Teens spend an average of eight hours a day connected to media, with three to four hours devoted to television. Do you think they're influenced by what they see on the tube? You bet they are! But how much they're influenced depends, in part, on the function TV plays in their lives.
Research out of the University of Michigan and reported in the March, 2006 issue of The Journal of Research on Adolescence found that adolescents who use TV for companionship (as a substitute for friends) are far more likely to accept uncritically the dominant messages that they see on the screen, as compared to adolescents who turn to television as just a fun way to pass the time.
In one study, teens who turn to television "as a friend" were more likely to embrace the stereotypical view of women as sex objects (after viewing a movie clip that depicted women that way) compared to teens whose TV viewing is simply recreational.
By the time our children reach adolescence, it's not easy to control their exposure to television and other media. What's important is that we provide another perspective to balance the values and the thinking that television transmits.
- First, ask the kids what they watch, and join them for a couple of those shows. Pay attention to the values and lessons conveyed and the ways that characters are portrayed.
- Second, during commercial breaks, and after the program, pose thought-provoking questions. Activating your kids' critical thinking is key; teach them to question what they see and hear. "What do you think of the way So-and-So is portrayed?" "Do you agree with the main character's ideas about love?" "How would you handle the dilemma that man/woman is in?"
- Third, add your voice gently to the conversation and offer your own opinions. But don't come across as a Know-It-All or criticize your teen for his or her ideas. "I have another idea about that" is better than "You don't know what you're talking about." Your personal criticism might shut down future dialogue when the goal is to keep the conversational airwaves open. It's how to bring your influence to bear as a counter-balance to the values emanating from the screen.