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Negative Effects of Media on Children

Present times permit the use of merely all the benefits resulting from the technical advancement making everyday life a little bit easier, improving the standards of living and increasing the chances of securing information. For the moment, television is the foremost source of information. Through telecasts, videos, commercials, movies and cartoons, information is relayed, not in its pure and abstract form, but in its processed form, that is meant to give an impression of an event and create a certain point of view. While an adult can synthesize and perhaps filter the information made available to him, a child hardly does so and is entirely vulnerable to the information flaw.

Any informational material be it a story, music, or a cartoon carries with it some meaning. Personality formation is directly dependent on the content inherent in these products. Nowadays, children have access to a variety of cartoons and TV shows at any time. The strongest aspect of child's perception of reality is usually influenced by cartoons. Such influence in most cases carries a negative impact on a child’s state of mind and on the formation of his/her personality.

Few parents think about how a child's character is shaped due to cartoon watching. A close examination of infants and preschool children determines how they understand their world and reality, as well as the formation of their identity. Many cartoons combine fantasy with reality and picture with music. These cartoons create a certain pedagogical and educational problem. There are two types of cartoons: those that imitate the adult life and those that are engaged in the creation of the world with its own laws.

Animated films are liked by children of all ages. On the one hand, they appear bright, imaginative, simple and easy to percept. On the other hand, cartoons are similar in their developmental and educational opportunities to tales, games, and lives of human beings. Characters of animated films show a variety of ways to interact with the world around them. They stimulate the formation of the primary concepts of good and bad as well as the standards of good and bad behavior. By comparing themselves with their favorite characters, children get an opportunity to learn how to view themselves positively, to cope with their fears and difficulties and respect others. Events taking place in a cartoon can raise awareness of a child, develop his thinking abilities and imagination and shape his/her character. Moreover, a cartoon is an effective means of educating a child. Unfortunately, a lot of cartoons are psychologically, educationally and ethically inappropriate for the children. Cartoons can have dangerous effects on a child. “Television has been proven to have negative influences on a wide variety of behaviors in children like aggression, anti-social behavior and diminished cognitive skills” (Davidson, Yasuna & Tower 597).

The majority of cartoon characters can be aggressive. They tend to cause harm to others, often maiming or killing other characters. Elements of brutal and aggressive attitude are usually very inherent in these cartoons. The consequences of watching such cartoons can induce brutality, ruthlessness and aggressive traits in a child. TV scenes on violence that children watch increase their aggressiveness and other negative traits; and what is more, “Media exposure can contribute to children’s fears and anxieties” (Wilson 90). Moreover, according to researches,”The homicide rate among young people has doubled since 1950” (Osofsky 33).

The present day children are more likely to copy adult life with its aggression and brutality. Cartoons are also known to drain a child emotionally. A child’s energy goes into the inanimate character while the games that feature cartoons are in most cases bereft of novelty and usefulness. Robot babies are catchy to children, and this keeps them tied to a screen for hours. Children get overwhelmed and end up admiring the invincible and all-powerful cartoon characters.

While watching cartoons, a child focuses his/her attention on main characters and their behaviors.  For example, there is a constant rivalry between the cat and the mouse in the cartoon "Tom and Jerry". Characters do not compete for positive things but who is quicker, who can outsmart and hurt each other. Normally, watching such cartoons a child acquires bad traits which may be the following: it is fun to offend those who are weaker, it is not a sin to deceive or it is not bad to kick a comrade. This is the reason why a close monitoring of child’s behavior is necessary. Children can copy characters that are of negative conduct, and they may even end up carrying over this behavior to their adult life. The child begins to hurt weaker kids without having any feeling of guilt. If such situation happens, the parents are to be blamed, because they are the ones who are supposed to elevate a child inculcating positive attitudes towards the surrounding world.

