Mass media technology has become omnipresent in our society. It is not uncommon for children to now be raised with personal electronics, constant television and an overall barrage of sensory stimulus. Moreover, electronic devices are becoming the main means of communication for the younger generation, which can challenge their ability to relate to others. While many in the media have called into question the impacts of these socio-technical changes, others point the benefits that technology offers, and note that change is inevitable and the negative effects are overblown. This paper will take a look at the effects of television and Internet consumption on the young generation.
There are a number of different influences the have been hypothesized for children based on their exposure to television and the media, none more prevalent than the argument that children are exposed to much more violence throughout their childhoods than ever before, and this inherently makes the children more aggressive, and likely to commit violent acts themselves. Donnerstein (2010) notes that there have been many studies confirming this connection. There has been research on the impact of both television and violent video games over the past several decades, but as Donnerstein notes it is not the form of the media that matters, but rather the message itself. Exposure to violence normalizes violence, and in some children this will lead to more aggressive behaviors. The correlation does not occur with all children, but the studies have shown that children exposed to high levels of media violence are ultimately more likely to be violent than children with a low level of such exposure.
Another outcome of television and Internet that has been studied is the negative effects on health that come from engaging in such addicting and passive pastimes. It is clear that when a child spends hours sitting in front of a screen, that child has less time for engaging in exercise and play. The lack of play, combined with increased propensity to snack, results in higher obesity rates. Moreover, there are other negative health outcome. Obese children are known to have many negative health outcomes, and the United States has a diabetes epidemic as the result of this. More children also have eyesight issues because their eyes are exposed to screens when they are at a sensitive age. Obesity, however, is the major health risk factor because of the tradeoff from active play to sedentary consumption. Pediatricians recommend that television and Internet time should be limited for children in order to stimulate more play (AAP, 2011).
One of the reasons why there is a high correlation between television and Internet consumption and obesity is that not only are the children sedentary but they are also exposed to a high level of advertising. This advertising creates a society of unthinking consumers, prone to overconsumption of all goods. Compounding this is that a large percentage of advertising to which children are exposed in the media is for unhealthy food (Harris et al., 2012). Companies like McDonalds have built empires on marketing unhealthy food to children. From Happy Meals to sugar-laden cereals to hot dogs, the idea that children will only eat junkie crap has actually become ingrained in our culture, fostered by the high level of advertising for such products, directly to children. The American Academy of Pediatrics (2011) has recommended " a ban on junk food or fast food advertising in children's programming." Television and the Internet are creating a generation of mindless consumers ready to indulge in bad food, constantly, and most Americans see nothing wrong with this, despite the high cost of their health insurance.
All of these fast food and obesity are only part of the problem. Children are also sold violent toys and video games, and they are sold on body images that are also unhealthy. The paradigm of selling children on unhealthy body images while also selling the Whoppers and cans of Coke is shocking -- it doubtless causes mental distress for children and contributes to negative body image.
If making our children aggressive and fat wasn't bad enough, there is also evidence that high levels of media consumption makes our children stupid, too. While TV is often credited with reducing critical thinking ability, the Internet seems to have compounded this problem. Igbokwe & Obidike (2012) note in their study that electronic media tends to reduce active learning abilities in students, replacing it with passive learning. The problem with this is that passive learning is not as effective. Active learning builds problem solving and critical thinking skills. In addition, language skills deteriorate, especially in the younger generations, as these students have become unable to string an coherent sentence together, cannot spell and generally cannot communicate effectively in writing, even when they leave high school.
Reduced ability to learn and communicate is going to harm all of society, not just children. Without these skills, we are headed towards idiocracy, with people unable to express themselves and unable to handle critical thought. This will manifest itself in the election of useless politicians, and of being duped by an uncritical media when they promote bad ideas. Education is the bedrock of economic competitiveness and television and the Internet are having a negative effect on our ability to educate our children.
There are a few counterarguments. Some have argued that these studies have flaws, and that might be the case, but there is a preponderance of evidence to support each of these claims. It is also reasonable to suggest that TV and the Internet have a negative effect on children because they reduce parenting time. A recent studied identified parents' time online or in front of the TV a serious threat to the well-being of children. The reason is smply -- working parents do not have much time to spend with their children and if they take time away from their kids for electronic diversions, they are taking away from an opportunity to help their kids become better people, at a point in their lives when their brains are evolving quickly (Castillo, 2013). This has significant implications not because it disproves any of the above points about the effect on children but because it highlights that the parents are not blameless here, and it is not just the time children spent in front of a screen that affects their development -- turning the parents into zombies doesn't help either. Furthermore, if the parents are watching violent shows, that will influence their children to do the same.
There is also the counterargument that there are educational programs for children on television and that the Internet is a treasure trove of valuable learning, at least once you learn how to sift through all the porno and cat videos. These arguments, however, are based on a false premise, that some good must mean that these media are mostly good. The evidence shows that parents should monitor their children's use of media carefully, to ensure that it is neither excessive nor inappropriate in nature.
One of the things that comes out of all of these studies is that there is a lot of harm done to children by their consumption of television and the Internet. The critics have a lot of ammunition because there are surveys upon surveys of data that illustrate the links between media consumption and negative outcomes. It is hyperbolic to make the claim that TV and the Internet will automatically make any child into a fat, violent dimwit, but those are all proven outcomes of excessive media consumption. Children learn bad habits, and have these habits reinforced. There is little doubt that even when there is good, the net influence on children of television and the Internet is negative, unless it is properly controlled. If…