Watch out for those screens

Watch out for those screens

Children using mediaThink all those images and characters showing up on your children’s various screens (phone, tablet, TV) don’t have an impact. Think again.

By Sara Vance

When was the last time you saw a character on a TV show or movie behave irresponsibly with drugs, violence, or sexual behavior?  Probably within the last 24 hours.  The quality of media has gotten increasingly worse while the effort required to access such media has greatly decreased.

In their 2010 study1, the Kaiser Family Foundation confirms this worrying trend: 8-18 year-olds spend about 7 hours and 38 minutes on entertainment media every day, but media-multitasking transforms those 7 hours and 38 minutes into something closer to 10 hours and 45 minutes. These children and adolescents who are surrounded by media and the lack of respect for families, traditional marriage, and sanctity of life contained therein are at a crucial age for their moral development. If they are exposed to so much degrading media, what will their morals become? How can we combat media’s attack and instill healthy morals in the rising generation?

Albert Bandura’s social learning theory2 teaches us that children learn behaviors through the observation of models. Children often admire characters portrayed in media and consequently model their behavior. Since such a large amount of media contains violence, irresponsible sexual behaviors, and other actions associated with tainted morals, and children spend so much of their time participating in media, we need to be concerned about the likely chance that they will imitate the conduct they view. One factor that impacts the likelihood of observers imitating behavior is the presence of rewards or punishments in the observed situation. One study conducted in 19963 found that most instances of sexual behavior in media completely disregard the associated consequences. When consequences are portrayed, they usually involved positive rewards such as gaining love, self-esteem and confidence, which would further motivate viewers to imitate behavior. These findings came from television programming in 1996. It’s obvious that TV shows and movies have only gotten worse since that time, so it’s safe to say that the effects today would be exacerbated.

As children observe more of these unhealthy behaviors in media, not only will they start to mimic what they see, but they will also start to internalize and embody the very beliefs that drive the behavior in the characters they observe. A person’s beliefs may not be consciously recognizable, but they play a big role in one’s thoughts and actions. Mahatma Gandhi wisely said, “Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny.” All of these factors influence one another and they are all influenced by the media we expose ourselves to.

You be the role model

tablets and childrenIf we don’t want children to start acting like characters in media, we must provide them with positive models and wholesome activities, things that don’t include a screen. A recent TIME article entitled, “More Than 33 Percent of Kids Under Two Use Tablets so Prepare for an Army of Robot Babies”4 commented on a Common Sense Media study5 which found exactly what the article’s title describes. Our very young children are being raised on smart phones and tablets – and where do they get these devices? From their parents! We can’t expect children to be wary of negative media if we’re handing them tablets right out of the womb. And what about the example you set for the children in your life? It’s not necessary to completely avoid media, but it’s important for us to be conscious of the quantity and quality of our media intake as adults. The American Academy of Pediatrics6 (AAP) suggests that adults – especially parents – should model healthy “media diets” and be active participants in children’s media use by monitoring screen time and having discussions about morals. AAP‘s recommendation is that children under two have no screen time, and children over two should be limited to two hours.

What can we do to teach kids healthy morals during all those hours spent away from TV and tablet screens? When children are young, we should introduce them to appropriate morals through wholesome activities that provide teaching opportunities. Families can do this by making time for family dinners, supporting one another in various hobbies, completing household projects, learning new skills, or reading books or playing games together. Don’t forget to put the cell phones down during family activities so you can take full advantage of the opportunities to strengthen relationships and teach morals. Creating an informal teaching and learning environment is especially important as children get older and discussions on more sensitive topics become necessary. In a comfortable environment, parents can teach their children potential dangers of media and desired morals in such a way that children will take them seriously and be more likely to live according to those morals.

What are we missing?

treeValues such as traditional marriage, the importance of families, and respect for the sanctity of life have all but vanished from popular media. If we want the rising generation to have instilled desires to be married, have a family, participate in healthy sexual behaviors, and treat everyone with respect, we must play an active role in their education because the ever-present educator that is the media will not teach them these things; it will likely do just the opposite.

Think of the children in your life – what kind of people do you wish for them to become? Consider the example you are setting for them – is your media use conducive to healthy moral development? What kind of media do you allow to influence your life and be present in your home? What values do you display in the way you act? If there are things in your conduct that you aren’t proud of – that you wouldn’t want the children you care about to be doing – it’s not too late to change. An old Chinese Proverb states, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” We can decide now to change for the better and have a more positive influence on the rising generation through the values and principles we teach, the example we set, and the media we allow them to be exposed to. You have a crucial role; don’t ignore it.

Sara VanceSara Vance is a junior at Brigham Young University – Idaho. She is currently working toward her Bachelor’s degree in Marriage and Family Studies.

Footnotes

  1. http://kff.org/other/event/generation-m2-media-in-the-lives-of/
  2. http://psychology.about.com/od/oindex/fl/What-Is-Observational-Learning.htm
  3. http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED409080
  4. http://newsfeed.time.com/2013/10/28/more-than-33-percent-of-kids-under-two-are-using-tablets- so-prepare-for-an-army-of-robot-babies/
  5. https://www.commonsensemedia.org/sites/default/files/research/zero-to-eight-2013.pdf
  6. http://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/pages/Managing-Media-We-Need-a-Plan.aspx
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