It is worth noting that modern cartoons are replete with images of an adult world. The image of a princess is getting hotter, so to speak. Her attractive feminine features are highlighting a small waist, a big breast and wide hips. Girls form standards of an ideal body on the basis of such appearance and can become upset if they do not look like their favorite beautiful character. Consequences can be disastrous - girls get withdrawn and may in the process develop inferiority complex. As stated by Hayes & Tantleff-Dunn (415), “Girls as young as six years old experience body dissatisfaction as evidenced by preference for an ideal figure that is thinner than their perceived current body size”. Boys, on the other hand, fall in love only with treasured beauties. Unpalatable behavior may result from children’s exposure to immoral characters embodied in cartoons. The immoral behaviors may range from sexual advances, excessive flirting and rapturous kisses. All this is too much for the child's perception. One is not able to understand what a sexual relationship is, and it is, therefore, not morally acceptable to show all of this in cartoons.

Manifestations of non-standard sex-role behavior are also communicated through cartoons and other emissions mostly on television. Males behave like their female counterparts and vice versa. Characters wear inappropriate clothes, and one can only imagine what lessons a preschooler may draw from viewing such scenes. It is known that the pre-school age is a period of a child’s active sexual identity development. Some psychologists are of the view that such exposures impair the ability of children to concentrate and encourage homosexual tendencies. Moreover, if, for instance, a deviant behavior of cartoon characters goes unpunished, or no one condemns a character that breaks the standard rules a streak of defiance finally develops in a child as their general view is that no one is there to punish such wrongdoings. Eventually, a child forms an idea about the possibility of such behaviors. Taboos and the standards of right and wrong actions are not observed; impermissible and unacceptable behaviors are generally tolerated.

Behaviors, which are life-threatening to a child, are entertained, and watching such role models may lead to bad behaviors amongst the children and, therefore, potential injuries are inevitable. The imitation of dangerous scenes from the life of a hero is terrible. A child may try to jump from a balcony knowing that Chip and Dale do this repeatedly and become heroes. If parents are unable to control what their children do while they are away, for instance, they should at least teach them the difference between the real life and a cartoon. Otherwise, it will result is regrettable if not very perilous scenarios. Scenes of disrespect for people, animals and plants are very common. Unpunished mockery of old age, helplessness and weakness in the content that children receive from the media results in an unacceptable behavior in the society. Effects of a systematic watching of these cartoons normally do not take very long, and the closest adult will be the first to bear the brunt of the utterances, obscene gestures, indecent assault, cruelty and ruthlessness by the children.

Furthermore, antagonistic and sometimes even ugly characters are used. Children in most cases are very sensitive to the appearance of a character. Positive characters should be righteous and well-behaved, but a negative character by contrast may be immoral or maladjusted. When all characters are awful, ugly, scary, regardless of their role, a child has no clear benchmarks to assess their actions. In addition, when a child is forced to imitate or to identify himself/herself with an unsympathetic character, internal sense of a child suffers.

A large number of cartoons in the public domain often lead to the formation of cartoon dependence. Besides, modern animators create animation serials. Gradually, a child develops the propensity of being glued to a television watching cartoons, and it becomes very difficult to remove him/her from the screen. It becomes a real problem to engage a child in the real work, reading books or playing with friends all of which require some efforts. During games, children often argue, sort things out, take offense and may end up going physical on each other as a result of arguments emanating from such games. Bright painted friends can brighten up the child’s leisure. Thus, it is not necessary to share toys or establish relations with them. Children gradually become accustomed to cartoons. It will become difficult to replace cartoons with real work. There will be attempts to win back the right to unlimited viewing of cartoons. Impact of cartoons is especially obvious when a child in a sudden stop of viewing gets nervous and starts crying. In order to calm the child down, parents turn a cartoon on again not realizing that the child has fallen addict. Because of this, a child has poor grades at school. “Television viewing is consistently blamed for a myriad of social and developmental problems, including poor school achievement” (Wright, Huston, Murphy, Peters, Pinon, Scantlin & Kotler 1347).

