Media Messages

 Navigating through a maze of media messages at home

A 2005 study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the University of Texas Children’s Digital Media Center makes clear that media is a constant presence in the lives of young children. Nearly all American children live in a home with a television.  More than half of those live in a home with three or more televisions. And one-third has a television in their bedroom.

It’s obvious that media exposure is a daily part of the average American’s life, regardless of age.  But children are consuming content and exposed to subject matter well beyond their life experience and comprehension.  Watching violent programming, sexually charged advertisements, even local news can be a cause for concern.  And content produced exclusively for children is less than reliable.

 An a 2008 National Institute for Early Education Research article explores children using interactive digital media at younger ages.  The article references Warren Buckleitner, editor of children’s technology review, who states that the quality of children’s media is hit-or-miss.  Television, internet sites, computer and video games, and other digital media targeted at small children can be educational and entertaining or not.  There are no standards and many are marketed to parents, claiming educational value, while they are created without input from early childhood educational experts.  (

Parents are eager to purchase media-based items that claim an educational value. The Kaiser Family Foundation has noted that parents who hold positive views about the educational value of media reflects in their children’s use. For example in a typical day, 82% of children whose parents think TV mostly helps learning will watch TV, compared to 58% of those whose parents think TV mostly hurts learning. (

Regardless of parental attitudes, the report reveals that children are watching alone. 81% of the time when children are watching television, their parents are doing other things. Content is being broadcast to an audience without the skills to determine the meaning of the content, such as distinguishing between a program and a commercial.

One method parents can employ to ensure the quality of content their child is consuming is co-viewing or children watching television with parents. This is advised by the American Academy of Pediatrics and many other children and media organizations. Co-viewing provides an opportunity for parents to teach media literacy.

Helping children navigate and begin to understand the mass of mediated messages they are exposed to everyday is possible.  For tips, click on these links:

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