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Children who are born in this century are bombarded with information, images, and sound bytes coming in from different multimedia streams. Nowadays information can be retrieved and sent at the speed of light.
If parents are not aware of the enormous influence that multimedia can have on their children, then they will not do anything to monitor how children use the Internet and what they watch on TV. These parent will discover later on that technology has become the surrogate parents to their sons and daughters. It is time to re-evaluate how society has come to understand the impact of technology on children.
Without a doubt the Internet and television can be an effective tool in enhancing the learning experience but it can also be considered as a Pandora’s Box that can unleash a host of problems, in the place where children are the most vulnerable – in their homes. It has become more evident that technology is affecting the way children see the world.
It can also influence their thinking process and therefore the only effective means to counteract these effects is to teach children how to deal with technology so that the TV set, the computers, and the video games are under their control and not the other way around.
The Way they Learn
Kirkorian, Wartella and Anderson, argued that those who were born in the latter part of the 20th century are already active media users especially pertaining to watching TV. But before the 1980s there was very little research when it comes to the impact of TV on children’s psychosocial and cognitive development.
But the turning point came researchers discovered that as the child grows older he is no longer a passive viewer but able to pay greater attention to informative features such as dialogue and narrative (Kirkorian, Wartella & Anderson, 2008, p. 40). This insight into the world of TV viewing has both positive and negative implications.
Since children are no longer seen as passive consumers of media messages, parents and moral leaders of society are concerned with the increasing violence and mature subject matter depicted on TV screens. If children beyond the toddler stage can perceive informative features such as dialogue and narrative what would be the impact if they cannot discriminate between fact and fiction. But Kirkorian, Wartella and Anderson’s article focused more on the positive effects of TV viewing.
The researchers asserted that, “Educational television programs, those designed around a curriculum with a specific goal to communicate academic or social skills, teach their intended lesson” (Kirkorian, Wartella & Anderson, 2008, p. 45). The only word of cautions is that for producers to pay attention to age-appropriate content as this is the crucial factor when it comes to maximizing the educational benefits of TV viewing with shows like Sesame Street, Dora the Explorer, and Teletubbies, among others.
In 1999 alone, it was estimated that there more than fifty percent of households with children who had access to a computer game system, and that more than fifty percent had home computers and that close to forty percent had access to the Internet (Subrahmanyam et al., 2000, p. 123). In the present these figures had risen to levels that would suggest a significant saturation of the market with computers like PCs and Apple Macintosh to Internet service that would allow kids access to a highly interactive world of cyberspace.
Aside from the fact that computers and Internet has the potential to supply information and images not appropriate for minors, the number one concern with computer use is the fact that it can easily displace other activities. It is particularly worrying for kids because at this stage in their lives they need to play outdoors and interact with other children and adults. But if they are holed up in their rooms and are content to stare into a small screen there is legitimate cause for concern for this can have a negative impact on their development.
It has been pointed out that “extended computer use may be linked to an increased risk of obesity, seizures and hand injuries” (Subrahmanyam, 2000, p.125). Yet surprisingly the effect on cognitive skills and academic performance are on the positive side. Numerous studies confirmed that after playing a particular computer game children were able to improve their spatial skills or the ability to manipulate objects or images in their minds.
The same is true with iconic skills – the ability to read images. There was also a marked improvement in visual attention skills – a skill similar to a pilot keeping track of a row of several engine dials simultaneously (Subrahmanyam, 2000, p. 129). It is time to examine the social aspect of extended computer use.
The Way they Behave
According to the researchers there is no need to elaborate the fact that, “spending a disproportionate amount of time on any one leisure activity at the expense of others will hamper social and educational development” (Subrahmanyam, 2000, p. 132). This simply means that if a child will not give time for his or her studies and other school activities then there will be only mastery of computer games and nothing more.
But aside from possible problems when it comes to school work, non-educational games that centred on violent themes can increase aggressiveness, hostility and can desensitize children to violence (Subrahmanyam, 2000, p. 132). The numerous school shootings in the United States and Europe forced many people to reconsider this view.
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Aside from the physical, cognitive aspects of extended computer use, technology has evolved to such a point that computers are no longer merely education tools and gaming systems. It is now possible to develop virtual communities and relate to other people via the computer and the Internet.
While there can be the problem of isolation and loneliness, an inevitable result of staring at a computer screen and interacting with a machine the second most important concern is the ability to develop virtual identities where children can use their imagination to make an alternative identity. They can imagine themselves as a knight in shining armour or a villain. In their own virtual world no one can be sure if the child can discriminate between fantasy and reality.
