What is the influence of media on children’s development, including aggression, ethnic and gender stereotypes, consumerism, and academic learning?
Bee & Boyd (2007) puts the question in perspective very well: “Television… is an educational medium. Children learn from what they watch” (p. 411). One study after another demonstrates the effectiveness of visual media (e.g. television, video games, movies, etc) as a teaching tool.
If the media is Sesame Street or Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood or even positively themed but less intentionally educational media like Lassie, viewers benefit. Whether fostering racial tolerance, kindness, helpfulness, vocabulary or school readiness, TV shows have been shown to be correlated with positive outcomes for viewing children (Bee & Boyd, 2007, p. 408-409). On the other hand, violent TV shows have been shown to correlate concurrently and longitudinally with poorer grades, lower test scores and the less developed reading skills (Bee & Boyd, p. 409). More disturbingly, TV has been show to correlate with emotional desensitization and increases in aggressive behavior. One study found the incidence of aggressive acts immediately following viewing of a popular, violent children’s show increased sevenfold (Bee & Boyd, p. 410). Another study links the watching of violent television at age eight with serious criminal behavior 20 years later (Bee & Boyd, p. 410). There also seems to be a dangerous vicious circle as regards violence and media, “the more violent television programs children watch, the more violent video games they prefer, and the more aggressively they behave toward peers (Mediascope, 1999)” (Bee & Boyd, p. 412).
Bee & Boyd (2007) quote L.D. Eron’s testimony to Congress that makes an excellent summary of the subject: “There can no longer be any doubt that heavy exposure to televised violence is one of the causes of aggressive behavior, crime and violence in society. The evidence comes from both the laboratory and real-life studies. Television violence affects youngsters of all ages, of both genders, at all socioeconomic levels and all levels of intelligence. The effect is not limited to children who are already disposed to being aggressive and is not restricted to this country. (Eron, 1992, p. S8539)” (p. 410-411).
Bee, H., & Boyd, B. (2007). The developing child (11th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.