Category Archives: Children and Media

How Parents Can Reduce Children’s Indirect Trauma from the News

The Boston Marathon bombing, the Sandy Hook School shootings, the September 11 terrorist attacks. What thoughts and feelings come to mind at the mention of these events? That might depend on whether you were there, your personal connection to them, your age at the time, and your news media consumption during the tragedy.

I still remember my school day as an adolescent on September 11, watching non-stop news coverage, feeling despair, confusion, and deep concern for people I didn’t even know. Later, these feelings were coupled with hope and inspiration as I heard of profound heroism, all coming together to instill a deeper sense of patriotism and humanity. Yet it was a difficult time that we all had difficulty processing.

News reports of research describe how media exposure during times like these can be linked to acute stress, and sometimes has long-term effects. As Barbara J. Wilson explains in the Future of Children, children might be especially vulnerable to this effect. Continuous coverage of child abductions, war, terrorism, and even natural disasters make it difficult to protect children from disturbing news stories. Children may experience fear, anxiety, and trauma. And parents may not recognize that the symptoms their children manifest–such as physical aches, loss of appetite, nightmares, or clingy or aggressive behavior–are connected to media exposure.

What can parents do?

It depends on the child’s age, but all children benefit from limited media exposure and constructive conversations with a calm parent about what’s going on. Parents can promote coping strategies, such as exercise, emotional expression, or special play to help deal with frightening images in the media. Older children can be taught that the news overemphasizes crime and violence, and many terrible events, such as child kidnappings, occur infrequently in the real world. For younger children, it might be best to provide physical comfort and turn off the device. Permitting children under the age of eight to see graphic images in the news, even when the TV is on in the background, may present challenges, since it’s more difficult to explain these things to younger children. For more information, see the Future of Children issue on Children and Electronic Media.

Decreases in Childhood Obesity

Rates of childhood obesity have risen for decades in the U.S., and there are many reasons why its prevention and treatment ought to be a focus of public policy. For one, preschoolers who are overweight or obese are five times more likely than normal-weight preschoolers to have weight problems during adulthood. And one preschooler in eight is obese, with higher rates among some racial minorities.

Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found encouraging evidence that these trends might be improving. In a study of 11.6 million low-income preschoolers, the CDC found a small decrease in childhood obesity rates in 19 U.S. states and territories from 2008 to 2011. Experts attribute the good news partially to programs that encourage child exercise, an increase in breast-feeding, and improved nutrition in foods provided to low-income families through federal programs. This research suggests that the problem of childhood obesity can be ameliorated.

In the Future of Children, Ana C. Lindsay, Katarina M. Sussner, Juhee Kim, and Steven Gortmaker argue that successful interventions must involve parents from the earliest developmental stages to promote healthful practices in and outside the home. Regarding the racial and economic disparity in childhood obesity rates, Shiriki Kumanyika and Sonya Grier observe that low-income and minority children tend to watch more television than do white, non-poor children and are potentially exposed to more commercials advertising unhealthy foods. One strategy would be for Congress and the Federal Communications Commission to reduce or eliminate advertising time for non-nutritious foods aimed at children. For more recommendations on how to promote childhood health, see the Future of Children issue on Childhood Obesity.

College at a Crossroads

As the latest issue of the Future of Children reports, higher education in the US is changing dramatically. On the one hand, access to college has expanded at a remarkable rate. On the other hand, scores of students are finishing high school unprepared for college work. Meanwhile, today’s economy has left many public colleges and universities strapped for resources and unable to meet student demand. Thus, many students, particularly those from low-income families, are forced to either seek an alternative route or drop out.

One rapidly growing option for students is for-profit colleges. Also known as proprietary colleges, they often exist as large national chains led by online institutions. Future of Children authors David Deming, Claudia Goldin, and Lawrence Katz explain that for-profit colleges seem to be most helpful when they offer short, well-defined programs offering a clear path to a specific occupation. While these programs have grown to efficiently meet student demand as public institutions have struggled, their students carry higher levels of debt and are more likely to default on loans. Indeed, much of the revenue these institutions rely on comes from federal student aid. Moreover, the rate of return for these students is lower. Upon leaving school, they are more likely to be unemployed and have lower earnings than students at other institutions.

To keep up with student demand, many state systems and community colleges have sought to expand access to online learning programs. The Babson Survey Research Group estimates that by 2010, 31 percent of college and university students were enrolled in at least one online course. As Marketplace reports, more selective institutions may also begin offering more options for online learning. Examining the research, Bradford Bell and Jessica Federman find that online learning can be an effective tool in higher education, insofar as it creates conditions that are conducive to learning specific content. See the latest research on e-learning in the new issue of the Future of Children, Postsecondary Education in the United States.

