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.
There are a lot of myths about how children use electronic media, highlighted in our recent volume, Children and Electronic Media. A longer version of this “Myth Busters” piece and other related highlights are posted on our website.
MYTH: Television is being displaced by newer forms of media.
REALITY: Despite all the new technologies, children still spend a lot of time in front of the television. Rather than newer technologies replacing television, children simply add these other media on to the time they spend watching TV.
MYTH: Children from highly educated families use electronic media the least, while children in less educated families use it the most.
REALITY: Youth whose parents had completed college reported the most media exposure, while those whose parents had completed no more than high school reported less but were not far behind. The group with the least media exposure was children whose parents had some college education.
MYTH: Marketing to children can never have positive outcomes.
REALITY: While advertising is often used to steer children and youth toward unhealthy behaviors, marketing can also be used effectively to promote positive healthy choices such as not smoking or using illicit drugs, reducing obesity, and delaying sexual activity – some of which are highlighted our policy brief, “Using Media to Promote Adolescent Wellbeing,” and in an article by Doug Evans on social marketing campaigns.
MYTH: Video games have no educational value.
REALITY: Violent video games can promote aggressive (though not necessarily criminal) behavior, but many other types of video games promote positive outcomes. Studies have found, for instance, that playing select video games can enhance visual awareness, including greater capacity to pay attention, quicker attention deployment, and faster processing.
MYTH: Adolescents use online communication primarily to communicate with strangers.
REALITY: Teens mostly use the Internet to communicate with friends and maintain already existing relationships. However, even teens who only seek to communicate with friends may do so in inappropriate ways that leave them vulnerable to harassment. Moreover, some contact with strangers – seeking out health information, for example — is not necessarily negative.
MYTH: Television is appropriate for all ages, so long as it is educational.
REALITY: Watching television is unlikely to be beneficial for infants and toddlers and could actually be harmful. Research shows that viewing educational television can have positive effects for preschoolers and older children, but there is no research supporting the same outcomes for children ages two and under.
MYTH: Ratings systems are reliable ways to know the content and appropriateness of a movie, television, or video game program.
REALITY: Ratings are rarely well understood by the general public. They are inconsistent from media to media, parents are often not fully aware of the information and criteria used in each rating system, and sometimes parents are even unaware that the ratings exist. Even among parents who report using industry-provided ratings and advisories, most do not find them to be “very useful.”
MYTH: Electronic media are keeping kids from reading.
REALITY: It does not seem that time with media greatly displaces reading or doing homework, largely because American youth spend so little time doing either.