|Studies Show Negative Impact of Media
By Teresa Tomeo
ALEXANDRIA, Virginia, 15 DEC. 2008 (ZENIT)
Does watching sex and
aggression on TV and in video games lead teens to have sex and be more
aggressive in real life? Two studies published by the journal of the
American Pediatrics Association say yes.
"Does Watching Sex on Television Predict Teen Pregnancy? Findings from a
National Longitudinal Survey of Youth," conducted by the Rand
Corporation, and "Longitudinal Effects of Violent Video Games on
Aggression in Japan and the United States," by Craig A. Anderson,
director of Iowa State University's Center for the Study of Violence,
appeared in the November issue of "Pediatrics." Both studies showed a
correlation between the behaviors witnessed on TV or in video games and
a change of behavior in adolescent.
Kristen Fyfe, the senior writer for the Culture and Media Institute,
analyzed those studies and shared with ZENIT some advice for parents
before they head out the door with their Christmas shopping list to grab
that video game or new iPod for their teen.
Q: In your report "Sex and Aggression: the Media Impact on Children,"
you analyze two recent and very eye-opening studies that link the
content of TV shows to teen pregnancy. Why are these two studies so
Fyfe: The reports are significant for many reasons, most prominently
because they are longitudinal
in other words the same groups of kids were studied over a period of
several years. Many studies, equally valid, don't measure outcomes over
time but rather in "snap shot" form. These studies factored in the
growth/development and maturation of the kids studied. In addition, with
regard to the teen pregnancy link, this is one of the first studies to
make the connection between watching any kind of sexually themed TV
including innuendo/inexplicit content
with teen pregnancy.
Further they looked at girls and boys
the girls who get/got pregnant and the boys who helped make it happen.
With regard to the study on video game playing and aggression, the other
aspect of the study that makes it particularly significant is the
cross-cultural component. Researchers looked at children/teens in
America and Japan. The fact that Japanese culture is generally less
aggressive than American culture is significant because in this study
Japanese children had the same outcomes as their American counterparts.
Q. What do parents need to know when it comes to how the media are
impacting the lives of their children and families?
Fyfe: Parents need to know that the amount of media and the kinds of
media kids consume have a real negative impact. There is a new report
out that is a meta-analysis
study of studies
of media influence and shows conclusively that there is a strong
correlation between greater exposure to media and adverse health
including changes in the way the brain develops, obesity, increased
aggression, increased sexual activity, drug and alcohol use and low
academic achievement. See the New York Times article on this latest
Q: As a Catholic parent yourself, what did you take away from these
Fyfe: As a Catholic parent these studies only reinforce my conviction
that it is our God-given responsibility to shepherd our children through
a cultural minefield that seeks to undermine God's best for them. When I
teach CCD to my 8th graders and we talk about "worshipping false gods" I
challenge them with the idea that anything they spend an inordinate
amount of time and energy on is an idol
especially if God comes in second to that obsession. And I ask them
do you spend more time thinking about God or listening to your
iPod/playing video games/watching TV? They get really uncomfortable when
confronted like this.
The other thing I try to be mindful of is the reality that my kids are
going to have to navigate this media minefield and I can't protect them
from it by simply unplugging it or forbidding them to watch/play/listen.
I have to equip them to make good choices and to recognize the unholy
values promoted in much of what they see. I don't believe in today's
society that parents do their kids any favors by shielding them
completely from media. They are surrounded by it and need to master it
in order to compete as adults. However, we can teach them, set
boundaries and challenge them to be critical consumers. And yes we can
even do that with little ones.
Q: Considering what these studies revealed, are there any particular
items that parents should be aware of this Christmas when it comes to
media related products on their children's Christmas list such as
particular video games, movies, or particular types of cell phones or
Fyfe: Parents need to do their homework and not believe the hype. Use
the ratings systems on video games. If they are rated "M" (mature)
there's a reason for that. Use the good resources provided by the
Parents Television Council and Focus on the Family to research the
content of video games. Focus's publication "Plugged In Online" also
gives good reviews of movies, books and music. When it comes to cell
phones and iPods realize that anything that can access the Internet
becomes a vehicle through which questionable content can be viewed. More
kids are watching TV via mobile devices and home computers than on the
regular old TV these days. Finally, do not buy a TV or computer for a
child's room. There is ample research out there that shows kids with
those devices in their room suffer a decline in their academic
performance. In short: be the parent!
Q: A study by the Barna Group released at this time last year showed
that despite the concerns Christian parents have about media influence
they still feel pressured to buy questionable video games or other media
products. Is this changing?
Fyfe: I don't think so. Again this comes back to the idea that sometimes
being the parent means making unpopular choices. When I'm confronted
with this quandary I often ask: Would you allow your kids to hang out
with sexually promiscuous, drug abusing, narcissistic, violent friends?
That's exactly what you're doing when you allow kids unfettered access
to questionable media products. We can't teach our kids to stand up to
bad influences if we, as parents, are not willing to stand up to the
pressure to buy the questionable product just because it's popular.
Seriously, if it were anything other than media products (games, movies,
music, books) would we even hesitate to make the hard choice?
Q: Do you find that parents are starting to take the issues more
seriously before hitting the stores?
Fyfe: I think parents are becoming more educated and if there is any
blessing in the miserable economy it may be that parents are more
discriminating about what they buy. But really, until the media
and by that I mean news media, advertising media
puts some muscle into the message of the detrimental effects (like
they've done with smoking) parents aren't going to pay attention and
will not take it seriously.
Q: Can you give parents some suggestions on positive media items on the
market today? Any recommendations?
Fyfe: When it comes to video games, those rated "E" are always a safe
bet. And the products for the Wii gaming system that get kids up off the
couch are great. You can work up a sweat playing Wii tennis!
As for DVDs, "Narnia II: Prince Caspian" is now out on DVD, as are "The
Longshots," "Fly Me to the Moon" and "Wall-E."
Truthfully, if I were shopping for positive media items I'd probably
bypass the big-box retailers and head to my neighborhood Christian
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On the Net:
More resources recommended by the Culture and Media Institute:
The Parents Television Council: www.Parentstv.org
Focus on the Family's "Plugged In Online": www.pluggedinonline.com
National Institute on Media and the Family: www.mediafamily.org
Common Sense Media: www.commonsensemedia.org