Literacy for Incarcerated Fathers and Their Children

Last week’s launching of the Digital Public Library of America shows that the landscape of literacy in the US is changing. As technology advances rapidly, educators and researchers should seek new ways to use it effectively, both in school and in the home, to improve literacy among children and families. Future of Children author Jane Waldfogel explains that parents play a major role in children’s literacy both early on and throughout the school years. The value that parents place on reading and the degree to which they provide reading materials can make the home environment more or less conducive to literacy. Reading with children and discussing what they are reading are particularly helpful. Parents also boost literacy when they monitor and help with schoolwork, participate at school, and encourage children to read during the summer.

Since the Prison Boom, many parents – especially fathers – have been locked up and thus unable to provide such support to their children, placing these children at an even greater disadvantage. However, research by Future of Children author Kathryn Edin and colleagues shows that for some fathers, particularly those with severe substance use problems, prison may serve as a time to rehabilitate and even rebuild bonds with children. A crucial part of this process is education; the U.S. Department of Education reports, “To the extent that prisons are intended as venues for rehabilitation, education has an important role in prison operations. Today, over 90 percent of the federal and state prisons and over 80 percent of private prisons offer some form of educational programs to inmates.” The hope is that, as these fathers are released, the education they received while incarcerated will not only make them more employable, but will give them necessary tools to create favorable environments for their children’s literacy.

Supporting men and fathers in this reentry process is a major focus of collaborations between prison and public libraries, which some argue can help ex-offender fathers to overcome information gaps, such as the digital divide. As WNYC reports, many fathers being released from prison will need to catch up on technology for job seeking and for day-to-day life. In addition, these fathers will not be equipped to give their children adequate opportunities to learn to use technology. Gina Biancarosa and Gina Griffiths find that disadvantaged students are less likely to use technology in sophisticated ways or with adult guidance. To help narrow the gap, they argue that schools should choose and incorporate evidence-based tools for literacy instruction and systematic support for effective use of e-reading technology. One could ask if library partnerships and other community efforts targeting reentering parents could do the same. For more on this topic see the Future of Children issues on Literacy Challenges and Fragile Families.

Combating Cyberbullying

Lee Hirsch’s new documentary “bully,” portrays the difficulties children often experience when they are tormented by school peers. With the widespread use of social media, that bullying often includes cyberbullying.

The Kaiser Foundation reports that media are among the most influential forces in the lives of young people today, who spend more time with it – 7.5 hours a day, 7 days a week – than with most other activities. In the Future of Children volume Children and Electronic Media, researchers highlight the findings of a 2007 web-based survey of 1,454 adolescents, which found that seventy-two percent of respondents in the study experienced at least one incident of cyberbullying in the previous year.

In their chapter “Online Communication and Adolescent RelationshipsFuture of Children authors Kaveri Subrahmanyam and Patricia Greenfield summarize other research findings regarding cyberbullying, showing that youth aged 10 to 17 with symptoms of depression are more likely to report having been a victim of online harassment. Those that cyberbully are more likely to report delinquency, substance abuse, and poor parent-child relationships. The authors note that more research is needed to determine the causality of these relationships.

The Children and Electronic Media volume indicates three areas of intervention for regulating and promoting positive social media use for children and youth: families, education, and government. In terms of the family, Subrahmanyam and Greenfield indicate that while more research is needed to determine how much parents know about their children’s use of electronic media, both adolescents and parents agree that youth know more about the internet than their parents do. The authors suggest that parents may be able to influence their children’s media use by monitoring through internet filters and by limiting their time and activity online.

Initiating change through education and government intervention is more complicated. Schools have begun to monitor or restrict access to social media but this is controversial because it may compromise the educational benefits of social media. And although some states such as Arizona and California have taken steps to introduce legislation that aims to reduce cyberbullying, as the Children and Electronic Media volume notes, “First Amend­ment considerations and the increasing reality that many media forms are exempt from government oversight makes broad regulation of content close to impossible.”

The volume continues, however, saying “although the government’s ability to regulate content may be weak, its ability to promote positive programming and media research is not. Government at all levels should fund the creation and evaluation of positive media initiatives such as public service campaigns to reduce risky behaviors and studies about educational programs that explore innovative uses of media.”

The message? When it comes to social media, content matters.

Although it may be difficult to combat cyberbullying through regulation, social media can be used as a tool to promote positive youth behavior. As the Children and Electronic Media volume reveals, media content designed to promote pro-social behavior increases social capacities such as altruism, cooperation, and tolerance of others – a powerful positive tool in efforts to reduce bullying of any kind.

