The Effects That Media Consumption & Screen Time Has on Children
Our society has had a tense relationship with media consumption for some time now. Since the dawn of television facets of the community have raised concerns about what influence the media has. Sometimes this has been from a physiological and mental health perspective, at others from the standpoint of intellectual or moral development.
In our digital age, this has taken on new dimensions as online media plays a more central role in our lives.
This is especially present when it comes to our children. Our variety of digital media tools influences a young age. There are certainly positives in embracing technology, but there’s also a lot of discussion about the negatives. Indeed, a recent study found that 61% of parents polled sought advice regarding their children’s screen time from a medical professional. As such, this constant media presence in the lives of children is worthy of serious consideration.
We’re going to take a moment to look at what the relative positives and negatives are regarding children’s media consumption.
As a Source of Information
Whether the media your children consume is entertaining, educational, or social, it is all providing them with information. This is, of course, essential to their ability to understand the world. Global and local news alike are at their fingertips, as are rich and varied stories in movies and TV shows.
That said, a wealth of information at their disposal does not automatically equate to trustworthy knowledge. The open-source nature of our digital landscape means that the information your children consume may well be colored by more negative influences and agendas. Misinformation and discrimination are rife across the media today. When children’s consumption is left unaddressed, these influences may well be inadvertently given as much weight in their minds as credible sources, affecting their opinions and decisions accordingly.
While there may be some benefit to reducing screen time in a more general sense, the answer is not necessarily censorship. Depending on your child’s age, removing their ability to consume less trustworthy forms of information reduces the opportunity to engage critical thinking skills. Rather, as a parent, it is important to support your child’s viewing with discussions. Talk to them about the context of the information they’re seeing — the biases and the influences. Follow this up with exercises in information reviews and how to identify credible resources. Provide them with the knowledge of how to more effectively process the information they’re receiving.
As a Cultural Touchstone
Digital media has become a key part of our contemporary culture. More importantly, though, it is a conduit to share and learn about more diverse cultures. This is perhaps the true value of an open, globally-connected media ecosystem — your children have the opportunity to engage with different ideas from exposure to their media. Not just professional media, either, but the content made by citizens through YouTube, Twitch streams, and TikTok.
Additionally, it’s important to understand that media as a cultural touchstone is a positive tool for representation. The media available today is becoming more diverse — particularly on streaming services, which are making efforts to feature not just actors and characters but also creators from traditionally marginalized backgrounds. Television, podcasts, music, even video game streaming can help demonstrate to children with diverse identities that their cultural perspectives and identities have an important place in the global community. These media provide them with positive, relatable role models, too.
But is there a negative side to media content as a cultural focus? Only when as a parent you rely too heavily upon it. Media is a tool for knowledge, but it doesn’t give your kids valuable life experience. Combine their consumption of media from other cultures with encouragement to also engage with them. Demonstrate the patronage of minority-owned businesses and just reaching out to start conversations and build relationships. Allow the media to inform their impressions, but provide experience to build their sense of empathy and community responsibility.
As Part of a Social Development
It can’t have escaped your notice that media consumption comprises a core part of your child’s social development. They are among the first generation of true digital natives, and both they and their peers will not just use media to consume information and culture, but also to communicate with one another and form social bonds.
By empowering your children to grow socially through media consumption — learning from TV shows, communicating (with safety elements in place) through social media — they can develop practices for the responsible use of these on their own terms. Indeed, we’ve already seen how this engagement is developing Generation Z into more socially and environmentally conscious citizens. Let’s not forget that Fridays for Future is a social media-led campaign. Rather than just dictate the use of their media tools, this is an opportunity to give them ownership of these. They can understand the responsibilities involved, and the social limitations and challenges they may face. The key is to be communicative and supportive throughout.
Of course, it’s not healthy to have them entirely focused on social development through screen media. It’s important to introduce other sources of information. Comic books are a helpful tool here, and also have in-built social credibility, even sparking discussion points among peers. Importantly, there are efforts to improve diversity in comic books, moving away from the harmful minority stereotypes of years past and providing positive and empowering representation. This extends beyond the characters and includes creative teams composed of and led by Black, neurodivergent, LGBTQ+, and Asian American creators. This expands their media toolkit, and also provides sources of social connection with their peers.
Media consumption tends to get a bad rap when it comes to our children. Yet, as a parent, you need to be cognizant of the various positive and negative roles it can play in their lives. This in turn empowers both you and them to make more informed decisions about usage and how to support them.