Communication

Raising our children in an electronic media world

September 6, 2011 1522

By Jerome L. Singer and Dorothy G. Singer, Yale University

One of the greatest developments of the nineteenth century in industrial Europe, Canada and the United States was the recognition that children were no longer to be forced into slave-like labor from their earliest years. The health of society depended on treating children as a special category of humans, protected as much as possible from  physical and social exploitation and exposed to the best available medical care  and to opportunities for reasonable education.  As a result, constitutional and legal regulations were widely established for the care of children. In a recent  challenging New York Times Op-Ed article, Joel Bakan, a Canadian Professor of Law, has identified a serious issue,  corporate uses of the electronic media to influence children’s  buying choices; thus threatening their psychological, social, and even their physical development.

The crisis has emerged as corporations in the United States have been recognized as legal persons. Hence, their efforts in commercial areas to induce  and encourage product sales have been protected under “freedom of speech” principles. A recent law in California that would prohibit the sale of violent videogames to children has been overturned by the Supreme Court in 2011 on free speech grounds, despite considerable research concerning the possible harmfulness of such devices. Only Supreme Court  Justice Breyer’s dissent  took systematic social science research seriously.

Children’s use of the media

We are concerned that young children are exposed by the electronic media to advertisements for potentially unhealthy foods and beverages, and also to numerous  television programs and  computer games that  glorify  violence. Children between the ages of  2 and 7 see an average of  13,904 television commercials  per year, compared to 30,155 for 8 to 12 year-olds.   A significant number of these advertisements are for food and may be linked to the increase of obesity. Children during one week spend  about  3 hours  or more on cell phones,  8 hours playing video games,  and  more than 10 hours on  computers. These  are  new outlets for advertising of products  and  also include  the use of websites. In employing “advergaming,” a company provides interactive games featuring their products  on its website  hoping that potential customers will be attracted to the game, spend more time playing on the website, or simply become more product aware. Unfortunately, most of the food commercials promote  low nutrient and high  caloric  foods  or  what we label “junk food.” Research indicates that less than  1% of a sample of more than 500 food ads on children’s programs in 2009 featured nutritional products such as  fruits, vegetables or wholegrain breads.

Children are also  the  targets of toy companies, especially  during the fall season leading up to Christmas. Older children are  vulnerable to the tobacco and alcohol advertising  in print  and on billboards.  There are now commercials for beer and for some  hard liquors on television,  mainly  during sports  programs which are frequently watched by the over-8 year old groups. 

Violent videos

The video game industry is an $18 billion dollar business in the United  States. Despite the recession, one of the most violent  games, Grand Theft Auto (GTA), continues to sell.  Grand Theft  Auto IV,  a leader in the video game field, sold 3.6 million copies in just one  day  after its release. About 70 million copies of other Grand Theft Auto editions have sold worldwide since its debut in 1997.  In 2010, GTA: San Andreas  was  the  third  best selling game of all time.

Research taking into account similar variables  in a large number  of  studies,  indicates that the  heavy playing of violent video games results in aggression in children as  well as leading to less empathy, caring, or civil behavior in non-game situations. Furthermore, new brain research shows that those who play violent video games show physical desensitization in the form of brain responses to violent imagery. These brain differences in violent video game players lead to a breakdown in the motivational system which normally inhibits aggression.  In the laboratory, violent video game players who showed these brain responses also behaved more aggressively when provoked.  Isn’t it time for our legal  and legislative policy-makers to pay attention to social science research in the area of children and the media?

Further reading

Bakan, J. (August 22, 2011). The kids are not all right.  The New York Times, p. A19.

Singer, D.G. & Singer, J.L. (Eds). (2012). Handbook of Children and the Media. Second Edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. Inc.

Singer, D.G. (Summer, 2009). Play and the search for  identity in the cyberspace community. Washington and Lee Law Review 66, 3 (1003-1031).

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Ayansola Ebenezer

It has been empirically researched that human is a product of nature, nuture and environment. However, the environment is considered the most influential, as it interacts with the human attitude formation, psychology, perception and behavioural tendencies. In addition, the human mind is a fertile ground for such attitude formation. The social media children are exposed to today represents an environment that is difficult to screen or flter considering the laws protecting their providers.Thus, we are helpless in our quest to control the kind of media our children consume. The highly commercialised society has been blinded by the drive for profit… Read more »

RobinNJ

Ayansola, Rather than demonize corporations for hiding behind freedom of speech, how about demonizing good old fashioned parenting. You are aware that parents are a strong first building block for children. They are the first agent(s) of socialization depending on whether it’s a family or single parenting family. It begins at home, the Government cannot get involved in what you do in your own home, just as they cannot tell you how many children to have. Poverty starts when irresponsible people have children they know they can’t afford. If you can’t afford to support yourself, you should refrain from sex,… Read more »

