Media Exposure and Adolescents
Television and other media (movies, video games, computers and music) are deeply woven into the fabric of every day life in many parts of the world. In the United States, more families own televisions than own telephones.
Many media programs, songs and games are beneficial to adolescents, with educational, creative, diverse and thought-provoking content. On the other hand, there also can be negative influences from these various types of media. For example, increased television watching has been associated with obesity and poor school performance. Media violence may make some teens less sensitive to violence, may increase aggressive behavior, can affect their schoolwork, and even twist some teens’ views of the world. Recent studies suggest that middle-school-aged children who watch R-rated movies are more likely to try smoking or drinking. Even cartoons originally made for young children may include acts of violence, or mention tobacco and alcohol.
It is no surprise that media affects adolescents because they spend so much time exposed to it. Studies have shown that in a typical week, the average child between the ages of 8 and 18 years spends more than 7 hours per day watching television, playing video games, watching videos, using the computer and listening to music. That is more than a full-time job! Even young children between the ages of 2 and 7 years spend on average three hours per day using media.
Parents and other caregivers can take the following steps to lessen the negative impact of media on their adolescents:
- Limit total media time. Adolescents (and all children older than 2 years) should not use media (television, videos, video games, computer) for more than one to two hours per day. Instead, encourage your teen to spend time every day doing other things, such as reading books, playing sports, doing outdoor activities, talking with friends, writing letters and helping with household chores.
- Carefully select programs. Before your teen watches television or videos, at home or with others, first find out what the program is all about (better yet, watch the program yourself), to make sure it is appropriate for your teen. It is best not to rely on movie ratings alone. Although they will give you a rough idea of the content, you must see the program itself in order to know whether your teen can handle it. Limit your adolescent’s exposure to R-rated media that contain violence; adult language; adult themes; sex; or alcohol, tobacco or drug use. Remember that movies rated PG-13 may contain material that is not appropriate for children under 13.
- Watch what your teen watches. Watch programs with your adolescent and discuss them together. Talk about issues raised by the characters, point out ways in which your family values may differ from those expressed in the program, and teach your teen how to look critically at advertisements. Do not allow televisions or computers in your teen’s bedroom where you cannot monitor their use.
- Be a good role model. Limit your own use of media. Choose programs carefully and turn the television off when you are not watching it. Record programs that contain adult content and watch them after your kids are asleep. Support public television and other educational programming.