“Say Aah” …and, “What’s in Your iPod?”
“Let me check your ears. Okay, now stick out your tongue and say ‘Aaaah.’ Very good. Now… how much TV are you watching? Do you have internet access in your bedroom?”
How would Norman Rockwell paint that doctor visit?
Times are changing. And it’s not just that weird preacher on the radio that is concerned about the influence of the media on our kids… it’s your family doctor! In the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published just last week, they claim that “the effect that popular music has on children’s and adolescents’ behavior and emotions is of paramount concern.” That’s why their new policy statements are encouraging doctors to become pro-active about helping parents and kids make better media choices.
More than Conjecture
For decades researchers have been speculating about the effect of media on our kids. Fingers have been pointed, and everyone seems to have an opinion about who to blame. Many have tried to suppress the truth on the matter.
Want to know what your doctors think?
If you were to ask the AAP, “Do associations exist between media violence and aggressive behavior?” They would respond, “These connections are,” and I quote, “nearly as strong as the association between cigarette smoking and lung cancer.”
Does that grab your attention?
Two Voices, One Conclusion
I’ve only been studying youth culture for about 10 years. But in that time, I’ve heard two loud voices about the effect of media on our kids:
Stop the Violence:
- This voice seems to be focused on the effects of violent TV, movies, and video games. Funny, this voice doesn’t seem as concerned about sexual messages, unless they are related to violence (rape, date rape, etc.). This voice often is heard in more liberal circles.
Watch Out for Sexual Imagery:
- This voice is more focused on the effect of sexually provocative lies in the media. This voice isn’t usually as worried about violence in the media, only images that are “over the top.” In other words, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson kicking butt is okay, but Tarentino’s films probably cross the line. This voice is often heard in more conservative circles.
Interestingly enough, the American Academy of Pediatrics released two reports last week, seemingly—one for each voice:
- Media Violence (Download the PDF here)
- The Impact of Music, Music Lyrics, and Music Videos on Children and Youth. (Download the PDF here)
In both these reports, doctors agree that media has a huge impact on our kids. They also agree that parents are the gatekeepers for most of these media influences (The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy would agree).
Both violence and lyrics are proving to have an enormous effect on our kids. So much in fact that doctors are being advised to take training courses about the pervasive influence of entertainment media, ask at least 2 media related questions at each “well-child” visit, and encourage parents to adhere to the following AAP media recommendations:
- Prohibit media in bedrooms.
- Make thoughtful media choices and co-view with kids.
- Limit screen time to one to two hours a day.
- Provide no screen media at all for infants and toddlers under two years old.
Their music report goes on to advise the following to pediatricians:
- Become familiar with the role of music in the lives of children and adolescents and identify music preferences that could be clues to emotional conflict or problems.
- Become familiar with the literature linking music to behavioral problems.
- Explore with patients and parents the type of music to which they listen.
- Encourage parents to take an active role in monitoring their youngsters’ music and music video watching.
- Encourage parents and caregivers to become media literate.
- Help raise public awareness of these issues by participating in local and national coalitions to discuss the effects of music on children.
Hmmmmmm. Do you think parents might start paying attention to this when it is preached from the family pediatrician?
I hope so. The frustration from the AAP seems evident here:
“The weight of scientific evidence has been convincing to pediatricians, with more than 98% of pediatricians in 1 study expressing the personal belief that media violence affects children’s aggression. Yet, the entertainment industry, the American public, politicians, and parents all have been reluctant to accept these findings and to take action. The debate should be over.” (Policy Statement Media Violence, pg 1496)
It seems as though deaf ears only perk up to listen after a shocking event gains national exposure. Columbine awoke the world to one possible reaction to bullying. Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” exposed audiences to just a taste of what their kids see on MTV each day. Perhaps violent outbursts where a teenager beats his roommate to death with a baseball bat, like the one at CSUS just two days after this report was released, might cause some California capital city politicians to take a hard look at possible culprits for this kind of violence.
Is it time that someone holds media producers accountable for irresponsible and immitatable content?
These AAP reports go on to encourage pediatricians to advocate for more child-positive media from media producers. Interestingly enough, the AAP compares the ingredients of the media that our kids absorb to the ingredients in the food that our kids eat. It’s funny how McDonald’s and Hershey’s are regulated by the government, but no one can touch violent film producers or smut-peddlers like MTV.
Their Daily Dose
Perhaps parents need to take a closer look at the media our kids are exposed to daily. Forget the obscure influences for a minute and ask, what images and messages are kids being saturated with through mainstream channels? Have you looked at the number one songs and movies?
Is it ironic that these AAP reports were released the same week that Britney’s song about a threesome is number one on the Billboard charts and Zombieland is Fandango’s number one “Fan-rated” movie at the box office?
The AAP music and lyrics report confirmed that lyrics have become more explicit in references to sex, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and violence. Furthermore, the authors gave numerous examples of the correlation between media exposure and negative behaviors. The report gave particular attention to the effect of music videos. Frequent watching of music videos has been related to:
- an increased risk of developing beliefs in false stereotypes and an increased perceived importance of appearance and weight in adolescent girls
- an increased probability that they would engage in violence, a greater acceptance of the use of violence, and a greater acceptance of the use of violence against women
- an increased acceptance of date rape
- permissive sexual behaviors
- more accepting of premarital sex (specifically with those watching MTV)
- increased risky behaviors
- alcohol use
Want a sample? Take a peek at the Black Eyed Peas music video for their seemingly innocent song, I Gotta Feeling, a video that maintained the number one spot on iTunes more than almost any other song in 2009. Videos like this are feeding our kids with lies that catalyst eating disorders (young girls trying to measure up), permissive sexual behaviors, alcohol use and other risky behaviors.
What can parents do about these messages?
Parents Can Make a Difference
Years ago I was standing in line at a music store. The mom in front of me was on her cell phone and her 10-year-old was buying a video game that was rated M (that’s basically the R-rating for video games). The store clerk, doing his job, brought the M-rating to her attention, and asked her if it was okay for the kid to purchase it. She paused from her cell conversation for a second, putting her hand over the phone, “Sure. He’s gonna hear it at school anyway!”
Sometimes we might actually find ourselves feeling like this mother. “Why even try? Our kids are going to hear it/see it anyway!”
Don’t do it. Don’t give up.
One truth is very evident from these reports, a truth that I’ve seen again and again in our research about the influence of parenting: parents can make a huge difference!
Don’t take it from me; take it from the AAP reports. Your moderation of media is proven to make a difference. Don’t be afraid to say, “This song doesn’t belong in this house.” It’s okay to set media time limits, it’s recommended to listen and view media with your kids, and it sure wouldn’t hurt to just block MTV entirely!
This same AAP music and lyrics report mentioned above gave an example of a 2003 study following 522 black female adolescents for a year. Fascinating stuff:
“522 black female adolescents with a median exposure to rap music videos of 14 hours per week were followed for 12 months. After controlling for all the covariates, greater exposure to rap music videos was independently associated with a wide variety of risky behaviors such as increased promiscuity and use of drugs and alcohol, among others. Of importance, a study performed by Austin in 2000 revealed that the potential risks of exposure to music videos can be moderated by parental reinforcement and counterreinforcement of conducts observed.”
Imagine that. The risks inherent in this kind of media exposure can be moderated by parents who reinforce truth, and expose lies.
The message doesn’t get any clearer than that.
Parents, what are your kids watching and listening to? Ya better find out… doctor’s orders.
Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Bullying Breakthrough; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for parents on his website TheSource4Parents.com. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.