Read more on this topic in the online Future of Children volume Children and Electronic Media. Join the conversation by commenting on this and similar blog posts.

Big Bird as Babysitter?

The American Academy of Pediatrics once again urges parents of infants and toddlers to limit screen-time for their children, says The New York Times; and based on figures in Future of Children’s Children and Electronic Media and reports from the Kaiser Foundation, the timing couldn’t be better: more than three quarters of households with children age six and under have personal computers; nearly a third of children under age two have a television in their bedrooms. With the exception of sleeping, American youth of today spend more time with media than any other activity.

Young children’s increasing media exposure could be catalyzed by other trends. The current economic crisis has pulled hundreds of American homes below the poverty line, and Future of Children’s Work and Family reports that divorce rates, working mothers, and single-parent households are on the rise. In many households, both parents must work to make ends meet, limiting the amount of time parents can spend with their children. Low-wage working parents are the least likely to have the resources and flexible work schedules to be involved with their children.

Findings suggest that the children most affected by these economic changes could be the most at risk of high media exposure. A 2011 nationally representative study of over 1300 parents of children ages 0 to 8, found that children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds spend more time with media and are much more likely to have a TV in their bedroom. As many as 42% of these parents say they sometimes use media to occupy their children while they do chores. Similarly, the Kaiser Foundation found that many parents encourage their children to use media because it gives them a chance to get things done without having to worry about leaving them unsupervised.

What can be done to ensure more positive outcomes for children using new media?

The main lesson learned from the Future of Children’s Children and Electronic Media volume can be captured in one phrase: content matters. Rather than focusing on the type of technology used or how much time is spent with media, parents and policymakers need to focus on what is being offered to children on the various media platforms. In addition, although more research is needed, parents’ co-viewing and mediation can have positive effects on learning from educational media.

As media use plays an increasing role in children’s lives, content selection and parental involvement will become increasingly important. It is critical that parents continue to educate themselves about good media use based on their children’s developmental stages and monitor their children’s media use to ensure that it is healthful and constructive. (See the Children and Electronic Media volume for more on this.)

Children and Electronic Media notes that children under age two benefit more from real-life experiences than they do from video and that too much screen time may lead to childhood obesity and other health problems. However, under appropriate circumstances, technology can be beneficial to children of older ages. Upcoming Future of Children volumes on Children with Disabilities (Spring 2012), Literacy of American Children (Fall 2012), and Postsecondary Education (Spring 2013) will further explore the role of media and technology in children’s learning.

New Study Confirms Research from Future of Children’s Issue on Children and Electronic Media: Videos for Infants Have Little Educational Impact

A new study published in Psychological Science confirms research cited in The Future of Children’s Children and Electronic Media issue, which suggests that educational videos for infants have little effect on learning.

In the recent study, led by Judy S. DeLoache of the University of Virginia, results demonstrated that children who viewed a best-selling infant-learning DVD, whether with their parents or without, did not learn any more words from their month-long exposure than did the control group. In fact, the highest level of learning occurred in the no-video condition in which parents tried to teach their children the same target words from the DVD during everyday activities.

These findings confirm previous research, which indicates that children under the age of eighteen months learn better from real-life experiences than from video. This is in part due to children’s inability to understand television. Research studying eye patterns and attention to television shows that young children may be inattentive to dialogue and fail to integrate comprehension across successive scenes. Infants cannot imitate behaviors seen in video or transfer images learned from video to real-world problems, such as object-retrieval.

While more research is needed on infants and media, current research recommends basic methods to increase your infant’s learning: talk to and interact with your baby.

For more information on the relationship between media and children of all ages, go to The Future of Children‘s volume on Children and Electronic Media.

“Baby Einstein” is No Einstein

Disney’s decision to offer a refund to parents for “Baby Einstein” videos (“No Einstein in your Crib? Get a Refund”) is a breath of fresh air. While research in a recent Future of Children volume confirms that children older than three can learn from educational television and videos, infants and toddlers cannot. But very young children still consume a lot of electronic media. A recent survey estimated that 43 percent of infants and toddlers watch TV every day. Nineteen percent of children under one, and 29 percent of children two to three have a television in their bedrooms. At least one study found that children’s television viewing before age three was negatively related to children’s later academic achievement. Children under age 2 learn best from real-life experiences and interaction with real people.