There are some rules for parents in order to prevent the child’s addiction. First of all, parents should choose cartoons for children very carefully. Moreover, children should watch cartoons, which provide correct references: kindness, cooperation, hard work and compassion. While choosing a TV show or a cartoon for a child, parents should be ten times more careful than when choosing a book because visual images affect the child’s mind much stronger. Parents must consider the content of the viewed cartoons. Through the reproduction of sequence of events, a child develops a clear picture of what is happening in a cartoon. Parents should not "overfeed" children with cartoons. A good cartoon should be a reward and a celebration. 

A lot of cartoon characters are used in magazines to advertise tobacco and alcohol. This bright and colorful advertising attracts a lot of children who begin to take a good look at it. “A disproportionate number of cartoon characters in cigarette advertisements appeared in magazines” (Kelly, Slater, Karan & Hunn 190).

For more than 50 years now researches have confirmed that there is a significant influence of media on children’s health. Television and magazines, all of which constitute to the old media, and the Internet and social networking sites and cell phones, all of which form the new media, are known to have effects on entirely every health concern that parents have about their children (Liebert et al 19). Although media are not the leading cause of children’s health problems, their significance cannot be underestimated. Children spend considerably more time with media than in any other activity save for sleeping approximately seven hours a day. A considerable number of children have access to televisions even when they are in their bedrooms, moreover, not just the televisions, but also the Internet, computers and cell phones. Research has shown that media can determine children’s behavior and beliefs regarding violence and aggression, drug abuse, sex, eating habits and mental disorders. Uncontrolled television view-ship has been associated with the disorder of attention-deficit and dwindling academic performance, as well as high blood pressure, asthma, sleep disorders, psychological disorders, depression and mood disorder.

Media affect children not only by consuming the time they could spend to do homework or sleep but by influencing their behaviors and beliefs, as well. Children, according to the social learning theory learn by imitating and observing whatever they see on the screen. Cognitive development theory holds that cognitive capacities of children at different levels influence their understanding of media content. For instance, children below eight years who have not yet learnt persuasive intent will be more susceptible to advertising. Super Peer Theory, on the other hand, likens media to superior best friends sometimes making the risky behavior seem like normative behavior.

With the various theories indicating that there is a potentially powerful impact of the media and the extensive empirical evidence for its negative effect, one may be motivated to think that parents would strive to limit their children to detrimental media content.

It is documented that an estimated 200,000 acts of violence would have been watched by an average teenager. Many violent acts are presented in a sanitized manner, and in children’s program, it is in most cases presented as humor. An approximated 10 percent of 10-14 years olds watched 40 percent of the most violent movies in 2003 alone.

Media can encourage anti-social behavior in children especially because violence in social media has been seen to be commonplace. A recent research on video games shows that the majority of all games contain violence. Health experts are particularly concerned with the first-person shooter video games. In the wake of the west Paducah, KY School shooting, it was found out that the shooter had never before in his lifetime used a gun, yet he did it with such precision that it appeared dangerous. Researchers have found out that continuous violence can lead to tension and cowardice, acceptance of violence as the solution of conflict, and desensitization with increases in aggression.

The connection between media violence and real-life aggression is as strong as the impact of cigarette smoking on lungs, which can lead to cancer. Advocates of children more often than not express concerns about children relating with strangers online. Disconcerting cases of internet sexual abuse activity on children by adults have become a common phenomenon. Recent researches on the safety on the Internet have revealed that sexual solicitation is likely to be conducted by other minors (Greenfield et al 84).

Children see considerable alcohol, drug and substance abuse materials which form a sizeable portion of media content. Research has revealed that substance abuse is referenced in 40 percent of the social networking sites. Other studies have as well revealed that exposure to movie-smoking heralds smoking initiation 1 to 8 years after. Children who identify with the storyline and the characters are at a higher risk of increasing their desire to smoke.

