Mass media can be defined as those channels of communication through which the messages are reached to a wider audience simultaneously (Kundanis, 2003, p. 5). The mass media plays a distinguishing and unique role in shaping the identity and culture of children and young people. Not only this, it also affects their relationship and liaison with family, friends, school, and community (Livingstone & Bovill, 2001).
With their entrance in adolescence, many children start on to engage in health behaviors that are hazardous and unsafe. There are six grave types of adolescent health risk behaviors that are reported to lead the youth worldwide to death and disability. Those include alcohol use, smoking, violent behavior, physical immobility, poor eating habits and sexual behaviors. These behaviors not only put the present and future physical state of adolescents on an edge but also affect their education, weaken their employment prospects or lead them to delinquency. Studies and research reveal that adolescents' constantly increasing exposure to electronic media is one of the chief sources of the risk behaviors mentioned above (Escobar-Chaves & Anderson, 2008).
Youth of the present time have been encompassed by the budding phenomenon of media multitasking i.e. most of their time is spent in activities involving television, movies, radio, print media, computers and video games and last but not the least Internet (Roberts & Foehr, 2008).
Influence of Mass Media - Negative and Positive
Almost every society on the face of this earth has mass media as an integral part. Nearly every child born today lives in a home with at least one television set. Most of the children have easily accessible multiple television sets, videogames, Internet, books, magazines, DVDs etc. It is in from the phase of infancy that a child is exposed to mass media. Before entering in a formal education setting, most children would have spent hundreds of hours watching television. Some of them would have been in expansive contact with books and other print or electronic media. There is a prevalent predisposition that media has escalated the social ills. The academic skills of children are not only declined but their moral values and social conduct have also been crumbled due to the negative impacts of mass media on their innocent and immature minds. However, it is also to be remembered that mass media has been an advantageous tool in informing about the recent world events and educational programming. As every coin has two sides, mass media also have some negative and positive effects on the young minds of the contemporary age (Zillmann, Bryant, & Huston, 1994, p. 4).
In today's world, children are really active in using mass media in order to continue their own process of socialization. Times are gone by when the children had to learn how to read before having the right to gain information and entertainment. They do not have to remove this in the prevalent mass media of television and Internet. Thus, the easily accessible electronic media has brought in our homes the evils and tribulations of the outside larger world. Parents today now face an overwhelming challenge to raise their children. With mass media becoming a very important and unavoidable home utility, families' role in nurturing and shaping the children is now widely questioned. Every age group, gender, generation and family is catered via mass media. It simply means that there exists a complicated relationship between mass media and its audience that include children, teens, and families. Media affects every group of audience in a different way and similarly, children have a different understanding of media as they grow (Livingstone & Bovill, 2001, p. 5). Therefore, it is not easy to measure the effects of mass media on human beings as they are complex creatures. It is also not possible to find out what children think and the catalyst behind their actions (Livingstone & Bovill, 2001, p. 66)
Advertising that is to be regarded with suspicion (like cigarette and liquor advertising) seems very attractive to children. Such kind of advertising misleads and deceives the young minds as children seem especially inclined to it (Thomas & Carpenter, 1994, p. 12). Television can truly be regarded as a constant companion in most of the families and is usually the first medium of information and entertainment that is used by children (Thomas & Carpenter, 1994, p. 231). It is really important to highlight that the mass media today portrays children as more sensible, insightful, and gifted than adults. The problem is that the families and parents do not keep check and balance on the activities of children that involve mass media. Almost every household today has the tradition in which the adults as well as the children dress alike, watch the same TV programs, videos and movies, and above all talk about the similar issues. Thus, the logic of the social order has been entirely changed by the electronic media. The parent-child relationship has been affected as the children do not look up to their parents as a resource of information. Instead, they prefer mass media to provide answers to their questions and satisfy their constant curiosity regarding adult issues as well (Thomas & Carpenter, 1994, p. 243). Violence shown via media can lead to aggressive behavior in children especially those under age 8 because they are too immature to differentiate between real life and fantasy. They may perceive the violent images as and can be easily traumatized by viewing such images. Thus, it is advisable for the parents limit the amount of hours children spend before television. They can also reduce the negative effects of media on children by monitoring the programs they watch and restricting them from viewing adult-related content. It is also the duty of parents to inculcate the difference of fantasy and reality in their children's minds and question them time and again in order to check how their children perceive information received through mass media (Herrington & Emmans, 2002).
However, it is also necessary to admit that there are a lot of ways in which mass media can provide a breath of experiences to the children. Children can receive knowledge and other personal benefits through television, books and Internet which may be not available to them through other sources. It is also important to identify and elaborate the positive role played by mass media in the lives of children. Sensible use of mass media can have a very gleaming and good effect on children. Television, especially, has got a very great potential in the development of important intellectual skills in children. Similarly, video games can help in boosting and improving the spatial, logical and strategic planning skills. By playing video games, particular intellectual skills are shaped up and exercised especially in young boys (Gunter & McAleer, 1997, p. 218).
To make a long story short, mass media has brought both negative and positive influences. The effects of it can be either advantageous or disadvantageous. The main thing is how we use the medium. Mass media can influence children in a number of ways. It increases knowledge, introduces new beliefs, teaches values. On the other hand, it can also help in shaping up of attitudes or changing feelings about things. It can either cause positive or negative changes in patterns of child and adolescent behavior. The main thing is to make the children understand and realize the differentiation between good and bad.
Escobar-Chaves, S.L., & Anderson, C.A. (2008). Media and Risky Behaviors. The Future of Children, 18(1), 147+. Retrieved February 2, 2012, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5027444453
Gunter, B., & McAleer, J. (1997). Children and Television. London: Routledge. Retrieved February 2, 2012, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=108880528
Herrington, S.D., & Emmans, C.C. (2002, Summer). Character Education and Media Literacy-Finding Common Ground: Media Literacy…