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The Negative Effects of the Media on Teens

By Lisa Pecos

Today’s kids plug into media at an earlier age than their predecessors, and the amount of media they consume is staggering compared to the habits of past generations. According to a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average child between the age of eight and 18 consumes media for seven hours and 38 minutes every day-and the real rate for teens is much higher. As parents, there is good reason to be disturbed by these figures. Granted, certain types of media have benefits, but the negative effects of media overconsumption are considerable. The good news is there are things responsible parents can do to moderate these effects.

Television’s Effects on Kids
Among the many forms of media today’s kids commonly consume, television has the longest history, so its effects are best documented. First, there is the obvious effect: Time spent in a sedentary state in front of the television is lost time that could be spent playing, exercising, or studying. Hence, watching too much television can contribute to poor physical health and difficulties at school.

Meanwhile, media on teens and many programs on television show characters modeling behaviors that we do not want to encourage in our teens, and some shows reinforce stereotypes that should have been laid to rest long ago. Prime-time television shows commonly show violent acts, adult-oriented sexual situations, and destructive behaviors such as smoking and drinking. We like to think our teens are smart enough to handle such imagery, but media can have effects on a subconscious level. Your child may know certain behaviors are wrong, but after seeing them over and over on television, he or she may come to think of them as not so bad.

Other media
The effects of video games, the internet, and electronic devices are harder to pinpoint simply because these media are newer than television, but it goes without saying that too much can be harmful to teens. The internet is particularly troublesome because in many ways it is a more extreme version of television. Unsupervised, a teen is capable of finding practically any type of content online, and the web is filled with violent, sexual, and hate-filled content, always just a few clicks away. Meanwhile, the rise of social media has raised a new set of issues, including the potential for oversharing, harassment, and cyberbullying.

Although video games have often been demonized as contributing to what is perceived as a violent youth culture, they are actually relatively safe in moderation. Whereas the internet is varied and limitless, video games are self-contained worlds that guide participants through packaged, relatively straightforward stories and scenarios. If overused, they can be harmful in much the same way that television is, but the occasional enjoyment of video games is not a problem.

Cellphones are useful in that they help parents keep track of their teens, but they also raise some significant issues. For one thing, cellphones are difficult for parents to monitor. Text messages and call records can be deleted, and apps can be protected with passwords. Your phone company may give you some resources for monitoring your child’s activity, but it is nearly impossible to know what your child does on his or her phone’s apps. That is why it is important to be aware of how your child is using his or her phone. Familiarize yourself with how the phone works, and check in frequently to see what your teen is doing with it.

Minimizing media’s negative effects
In today’s world, it is virtually impossible to completely shield your child from all of the negative effects of media. The best we can do is emphasize the positive effects while minimizing the negative ones. To help make sure your teen stays healthy in body and mind and develops a positive outlook toward media, here are some things you can do.

  • The two-hour rule: Studies have shown that kids who consume over two hours of media per day do more poorly in many aspects of life than those who consume less. Place a limit of two hours for television, video games, and internet combined, and enforce it rigidly. Of course, there can be exceptions, such as when some internet research is part of a school assignment, but set this limit and encourage your child to fill the rest of the time with studying, family time, and physical activity.
  • Monitor internet activities: There is no reason why your child should be given a free pass to do whatever he or she wants online. Install parental controls or tracking software on your teen’s computer to make sure they know you can monitor all their activities.
  • Approve television programs: Under the two-hour rule, your teen will not have time to watch a great many television shows, which means he or she will have to be selective. Make yourself involved in the selection process, and assume that whatever your child watches has your implicit approval. If you are unsure what your child is watching, something is wrong with the picture.
  • Make cellphone use transparent: For now, it might be a good idea to rethink whether to get your teen that fancy smartphone that can do practically everything a computer can do. Such tools in the hands of teens can be dangerous due to their limitless utility. Instead, give your child a more old-fashioned, simpler phone that does little more than send and receive calls and texts. And if possible, monitor your phone records to find out whom your child is communicating with.
  • Make it a family affair: To best regulate your child’s media activities, practice what you preach. Impose a two-hour limit on the entire household, and emphasize alternatives to media consumption such as exercise, family activities, reading, and studying.

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