A commentary said that “Although research on the long-term effects of media exposure on children’s emotional skill development is limited, a good deal of evidence shows that media exposure can contribute to children’s fears and anxieties” (Wilson, 2008, p. 87). This is a significant claim considering that in the 21st century parents are busy working and spending long hours at work and has very little time to supervise and monitor the activities of their children.
But there is more, there seems to be a proliferation of movies with horror-filled content such as vampire films, movies with witches as main characters, and of course the typical horror films that can now be viewed by children. Most of these films are targeted towards children (Wilson, 2008, p. 93).
It was also revealed in studies “that preschoolers and elementary school children have experienced short-term fright in reaction to what they saw on TV and the movies” (Wilson, 2008, p. 93). The most interesting research with regards to this subject matter is a nationally representative survey where 62 percent of parents of 2-7 year olds remarked that their children had, “sometimes become scared that something they saw in a movie or TV might happen to them” (Wilson, 2008, p. 93).
Researchers also highlighted the fact that “Children who viewed footages of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and its aftermath experienced post-traumatic symptoms, 35 percent had difficult falling asleep or had trouble concentrating while 47 percent were worried about their safety or the safety of their loved one” (Wilson, 2008, p. 94). If this is true with other children then there is a need to take a closer look at this phenomenon.
Even with increasing evidence that frightening shows, and emotionally distressing programming are causing a negative impact in the lives of children there is still a need for more research to examine long term effects of these type of media content. Meanwhile kids require more supervision and the parents can teach them to develop skills that will help them understand fantasy from reality.
The phenomenal growth of video games could never have been predicted based on the first generation equipment and technology used a few decades ago. In the present day, its success is very much the result of leaps and bound in gaming concepts and technological advancements. It could also be argued that part of its success draws from the winning formula of adding violence into the story and actual mechanics of the virtual game.
Violence in video games is a major concern among parents, school officials and even politicians who are pressured by parents and teachers to do something about the problem. What exactly is the effect of video games -having violent content – in the behaviour of young people between the ages of 12 and 18? The age bracket is interesting and yet very apt in the discussion due to the still vivid recollection of school shootings that had shaken American education to its core.
The Way they Think
Aside from affecting the way they learn and behave, information technology and multimedia resources are also affecting the way children think. There is therefore a need to educate children on how to deal with a world bombarded with images and information accessed from different multimedia streams. They belong to the high-tech era and therefore obsolete methods of raising children has no effect on them.
This does not mean that traditions and culture that existed for centuries has to be thrown out of the window. However, old-age techniques has to be modified and adapted to the needs of the present. Nevertheless, it nothing short of arrogance for someone to say that he has discovered the best way to educate children. But it can be argued that there are indeed methods that can produce highly satisfactory results.
This method of teaching or educating can be derived at by first clarifying some terms. Obviously the first idea that requires clarification is the meaning of the term – to educate. It must be made clear what is the exact meaning or intended meaning before one can proceed and provide solution to a very important issue, the proper way of educating children so that they can deal with the multimedia onslaught.
This means that children must be educated in a pragmatic manner, teaching them the ability to learn skills that will help them navigate the real world. In the context of this study children must be taught how to handle technology. They must understand that technology must be their slaves and not to be controlled by it. They must understand the health risks of video games and spending a great deal of time in front of computer monitor. More importantly they need to know how to deal with problems related to cyberspace.
This means that instead of forcing them to memorize useless information it would serve them better if they learn the basics of computers, the ability to read with comprehension etc. On top of all these skills, children should be trained in how to think with an eye towards problem solving. They have to be taught how to discern danger especially in the virtual world where sex predators had modified their strategies to suit the times (Arnaldo, 2001, p.5).
The 21st century can be labelled as the Multimedia Age. Therefore, children that were born in this generation are faced with challenges that are unique to them. The Internet, 24/7 News channels, Cable TV, and video games are affecting the way they see the world and react to it.
It is now time for parents to re-evaluate how they treat technology and how much they spend time in monitoring what their children are doing on a regular basis. It is no longer acceptable for parents to leave their kids in front of the TV and the computer without knowing the media content being delivered, shared, or streamed online. It is time to be vigilant and to take a more proactive stance in teaching children how to deal with technology. This is the time because tomorrow may be too late for many of them.
Arnaldo, C. (2001). Child Abuse on the Internet: Ending the Silence. UK: Berghahn Books.
Kirkorian, H., Wartella, E. & Anderson, D. (2008). Media and young children’s learning. The Future of Children, 18(1): 39-55.
Subramanyam, K. et al. (2000). The impact of home computer use on children’s activities and development. The Future of Children, 10(2): 123-140.
Wilson, B. (2008). Media and children’s aggression, fear, and altruism. The Future of Children, 18(1): 87-111.