In the present paper, the issue of child development is discussed from the perspective of media influence on each stage of child’s growth. The main aim of this paper is to explore how modern technology of media influences human development, particularly on the early stages. In this context, the central thesis is an exploration of how media influences children development in each stage and how it contributes to the children’s socialization and their place in society. Subsequently, the main attention is paid to the psychological processes that take place in the early childhood and how they are influenced by media. Further, each stage of the child development in respect to media impact is analyzed. Finally, the processes of socialization and alienation are explored.
Key words: child development, media, teenagers, cognition, attention, consumerism.
Media and Child Development
Technological development of human civilization might be seen as a progress and advancement of humanity towards a better and more comfortable future. On the other hand, it may be seen as a phenomenon with some negative consequences, and, in the end, it might be difficult to see how good comfort of life is for the human progress as leaving creatures. The main aim of this paper is to explore how modern technology of media influences human development, particularly on the early stages. In this context, the central thesis of the present paper is an exploration of how media influences children development on each stage of development and how it contributes to children’s socialization. Subsequently, the main attention is paid to the psychological processes that take place in the early childhood and how they are influenced by media. Further, each stage of child development in respect to media impact is analyzed. Finally, the processes of socialization and alienation are explored.
In the recent decades, psychologists had acknowledged that media influences children and teenagers in a different way than adults. The main reason is in difference of perception and cognition in all three categories. While adults are already formed personalities and have their own value systems, children and teenagers are still developing their world perception through all possible contacts with the surrounding environment or its substitution in a form of media, like television or video games (Strasburger, Wilson, & Jordan, 2009). In this context, the stress is put on three cognitive processes which have different characteristics on each stage of individual’s development. Those processes are attention, comprehension and sense-making activities (making a connection between reality and fantasy) (Kundanis, 2003).
In order to trigger cognitive perception of a certain aspect of reality, child’s attention should be attracted. In this case, the difference in attention concentration depends on the age and gender. Boys are more visually perceptive; subsequently, media affects them and attracts their attention through the visual images and bright colors. On the other hand, girls are more auditory perceptive. From the perspective of cognition, the process of information perception remains the same, only the source changes. This difference is crucial for the media perception and influence, because visual explicit violence and actions on the screen influence boys more than girls, who can be influenced more by sound-effects rather than actual deeds seen on the screen (Van Evra, 2004). In this context, attention should be paid to the influence of media on the boys, who, due to their gender, are also more likely to conduct violence (Schmidt & Vandewater, 2008).
The second process in the cognition is comprehension. When a child pays attention to a certain object, his/hers comprehension of it depends strongly on the age. Elder children are more likely to comprehend subtext of the vents and their rational, than younger ones. For instance, children 7 years are able to remember only some partial events of the viewed information. Subsequently, the influence of media and information transferred increases with children’s growth and further development (Kundanis, 2003).
The most important cognitive process connected to the media influence is sense-making activity, meaning realization of the difference between reality and fantasy. The ability to distinguish the difference develops with age, and while 2-3 year-olds do not understand that viewed media images are description of reality, 4-5-year-olds are already able to distinguish the difference between real objects and fictions (Schmidt & Vandewater, 2008). Adult judgment of reality is formed in age of 6-11. Although a distinction between reality and fantasy develops relatively fast, the main influence of media is not in substitution of reality with fantasy but in interpretation and presentation of fantasy so close to the reality that it becomes credible and often substituted by it even in cases when children have entirely formed adult judgment of reality/fantasy (Van Evra, 2004). This is the most common case in the situation of teenagers, whose perception of right and wrong is very vague, and situational (Roberts & Foehr, 2008).
Keeping in mind mentioned above cognitive processes, we can track the influence of media on each age category of child development. Preschoolers (2-5) are likely to remember certain events of the viewed material. The information gained is stereotypical, and likeliness of images with real objects might transfer qualities of an existing object on fictions and vice versa. By the age of 4-5, children begin to understand that media is not real (Van Evra, 2004). The impact of media in this age is minimal, but it may contribute to the learning improvement, if educative programmes are chosen. On the other hand, some findings show that, in this stage, media might influence creativity. According to Schmidt and Vandewater, children who watched TV a lot were more likely to tell similar stories, while children watching less TV were more likely to resolve problems in a more creative manner (2008). Thus, they were gaining their own experience and did not use borrowed one from media.
The age group of 6-8 is characterized by more integral comprehension of the plot in the stories described, but the ability to comprehend context of the story and larger picture of reason-consequence connection is still absent (Strasburger et al, 2009). The comprehension is improved by unity of visual and sound effects. On this stage, comprehension is usually gained through the explanation of events by the third party – narrator. The main threat on this stage is that children are likely to be harmfully influenced by advertisements which are still seen as real and just in children’s perception. In the future, without due explanation from adults child is likely to develop consumer pattern of behavior and fashion chase (Van Evra, 2004).
The next group is older children of 9-12. In their case, information is comprehended both through audio and video and separately. Children begin to trust advertisement less. Individualization of characters and comprehension of the variety of situations is taking place. The information gained from media is likely to be applied in the real life, but in the situations familiar to the learned ones (Van Evra, 2004). On this stage, personal preferences begin to develop. The possible negative impact is that exemplar patterns of behavior learned from the media might not always correspond to the socially appropriate norms; subsequently, socialization of the gained experience and comprehension of the appropriate behavior might be disrupted, if the programmes were of the violent or immoral content (Strasburger et al, 2009). On this stage, the negative implications can be easily eliminated through the adults’ explanation of appropriate behavior and consequences of the inappropriate one. The success of such conversations is conditioned by the fact that children do not personify themselves with the media characters in the way teenagers do (Roberts & Foehr, 2008).
The younger teenagers of 13-15 are the most vulnerable to the influence of media, because they are struggling to identify themselves and understand their place in society. Since they are in the process of constant change, physical, mental and social; they are likely to see themselves as characters of the media, who are trying to play their own roles in family, group and society in general (Van Evra, 2004). Since media became a part of everyday life, teens are likely to find the answers to their questions in the media environment, which substitutes norms and prescriptions of their parents, to whom teens oppose themselves (Kundanis, 2003). The problem of media is that, in order to get profit, it is ready to give its most devoted audience (teenagers) what they want – easy answers to their questions. That is why teenage media is full of rebellious acts, fashion trends and advertisement of individuality which is actually denied (Roberts & Foehr, 2008). The most hideous implication of the media in this stage is that teens that do not belong to the branded pattern of behavior or fashionable look become practically excluded from the social groups of their coevals (Roberts & Foehr, 2008). Subsequently, alienation might result in reserved behavior or search of comprehension in the alternative marginalized groups, meaning subcultures of Goths, punks or any other group where a teen can find understanding (Van Evra, 2004). Another problem is that media might be branding suicide and illegal activity as part of teenage rebellion. On this stage, it is most unlikely to limit teens’ media preferences, but the presence of adults in their lives might help them to go through this period, because media cannot do that (Strasburger et al, 2009).
The elder teens of 15-18 are more susceptible of the explicit sexuality of the media, rather than violence. On this stage, formation of teen culture and comprehension of belonging to a specific group are established (Van Evra, 2004). The main problem of this stage is that the level of cognition is extremely high and information gained from the media is easily absorbed, but that information usually refers to the issue of rebellion and opposition to paternal mode of behavior. Subsequently, criminal activity and thoughtless sexual acts are seen as acceptable and normal. In this context, teens lack comprehension of the consequences of their choices and impacts on other individuals and society in general (Kundanis, 2003).
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