billion (McNeal, 1989). About one-half of the $12. 5-billion toy industry is supported directly by children (“Creeping Commercialism,” p. 6). Children received 10 percent more income in 1989 than in the preceding year from parents “long on money and short on time” (McNeal, p. B3). Additionally, the significant demographic shifts that have taken place in the American family have made it unlikely that parents will give up television’s baby-sitting function (Singer & Singer, p. 171-188).

Concomitant with the ubiquitous presence of television in the American home has been a dramatic rise in the number of working women with young children and the number of single-parent families. By 1990, nearly three-fourths of both parents in married-couple families with children worked full- or part-time. Nearly two-thirds of all single-woman heads of household were employed full- or part-time (U. S. Bureau of the Census, p. 1-54). About 15 million of the 63 million children younger than 18 were living with a single parent, and two-thirds of these children (10. 3 million) were younger than age 11 (U. S.

Bureau of the Census, p. 13-27). Children, who “remain relentless demanders of time and attention”, do not readily understand the increased pressures of home, work, and single parenthood (Smith, p. 58). These parental pressures provide a context in which children may become attached to television. In the past 20 years parents have experienced a 33 1/3 percent decline in leisure time (Levitan, Belous, & Gallo, p. 74-85) and spend 40 percent less time with their children (Mattox, p. 12). This situation is further complicated by social policy that has not kept up with the changing American family (Levitan et al.

, p. 35). A lack of social policy that supports families and regulates children’s television has left children vulnerable to the marketplace. The result is an exploitation of children and childhood. Effect of Television on Children’s Health Television viewing has been negatively implicated in the physical health, psychosocial well-being, and cognitive development of children. For example, pediatric studies have demonstrated the effect of commercials on poor dietary intake, possible childhood obesity, and risk-taking behaviors (Kennedy, p. 3-38; Kennedy & Lipsitt, p. 1-7; Robinson, p. 73-78).

Moreover, heavy television viewing (more than 2 hours/day) is associated with fewer physical activities, less satisfying social relationships, few interpersonal interactions, low reading skills, low social achievements, and aggressive behaviors (Dorr & Rabin, p. 323-351; Van Evra, p. 68-78). How are children hooked into television and how are their behaviors influenced? One of the first factors to consider is content of televised shows and commercials. Persuasive advertising aimed at children is extremely prevalent in the United States, with estimates that children watch up to 20,000 advertisements per year (Unnikrishnan & Bajpai, p.

58-72). An analysis of products advertised to children revealed that more than two thirds were related to food. The majority of these commercials are for foods high in fat, sugar, or salt. More important than number or content, however, children’s advertisements link products with happiness, fun, and personal enhancement. Young children are especially vulnerable to advertising with emotional ploys, since they have the least developed cognitive skills to understand what is real or not, what the ads intend to sell, and the hidden link between product and feelings.

Children learn to associate a positive feeling or an accomplishment with the purchase or ingestion of a product. This may be achieved in younger children through the use of cute animals, cartoon characters, and desirable figures that emulate popular actors or sports figures. Older youth are targeted with advertisements that build powerful associations with developmental needs such as popularity, individuality, and sexual identity. This is particularly obvious in music and print media. One health issue associated with television viewing is the increasing problem of obesity in children and youth.

Data from the most recent Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (Troiano & Flegal, p. , 497-504) indicates that 14% of children and 12% of adolescents are overweight. The prevalence of obesity increased from 12% in 1991 to 17. 9% in 1998. Obesity is increasing even among the youngest children in the United States. The number of obese young children under 5 years of age increased from 18. 6% in 1988 to 21. 6% in 1995 (Mei et al. , N/A). The cost related to medical expenses and lost productivity attributed to obesity in children and adults was a staggering $99 billion in 1995 (Wolf & Colditz, p. 97-106).

Thus, decreasing the rate of obesity among children and adolescents has been identified as a national healthcare priority in the federal agenda for Healthy People 2010. (U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, N/A ). Children, whose body mass index (BMI) is greater than or equal to 95% are more likely to be obese as adults (Jeffery et al. , p. 5-16). Several health problems in adults are now correlated to childhood obesity, including cardiovascular diseases, sleep disorders, type II diabetes, and mental health problems (Epstein, Klein, & Wisniewski, p. 151-158; Guillaume, Lapidus, Bjorntorp, & Lambert, p.

549-556). Of greater concern is how some obesity-related conditions, such as type II diabetes, which have historically only been seen in adulthood, are now being diagnosed in children (Rudloff & Feldmann, p. S1-S6). Moreover, obese children often develop psychosocial problems, such as low self-esteem and social withdrawal. Although studies show that certain genetic factors play an important role in determining individual susceptibility to obesity, the environment also can promote behaviors that lead to obesity. American families spend more time watching television and eating outside the home than ever before.

This increases the frequency of high-fat food consumption and decreases the amount of physical activity. Other environmental factors include an increasing availability of food and portion size, and preferences for a high-fat diet. It is not uncommon to find most fast-food restaurants now “super-sizing” items in their menu. Television advertisements increasingly suggest that purchasing a super-sized item for only a few more cents is a bargain. What the advertisement fails to mention is the price consumers pay for the added fat, salt, and calories.

Increased use of transportation and technology has minimized the amount of time children and adolescents engage in physical activity. For example, more children are playing computer games instead of physical games. Regular physical activity decreases the prevalence of obesity and risk of death from cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and high cholesterol. The level of physical activity decreases with age, especially for girls. Approximately 80% of young children but only 64% of adolescents engage in the recommended amount of physical activity (Andersen, Crespo, Bartlett, Cheskin, & Pratt, p.

938-942). In 1986 Gortmaker et al. (p. 356-362) examined the relationship between television viewing and obesity in 746 children ages 6 to 11 years, with follow-up data in 1990. They found a strong relationship between the number of hours of television viewing and the prevalence of obesity. Excessive television viewing (more than S hours/day) was attributed to 60% of overweight incidence in their study. These findings are similar to other studies (Dietz & Gortmaker, p. 807-812).

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