More than ever before, the media is all around us. We experience it on our TVs, on our computers, on our smart phones, in our newspapers, and on the radio. It is our primary medium for both communication and entertainment. For teens, this is even truer. The majority of their lives, including a significant portion of their social interaction, is guided and supported by different kinds of media and the messages that media provides.
The messages that seep into their lives through these media platforms are both subtle and pervasive. They can alter opinions, change minds, encourage new experiences, and set expectations about the world outside our family. These messages are both good and bad and teens may struggle differentiating between the two.
- School Performance – According to the Kaiser Family Foundation study entitled Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8-to 18-year-olds, teens that spend more time interacting with media have lower grades and spend less time reading than their peers.
- Obesity –The Kaiser Family Foundation pulled together the most significant research on childhood obesity and media usage from the last 30 years and presented it in a fact sheet entitled The Role of Media in Childhood Obesity. Although this analysis found that there are several factors that contribute to the obesity problem, media usage plays an important role.
- Exposure to advertising – An article from the American Academy of Pediatrics highlights the dangerous and unhealthy messages our teenagers get from advertising about food, body image, smoking, alcohol use, nutrition, sex, and obesity. Because advertising highlights benefits without showing negative consequences it can create unrealistic expectations for the outcome of specific behavior.
- Violence – The Kaiser Family Foundation also produced a fact sheet on the relationship between media violence and behavior. Although no study has established a definitive link between media violence and violent behavior in teens, there is adequate evidence to support a causal relationship between media violence and aggressive behavior.
- Sex – A study conducted by the RAND Corporation found that teens with significant exposure to sexual content in the media were more likely to become sexually active and had a greater risk for teen pregnancy.
What Parents Can Do
The American Academy of Pediatrics says there are some steps parents can take to minimize the effect media has on their teens. The most important factor is to stay involved and participate with your teen, especially when they don’t want you to. For most teenagers, elimination of media, if it were even possible, is not necessarily the right solution. Media is so pervasive in our culture that providing teens with the skills necessary to question, evaluate, analyze, and discuss the messages they see in media is more effective than outright bans. By teaching them to process the messages they are being bombarded with everyday, parents are giving them the tools to mitigate the impact of media on their lives.
Parents can also work with their teens to create a media plan that includes watching TV and movies together, limiting media time, restricting programs and content that are not appropriate and setting aside media free time for school work and family meals. Parents can also limit media usage by keeping televisions, video games, and computers in common areas and out of bedrooms.