Like it or not, there is no escaping the media. Most children are directly exposed to vast images which can be interpreted in a positive or negative way. The reality is children are surrounded by media wherever they turn. No matter where they come from, media will have a direct impact on their lives.
According to research done by the Kaiser Family Foundation it was found that “American children from six months to six years of age spend as much time with screened media each day as they do playing (about two hours).”
Children today are consuming more television than they did in the past, due to the lack of freedom to play outside, laziness, and availability of technology. It is certain that many parenting habits and practices have changed over time. There has been a rise in single parents, many parents may work two jobs, or both parents may work. Given these factors, parents may not have the time to monitor their children’s television intake. Therefore, children may be watching television shows that are either harmful or beneficial to them.
Over the past three decades television has taken a drastic turn. Children are no longer being exposed to media that generally portrays a “perfect life”. Today’s shows touch upon more sensitive issues and bring light to other cultural backgrounds. For example, The L Word exposes gay relationships, 24 deals with issues of terrorism, Big Love illustrates the life of a polygamist, and Dora the Explorer begins to teach Spanish to children at a young age.
This change in exposition can be clearly seen through the long running television show, Sesame Street. Sesame Street has been a forerunner in social change and cultural awareness. Today it is broadcast in 120 countries and 30 different languages. It sensitizes adult issues such as AIDS and war, making children globally aware of different cultures. Sesame Street has created Global Grover to travel the world and teach children to be understanding of everyone’s differences. Global Grover is being introduced into a “…K-2 curriculum to give teachers the direction and flexibility they need to model global awareness and appreciation in their classroom in a fun, educational, and integrated way.” (Wartella & Knell, 2004)
Children are exposed to varying arrays of content in the media, and it is this content that determines what a child may learn. Some media is educational and some is inappropriate, but who is to decide? Adult-directed television programming, internet websites such as you tube, and even some toys can be interpreted differently depending on an individual’s perspective.
By making young children more culturally aware of controversial issues, they may be open to accept different lifestyles. Educating our youth about multiculturalism can help our nation to form bonds with other nations. It can bridge the gaps of misinformation with knowledge and understanding and hopefully lead to mutual appreciation. Although we hope that the children of our nation are being exposed to quality media and content to make them more culturally aware, we are still left with the question, what media is good for our youth and what media is bad?
Wartella, E., & Knell, G. (2004). Raising a world-wise child and the power of media: The impact of television on children’s intercultural knowledge.Phi Delta Kappan, 86(3)