Arlene Feinstein

My daughter is almost 5. She does watch DVDs, but is very sensitive to “scary” ones, meaning anything violent or psychologically “scary.” She does love, TV, however, and demonstrates cranky “withdrawal” symptoms when I try to turn it off. Honestly, the over-consumered society wants to marinate our children in a broth of advertising and materialism. It’s practically counter-culture to not let your kids watch TV, not let them eat crappy food that is the norm, or not take them to Disney movies. My daughter has not seen a single disney princess movie, but she knows all the princesses Ultimately, it’s… Read more »

shakti pathak

The real challenge is for social scientists. They need to suggest new ideas in mending habits of children. Cartoon movies, vedeo games on environmental and other value based issues with as much attractions as other easily available business house sponsored and propagated visual materials must be given prominence with wide coverage with the help of UN and nation states so that futre generations could contribute more and more in the betterment of humanity.

Yusdin Gagarmusu

talking about children education especially in such digital age, it must be taken into consideration that all technology devices (TV etc) can give harmful effects for children development. it can be worst if parents nowadays don’t pay attention to the issue.

Zainab

the negative and harmful effects of media are now not only a considerable and mind boggling issue for west but its also getting its feet stronger in non industrial and eastern nations. the reason behind can be the changing world into a global village, easy accessibility to the world media, computer and other technology gadgets like mobiles, i-pads laptops etc. Secondly, the children and teenagers are now more inclind towards computer games, video games, television commercials including violent animated movies than playing physical games or being involved in productive activities, and the reason for this can be assumed to be… Read more »

Daniel

Obesity, violence, tobacco, alcohol… as the main topics about “Raising our children in an electronic media world”. I will also love to discuss more about positive aspects and challenges. When I think in the electronic media world and my daughter new topics emerge in my mind: is she going to learn to communicate (to use videos, website, social networks, mail for her communication goals)?, Is she going to be able to find accurate, rigorous, useful information to solve her problems? How is she going to organise her life to be able to get the maximum profit from electronic media? Is… Read more »

Dorita Arapaki

Every child , like the adult, is the product of our commercial culture that grows in the last decades. The only difference between them is that the child is the most potential and persistent buyer for these companies, able to convince even the most strict parent to consume. So, we are the ones to put the blame on this addictive process, which thrives in the subconscious context of the constant advertising via TV and the internet. The problem is not only the great responsibility that we have as adults or as teachers towards our kids, but also the fact that… Read more »

Christel Manning

Of course. It would be great if politicians paid more attention to social scientists. But until they do, perhaps it’s time that parents paid more attention too. I know too many progressive parents who decry the ill effects of advertising and violence in the media–and then continue to plop their kids in front of the TV and buy them violent games.

Brian, ATP

Indeed. The negative effects are not directly experienced at all, or to a lesser extent, by those who eliminate or reduce the exposer. While it is clearly true what has been put forward by this article, none of this occurs in a vacuum, way too many variables to start putting forth mindful policy initiatives that might have unintended, unjust restrictive outcomes, not to mention all the unmentioned, unanalyzed POSITIVE things that we take as granted, i.e. cell phone communication that enhances safety. Put it this way- If you have ever listened to US Supreme Court debate and discussions, it is… Read more »

Anonymous

Of course. It would be great if politicians paid more attention to social scientists. But until they do, perhaps it’s time that parents paid more attention too. I know too many progressive parents who decry the ill effects of advertising and violence in the media–and then continue to plop their kids in front of the TV and buy them violent games.

Christel Manning

Of course. It would be nice if policy makers paid attention to social scientists, but given that they aren’t, (or at least not enough of them are), perhaps we might call on parents to pay more attention to such research, and, more importantly, to act on their concerns. As you point out, studies showing the ill effects of advertising and violent video games have been around for a while, and I know many progressive parents who decry these effects as well . . . but they keep plopping their children in front of the tube and keep buying them games.… Read more »

Anonymous

Every child , like the adult, is the product of our commercial culture that grows in the last decades. The only difference between them is that the child is the most potential and persistent buyer for these companies, able to convince even the most strict parent to consume. So, we are the ones to put the blame on this addictive process, which thrives in the subconscious context of the constant advertising via TV and the internet. The problem is not only the great responsibility that we have as adults or as teachers towards our kids, but also the fact that… Read more »

vimala

The media especially the TV and the many programmes that are shown during prime time and other times, have strong impact on children’s mind. They are still very young and immature and would not be able to select the right message from the wrong message. Many programmes and advertisements are obnoxious and making children see these would onl affect their thinking adversely. The programmes that are capable of generating good value system and good habits and good thinking are important. A few porgrammes on the protection of environment, keeping surroundings clean etc will go a long way in creating these… Read more »