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There is no doubt that the media occupy a large part of adolescents’ lives. From the brand-name clothes they wear, to the snack foods they eat in my classes, to the music they listen to…it is obvious that they are a captive audience to media. How pervasive are these influences? Children watch an average of four hours of TV a day, 28 hours per week (Wulf ). Children ages ten-17 will spend nearly a third of their lives on the Internet . Studies have shown that children today are more isolated from their peers than the previous generation (Kelly). Hence, it is postulated that various forms of media may exert a greater influence upon children’s development than we realize.
Many people who watch television today will no doubt notice the amount, content, and strategies of advertising. But do adolescents? Advertising today is a different animal than advertising of their parents’ or their grandparents’ generations. Advertising today displays more graphics, is flashier, is more pervasive, and promotes intense brand loyalty (Baran). Where ads of yesteryear tended to rely on narration and testimonials, with a proportionally smaller space given to pictures (of course, keep in mind that photography was not as well developed as it is now), ads today rely on vivid graphics, bold pictures, celebrities, and dubious slogans.
Older people have an historical background to compare ads. But adolescents do not possess these memories. Advertisements have become more intrusive than they used to be. It could be argued that since ads are everywhere—posters in schools, buses, bus stop benches, street corners—adolescents may not even realize just how intrusive they are. Ads, to many of them, are just another section of a newspaper page to skim over, another part of a magazine to pore over, and just another part of their favorite television program to be mesmerized (or mute!). Many adolescents are not aware, on the surface, of how much advertisement is a part of their media. They just take it for granted.
Students need to understand that they need not be passive recipients of the media. They deserve to have tools to arm themselves with as they sort through media messages. I envision helping them to become more skilled and knowledgeable “consumers” of all kinds of different media. For instance, school itself contains many media—media are everywhere—and I hope to not only utilize reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills, but to also integrate media literacy skills with critical thinking skills.
Media literacy is important to teach because we should inspire our students to think critically about the media, since media is such a big part of their lives. We owe it to them to teach them how to balance what they hear and what they believe. We all depend on media to give us information. But children may not know how to process this information in a constructive way. Teaching them to understand media gives them a valuable skill, especially since they are so often encouraged by the media themselves to see media content as real and credible.
Media Usage by Children
Studies indicate that by high school graduation, a student will have spent more time watching television than they have in a classroom. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, kids watch three to four hours of television a day (Pemberton-Butler 1). Fifty-four % of kids have their own television sets in their rooms (Wulf). Several of my students have told me that they turn on their sets as soon as they get home and do their homework with it on. They listen to music while they go about their routines. They surf the Net while watching television. According to an article by Katy Kelly, childrens’ daily media habits break down as follows:
Television: 2 hours and 46 minutes
Computer: 21 minutes
Video games: 20 minutes
Internet: 8 minutes
Listening to CDs and tapes: 48 minutes
Reading or being read to: 44 minutes
Listening to the radio: 39 minutes
This works out to a total of five hours and 29 minutes using some kind of media! I believe that many students do not realize how much time they spend involved with some kind of media. I would like to share this with them. Why? Because then they might begin to understand not only how much time they are involved with the media, but also how much advertising time they are exposed to.
Media are everywhere. It could be argued that media influence us more than we realize. The average child spends more time with the television than he or she spends interacting with parents and peers, attending school, or reading books (Kaufman). Add to this the amount of hours children spend interacting with other media, and the total amount of time that children interact with the media adds up to more than six hours a day. Therefore, time spent interacting with media takes the place of family time, play time, and reading time for many of these kids.
This is a serious issue for teenagers. We see how much media compete with other influences in kids’ lives (parents, peers, teachers, etc…). As teens continue to form attitudes, values, and morals, they draw upon their influences. Due to the number of hours that teens spend interacting with media, we can assume that media play a major role in shaping teens’ value systems.
Television, magazines, and other forms of media contain strong messages for teens who are floating around in their own crises. But kids do not just turn to the media for simple answers. Dependency theory supports that teens may naturally turn to the media to “tell them what to do.” Have a look at the many teen-oriented magazines today. The information contained within seems to take on a “surrogate” peer/parent role. They contain advice on dating, peer/social relationships, sexuality, health, news, entertainment, and a host of other very personal issues. We can apply the above research showing how much media interactions usurp teens’ time with “real” interactions such as parents, peers, and teachers, and see how these teen magazines, for example, give teens advice in their lives.
Bibliography – works cited
Baran, Stanley J. Introduction to Mass Communication: Media Literacy and Culture. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Co, 2001.
Barnhurst, Kevin G. and Ellen Wartella. “Young Citizens, American TV Newscasts and the Collective Memory.” Critical Studies in Mass Communication 15, 1998: 279-305.
DeFleur, M.L., & Ball-Rokeach, S. Theories of Mass Communication. New York: David McKay, 1975.
Just Do Media Literacy. Video. New Mexico Media Literacy Project. 1996.
Kelly, Katy. “Get That TV Out of Your Children’s Bedroom.” US News and World Report . Nov 1999. 9 June 2001
Pemberton-Butler, Lisa. “The Skinny on TV.” Seattletimes.com. 11 Feb 1998. The Seattle Times. 9 June 2001.