Social Marketing to Teens Thrives Through Web 2.0 Technology

YouTube videos for a new public health campaign are going viral: the Boston Public Health Commission hopes its messages on sexual safety, disseminated through new internet media, will spread as markedly among city youth as sexually transmitted diseases have. As highlighted in the Boston Globe, this campaign understands that adolescents today are deeply entrenched in media sources that constantly bombard them with messages about how to live; rather than fighting against media exposure, Boston is responding with a positive message sent through the same channels.
The media is a ubiquitous presence in our lives, from radio to TV to the internet. American teens are particularly influenced by their access to the web, which offers chances both to absorb information from outside sources (“Web 1.0”) and to actively contribute to the internet’s offerings through social networking sites, videos, blogs, or message boards and forums (“Web 2.0”). By capitalizing on these many options that play such a large role in adolescent life, social campaigns such as the STI Prevention Drive in Boston can connect with teens on their own terms.
This concept has been explored in an article in Children and Electronic Media, “Social Marketing Campaigns and Children’s Media Use,” and the companion policy brief “Using the Media to Promote Adolescent Well-Being.” Both of these recognize the positive ways that online media can be used to promote healthy behaviors, and they detail successful Web 2.0 campaigns.
With internet available in schools, homes, and even on cell phones, preventing teens from viewing objectionable content is virtually impossible. Some have worried that teens’ web use will lead to more dangerous sexual behavior, including becoming sexually active at a younger age and being less cautious about disease and pregnancy prevention – issues that are explored in another FOC article, “Media and Risky Behaviors.” While such concerns are not unfounded, the designers of Web 2.0 media campaigns recognize that rather than prohibiting internet access, it is far more successful to fight fire with fire – using the same media that promote unhealthy behaviors to promote healthy ones.
While parental guidance and school programs can play a role in discouraging unhealthy behaviors, Web 2.0 media campaigns acknowledge the reality that adolescents are heavily influenced by their peers. The new Boston campaign uses YouTube videos generated by and starring teens, and it also recruits teens to spread the message through other forums, such as street theater and visual advertisements. By having the teens design the content, the messages are more accessible than if they were created and imposed on teens by adults.

Web 2.0 campaigns also offer social organizations increased potential for spreading their messages. For example, the Boston Public Health Commission will field anonymous Facebook questions to experts, allowing teens to ask and get information without embarrassment or social stigma. The internet allows for viral messaging as well – videos can be passed around through blogs, Twitter, emails, or even news coverage, greatly increasing their reach. Marketers know that casual but frequent exposure to a message makes consumers more likely to buy their products; Web 2.0 campaigns use the same methods to promote healthy lifestyle choices among teens.

Teens Use Sites to Expand Offline Relationships, Avoid Twitter

In the past couple years, Twitter has radically changed the face of online communication. This year alone, usage has grown by 900 percent, the company was awarded the “Breakout Company of the Year” web award, and Twitter has spread awareness of such major international events as post-election protests in Iran. Amid this surge in publicity for and excitement about the site, a few reports released surprising findings: teens, by in large, don’t use Twitter.
Based on our findings in Children and Electronic Media issue, this does not surprise us. As the article “Online Communication and Adolescent Relationships” demonstrates, most adolescents use social networking sites to reinforce existing relationships, rather than make new friends. This is contrary to how people use Twitter; much like in the chat rooms of old, they create new networks of friends and acquaintances based on common interests.
Instant messaging, Facebook, and MySpace, on the other hand, allow teens to share personal information and communicate with their friends and existing social networks (in addition to contacting strangers and building new relationships with them). It makes sense, then, that teenagers and young adults seeking ways to reach out to friends helped these communication tools gain enormous popularity.
A study from 2007 found that that 91 percent of teens use social networking sites to keep in touch with friends they see frequently. Although teens may contact strangers and vice versa, this is not the norm for teenage internet use. Rather, teens often use online communication to strengthen existing friendships or gain acceptance in offline peer groups, both of which depend on interacting with the same groups on-and offline and receiving feedback through mechanisms such as “Wall” postings and return messages. In a Dutch study, adolescents who felt they received positive feedback from social networking sites reported higher self-esteem, and the reverse was true as well.
This is not to say that teens do not communicate with strangers. Indeed, many do – but not in the dangerous ways we suppose. Rather, when teens seek out contact with people they don’t know, it is usually for information (on health issues, for example) found at self-help sites or internet forums. Twitter, however, is usually a single-sided conversation used to share news or promote companies and organizations. As the 15-year-old intern behind Morgan Stanley’s report noted, teens often must decide how to allocate a limited texting capacity. They can send targeted text messages to friends. Or they can post updates on Twitter, which in all likelihood will not be seen by those in their social network and may get lost to the internet at large. Adolescents concerned with their social position at school or among a group of friends choose to focus on messages targeted directly to their peers, making Twitter the latest fad of an older crowd.