Influence of Media on Youths’ Thoughts and Behavior
Over the last century, the world has witnessed great innovations in media. Media can take many forms which include newspapers, magazines, radio and television networks (McManus, 2008). The last half century has particularly seen an unprecedented growth in one of the most popular forms of media today – the internet. Other forms of media include video games (McManus, 2008). These media outlets have undoubtedly changed every human society. They have brought about faster communication means and enhanced businesses through advertising. The media has also enabled openness in societies, which has helped expose corrupt activities by government officials and thus aided in promoting good governance. However, the media is also associated with several negative consequences, especially to young minds. Therefore, the media has changed youngsters’ attitudes, both in a positive and negative way. However, the negative implications of the media on children and teenager’s thoughts and behaviors far outweigh the positive consequences. In particular, the media has promoted juvenile delinquency and negative social behaviors such as drug abuse, teenage indulgence in sexual activities and youth violence.
The media, especially the movie industry, has to a large extent contributed to negative attitudes amongst the youth. One of the most popular forms of entertainment for the youth is watching television programs such as drama series, reality TV shows, music and movies. The youth idolize and look up to certain characters in those programs. In the modern world, certain media personalities (celebrities) have gained a lot of fame and recognition, sometimes surpassing important public figures (such as politicians and scientists) that were traditionally accorded such privileges. Since celebrities are highly respected and idolized by the youth, whatever they do or say has a great impact on the way children and adolescents think and behave.
Celebrities define ‘what is cool’ and what is unacceptable (McManus, 2008). According to Cassidy (2004) “celebrities such as Jordan, Kylie and David Beckham are becoming more influential to young people than their parents, teachers and even school friends.” Most of these personalities attain their fame through media at a very tender age; when they are not mature enough to act as positive role models. Their bad behavior is emulated by the youth, who are keen to copy what their favorite celebrities do, both onstage and offstage (McManus, 2008).
This celebrity craze that has been popularized by the media has negative consequences on the development of children and adolescents not only in the United States of America but around the world. Nowadays, most children only dream about becoming famous musicians, movie actors or sportsmen and women. Carson (1990) blames this on the media for overemphasizing music and sports. He adds that he has met youngsters who form groups that dedicate all their time, money and energy to making it big in music, which is a highly competitive field, without acknowledging the fact that only about one in ten thousand groups will eventually succeed. “Rather than putting all their time and energy into sports or music, these kids – these bright, talented young people – should be spending their time with books and self-improvement, ensuring that they will have a career when they are adults” (Carson, 1990).
One of the greatest influences that the media has on children and teenagers is that it helps, either directly or indirectly, to promote a drug culture. Many researchers have linked the intention to use alcohol and/or tobacco during puberty and adulthood to both brand awareness and positive attitudes towards substance use during middle childhood (Kirsh, 2010). Both of these factors are highly influenced by the media. For instance, advertisements carried by media greatly aids in creating and enhancing brand awareness amongst children in their middle ages. These children also obtain positive attitudes about the use of drugs from the media, especially from movie actors and actresses.
A lot of research indicates that the media depicts alcohol either in an affirmative or impartial light without giving a lot of information on its demerits. Alcohol ranks high among the most regularly advertised merchandise on radio and television. It represents an estimated 77% of all beverage commercials that are run during sports events (Taylor, 2005). Therefore, alcohol is shown to children more regularly than most other products. In addition, it is shown in a manner that is alluring to children and teenagers. This increases the awareness of children to various brands that exist in the market and also inculcates positive attitudes regarding the use of alcohol in their minds.
Smoking amongst children, just like alcohol intake, is greatly influenced by media advertisements and perceptions. According to Taylor (2005), “children who spend more time watching television (including movies and music videos) are more likely to engage in high-risk behavior, such as smoking and drinking alcohol” (p. 17). Media celebrities also have a great impact on whether a child decides to smoke or not. For instance, Taylor (2005) notes that, “the onset of smoking in children is related to whether the children’s favorite film stars smoked” (p. 17).
The media has also promoted youth indulgence in sexual activities. Just like substance abuse, the decision to indulge in sexual activities is greatly influenced by both awareness and a positive attitude. The media has played a great role in eroding traditional cultural values towards sex. Traditionally, sex was regarded as a religious activity and a preserve of mature people who could handle its consequences. The media has changed all this. Nowadays, the media glorifies sex and treats it as a secular activity. Most popular movies have scenes explicitly showing sexual activity or have sexual connotations. Several studies have shown that on average, sexually related talk and behavior occurs roughly eight to ten times per hour in prime-time programming, with two thirds of all network prime-time shows including some sexual material (McManus, 2008). Most children and teenagers have access to the internet where they can watch numerous images and videos illustrating pornographic scenes. The net effect of all this is to inculcate a positive attitude towards sexual activity in youth’s minds (McManus, 2008).
Once children reach puberty, they already have a great interest in knowing various details about sex but they do not have a lot of experience in this field. With the busy lives that people lead nowadays, parents do not dedicate sufficient time to educate their children about issues related to sex. Without adequate information from parents, children rely on the media for much of the information they acquire regarding sex. Most media houses are for-profit organizations and thus, their intention is to maximize financial gains. The human mind is greatly fascinated by sex and as such, sex is known to sell (McManus, 2008). Thus, most advertisements, movies, radio and TV programs are accompanied by some forms of sexual activity or sexual undertones. Whereas such ads and programs generate revenue for media houses, they erode positive attitudes towards sex in youth. This results in alarming numbers of children indulging in sex at increasingly worrying tender ages.
