The influence of the media on the development of children is profound. Child's exposure to media is unlimited. Educators have responsibility to provide guidance on age appropriate use of all media, including television, radio, music, video games and the Internet. Media hypes the basic facts of information and presents them so as to increase the superficial appeal of things.
Media emphasizes money and glamour aspects, film stars, models and the successful men and women in the field of sports arts and politics.
Beneficial effects include early readiness for learning, educational enrichment, opportunities to view or participate in discussions of social issues, exposure to the arts through music and performance, and entertainment. Harmful effects may result from sensationalization of violent behavior, exposure to subtle or explicit sexual content, promotion of unrealistic body images, presentation of poor health habits as desirable practices, and exposure to persuasive advertising targeting children.
Parental monitoring is a key factor, since the research studies show that increasing guidance from parents is at least as important as simply reducing media violence. Children may learn negative behavior patterns and values from many other experiences as well as TV programs, and parental guidance is needed to help children sort out these influences and develop the ability to make sound decisions on their own.
An important media literacy skill, which can be developed through parental guidance, is a child's ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy in media messages. Children may not be capable of making this distinction without an adult's help, resulting in a child's confused perception of fantasy as reality. But with proper adult guidance, they can learn to critique what they view and become more discriminating consumers of media.
There are two important factors that must be included in the discussion of media influence on children. One factor, called media literacy. Just because our students can use media and technology doesn't mean they are effective at critically analyzing and evaluating the messages they receive. Students need a set of skills to ask important questions about what they watch, see, listen to and read. Often called media literacy, these skills include the ability to critically analyze media messages and the ability to use different kinds of communication technologies for self-expression and communication. A child who is media illiterate is more vulnerable to being influenced by messages in all kinds of media.
The second factor that can affect how children are influenced by media is the amount of parental involvement in supervising media exposure of children. Television has the potential to generate both positive and negative effects. An individual child’s developmental level is a critical factor in determining whether the medium will have positive or negative effects. Exposure to violence, inappropriate sexuality, offensive language and obesity are negative effects on child behavior. With prolonged viewing, the information shown on television becomes the real .Excessive television watching may have a deleterious effect on learning and academic performance. Bullying and jokes repeated leads to suicide.
Television viewing frequently limits children’s time for vital activities such as playing, reading, learning to talk, spending time with peers and family, storytelling, participating in regular exercise, and developing other necessary physical, mental and social skills.
Watching television by emotionally disturbed children increases aggressive behavior. "It is not violence itself but the context in which it is portrayed that can make the difference between learning about violence and learning to be violent." Violence conveys a model of conflict resolution. They imitate this. Cinema and serials depicts love in school life. Heroes confess their love. Vulnerable youth who have been victimized may be tempted to use violence means to solve their problem.
Culture is a way of life which includes beliefs, authentic and institutions of a civilization. The media reflect the society but they do much more. They exaggerate, sensationalize and even trivalise. Music videos and rock hands that give messages that alcohol, drugs and sex are an inevitable and enjoyable part of life are accepted as a part of today’s culture.
Television takes time away from play and exercise activities, children who watch a lot of television are less physically fit and more likely to eat high fat and high energy snack foods as commercial advertisements promote unhealthy dietary practices. Innocence is lost at an early age since the children are encouraged to participate and imitate the attitude and actions of adults.
Advertising can have positive effects on children’s behaviour. The developmental stage of a child plays a role in the effect of commercials. Young children do not understand the concept of a sales pitch. They feel deprived if they do not have advertised products. Some video games may help the development of fine motor skills and coordination, but many of the concerns about the negative effects to excessive exposure to video games. Violent video games should be discouraged because they have harmful effects on children’s mental development.
Parents may feel outsmarted or overwhelmed by their children’s computer and Internet abilities, or they may not appreciate that the ‘new medium’ is an essential component of the new literacy, in which their children need to be fluent.. The dangers inherent in this relatively uncontrolled ‘wired’ world are many and varied. These dangers must be unmasked and a wise parent will learn how to protect their children by immersing themselves in the medium and taking advice from the many resources aimed at protecting children while allowing them to reap the rich benefits in a safe environment.
The Internet has a significant potential for providing children and youth with access to educational information, and can be compared with a huge home library. However, the lack of editorial standards limits the Internet’s credibility as a source of information. There are other concerns as well.
The amount of time spent watching television and sitting in front of computers can affect a child’s postural development .Excessive amounts of time at a computer can contribute to obesity, undeveloped social skills and a form of addictive behaviour. Other concerns include pedophiles who use the Internet to lure young people into relationships. There is also the potential for children to be exposed to pornographic material.
There is a wealth of information on coping with the vast resources of the Web. Parents should be encouraged to appreciate that there is potential for more good than bad, as long as one has the knowledge to tell the difference. Parents & teachers must be ready to face that challenge and ensure that they reap the potential benefits as safely as possible.
SUGGESTIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS:
Parents should become more familiar with the kinds of media to which their children may be exposed.
Parents to be aware of the significance of television early in a child’s life.
Parents should continue to increase their own level of awareness on the influence of media on the development of psychosocial health.
Families should be encouraged to explore media together and discuss their educational value. Children should be encouraged to criticize and analyze what they see in the media. Parents can help children differentiate between fantasy and reality, particularly when it comes to sex, violence and advertising.
No child should be allowed to have a television, computer or video game equipment in his or her bedroom. A central location is strongly advised with common access and common passwords.
Families may want to consider more active and creative ways to spend time together.
Families should limit the use of television, computers or video games as a diversion, substitute teacher or electronic nanny. Parents should also ask alternative caregivers to maintain the same rules for media use in their absence. The rules in divorced parents’ households should be consistent.
Studies show that parents play an important role in their children’s social learning, but if a parent’s views are not discussed explicitly with children, the medium may teach and influence by default. Other media, such as magazines, radio, video games and the Internet, also have the potential to influence children’s eating habits, exercise habits, buying habits and mental health. If children are allowed to be exposed to these media without adult supervision, they may have the same deleterious effects as television.
A consistent recommendation in studies, however, is proactive parental involvement in children’s media experiences. By monitoring what children hear and see, discussion issues that emerge, and sharing media time with their children, parents can moderate the negative influences as well as increase the positive effects of media in the lives of their children.
Physicians should openly talk with parents about the nature and extent of safety on using social media by children. A strong advocate for TV rating and installation of chips to block certain programmes recommended.
About the Authors:
Mrs. J. Lakshmi and Mrs. Usha Kannan are teachers at SRM Nightingale School, Chennai.