Majority of the studies in America has shown that media influence the rising cases of obesity worldwide, though the reason why excessive television watching is resulting particularly to children’s weight status is largely unclear (Leavitt et al 93). One probable explanation of this problem is the food marketing. It is claimed that children view 4400 to 7600 adverts for junk food, as well as fast food on television only. Controlled experiments have shown that prolonged exposure to junk food advertising has an effect on children’s food beliefs and tastes. The Internet has even worsened an already grim situation.

Kaiser Foundation noted that there exists numerous food related content in the media, which increases children’s exposure to food marketing. Apart from influences by the online advertising, eating while still watching television increases excessive food consumption. Although evidence that links watching television with displacement of physical activity remains unclear, researchers are busy exploring if there is any connection between heavy media consumption and sleep displacement. Children who sleep fewer are more likely to lead sedentary lives thereby engaging less in physical activities.

The media also fundamentally manipulates the minds of children by inculcating negative stereotypes and body images as being normal. Stereotypes are inevitable in video games, movies and the entertainment industry (Anderson et al 207). Characters that are stereotyped may negatively affect the manner in which real people in the society are viewed. Often media appear to stereotype gender and racial groups in an unsavory manner. For instance, cases of racism can be identified in the Disney movies including the Jungle Book, where apes and orangutans that sound like Afro-Americans. The negative stereotype is what children tend to remember most of all when they see people who speak in a similar accent.

Studies have also shown that media can as well influence the development of negative feeling of self worth in children via messages about body image. Recent studies have shown that there is a conspicuous link between television watching, negative eating and body disorders. Television characters are depicted with unreal bodies (Calvert et al 22). While this image may fail to be pleasant to some, the propensity to imitate what they see remain prominent for the majority. Extended exposure to unreal images can lead to low self esteem, depression, as well as eating disorders, which if not checked can end up becoming permanent.

Too many media for children also poses negative effects on children’s academic performance. Precisely, poor performance and poor reading ability is connected with the consumption of too many media. For instance, a study conducted in New Zealand comprising 1000 individuals showed that television viewing in children is linked to poor education performance by the age of twelve years.

Media nowadays especially television are awash with soaps, which in most cases revolve around family life. Materials that children are exposed to have serious bearing on their lives, for example, divorce. In fact, divorce affects children even, more than one can imagine. Though the impact may differ from one child to another, the experience is usually perilous and may in most cases lead to emotional change.

Children of up to the age of ten will not respond normally to the materials on the screen. Studies reveal that children can be acutely sensitive to the emotions of those around them and may pick them up. Strong emotions studies have shown that they are stressful to children and have a harmful effect on their both physical and mental development and learning. It has been discovered that children who have had exposure to television and radio noise have a diminished ability to recognize sounds of nature, languages and human sounds. Moreover, a study that examined children whose ages were between two and four years compared time they spent listening to television and radios and found out that for every hour of television heard their age appropriate language skills diminished (Bryant et al 86). A study with two, three and four year old children showed  conspicuous negative effects of background sounds on their ability to play in a focused manner, whether or not they are watching it.

Numerous studies have shown that all those children who are exposed to higher levels of noise are at a higher risk of experiencing hypertension, higher pulse rate and diminished cognitive and communication skills. There is a vast amount of research that serves as evidence that television, computers and video games have a negative effect on children. They deny the child the sensory experience in touching, hearing and seeing they usually have whilst doing active things in the real world.

In conclusion, since nearly all researches and studies appear to arrive at the same conclusion about the impacts of media on children, it is highly recommended for parents and guardians to limit the amount of media consumption available to their children. Watching cartoons has to be dosed. Parents should allow their children to watch no more than one cartoon per day. Parents have to draw their attention to how much time they spend in front of the TV screens. Any cartoon will not replace live communication between parents and children. Every child needs this communication. Parents should not forget about this, moreover, they should postpone their business and give a child a little bit of their attention.

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