The net effect of high levels of sexual activity in children and adolescents is that incidences of teenage pregnancies and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) have increased (McManus, 2008). Teenage pregnancies have a direct impact on the lives of the affected teenagers. Some of them may drop out of school or may not study to greater heights like they could have done had they not fallen pregnant at a tender age.
Violence in the media also affects the thoughts and behaviors of children. Violence has become a normal aspect of the media and can take many forms. Just after the advent of television, violence took milder forms that involved cartoon characters chasing and striking one another. In the modern world, war dominates most cartoons, which usually depict evil animated characters assaulting conquerors with dangerous weapons such as swords. Further, several fashionable genres of music such as rap have lyrics which degrade women and encourage aggression towards women (Calvert & Wilson, 2011). Further, videogames are developed in such a way as to compensate youthful gamers for assaulting and killing policemen and soldiers. All these types of violence encourage the development of an aggressive attitude in children.
The effect of violent video games on the development of children and adolescents is particularly important (McManus, 2008). Video games with violence scenes have been found to be both addictive to children and youths, and even affect their behavior. Addiction is the most important effect that changes the children behavior as they grow up, often developing some kind of daring and aggressive behavior. Playing alone does not qualify as addiction (McManus, 2008). Addiction is best defined as an increasing urge to continue with a behavior regardless of its negative effects. In trying to find out who the video addicts are, researchers have come up with a system of evaluating certain symptoms in a gamer. Thinking about playing video games frequently, spending more money or time to feel excited, failing when playing for shorter periods, becoming restless or irritable when attempting to end playing, using game as an escapism, lying to family or friends about playing time, stealing video games or stealing money to buy video games, avoiding responsibilities, skipping homework to play, academic performance decline, and needing friends or family to provide extra money are the symptoms that define addiction. Gamers are thus said to be addicted if they show these listed symptoms. It has been noted that the excitement associated with video games leads to addiction and that the secret that keeps gamers motivated is not fun alone, but rather the rewards, liberty and the bond strengthened between the players (Anderson, & Bushman, 2002).
Addicted players are known as a pathological players and their frequency of play is twice that of non pathological players. They have mastery of the games’ rating symbols and researches show that it is the time they have been in the game that determines their state. In a recent research, 1 in 10 children and teens that play video games show behavioral signs that may indicate addiction (McManus, 2008). According to Media Research Lab at Iowa State University, about 8.5% of 8-to-18-year-old gamers can be considered pathologically addicted (McManus, 2008). This is an alarming rate considering the age of the child. Video producing companies have been recording escalating sales of video games. This interpreted would mean that playing of video games, mostly among the youth, is on the increase. Internet has also played a great role in the video game addiction. When kids log in to the internet, they find web pages filled with adverts on the latest version of a certain game. This gives the child an urge to try it out leading to mastery of the game and eventual addiction (Lin, & Lepper, 1987).
A resurgence in interest on the video games effect on the users occurred in the late 1990s due to some observed behavior in children frequently exposed to violent games. Several studies were carried out, but few correlations were found, while the results were conflicting. Some research showed that the amount of video games played by a single user had a significant positive correlation with some measures of aggression in school boys. Teachers in various schools also showed that most of their aggressive children admitted being addicts of the games in their early ages, and tried to copy the characters in the games scenes.
Another way that the media is negatively affecting youngsters, and especially adolescents, is that it occupies a huge proportion of their active lives. A study showed that most children spend an estimated six hours (about the same time they spend sleeping) in front of the television (McManus, 2008). This time could be used for other constructive activities such as studying or engaging in extra-curricular activities like sports, music and acting. Thus, most children end up wasting a significant proportion of their time while growing. In addition, watching too much television at the expense of physical activities makes the children inactive and may lead to health problems such as obesity and its associated complications.
In conclusion, though the media has several positive impacts, its negative impacts far outweigh the positive ones. The idolization of celebrities, which has been promoted by the media, has led to misplaced priorities among young people. The media is also highly responsible for promoting substance abuse, especially irresponsible use of alcohol and smoking of cigarettes among the youth and adolescents. Early indulgence of youth in sexual activities has also been a negative consequence of the existence of free media on the modern society. In addition, violent scenes in the media, especially the existence of violent video games, has led to aggressive behavior in young boys and girls as well as adolescents. Finally, the media wastes a lot of constructive time for youths.
Anderson, C. A., & Bushman, B. J. (2002). Human aggression. Annual Review of Psychology, 53, 27-51.
Calvert, S. L., & Wilson, B. J. (2011). The handbook of children, media and development. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.
Carson, B. (1990). Gifted hands. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association.
Cassidy, S. (2004). Celebrities now 'more influential' on young people than parents or friends. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/celebrities-now-more-influential-on-young-people-than-parents-or-friends-578562.html
Kirsh, S. J. (2010). Media and youth: A developmental perspective. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.
Lin, S., & Lepper, M. R. (1987). Correlates of children's usage of video games and computers. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 17, 72-93.
McManus, J. D. (2008). Media and behavior: The correlation between the explosion of media outlets and aggressive behavior in teenagers. Sebastopol, CA: Lawrence Erlbaum Publishers.
Taylor, J. (2005). Your children are under attack: How popular culture is destroying your kids. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, Inc.