Impact of Media Use on Children and Youth

Instructor: Gaines Arnold
This lesson looks at how media of all types impacts children and teens. The discussion starts with a definition of what media is, then moves to how different types of media, whether visual or auditory or written, have positive or negative impacts on children and youth.

Type and Amount of Exposure

Media use has been increasing given the simple fact that access to different types of media is more widespread. Children and teens are just as likely to use different types of media as adults, but the effects may be very different. The biggest difference between how media use effects children and youth versus how it effects adults is largely tied to development.

During the earliest developmental stages, children form the attitudes and mores , or values, that will shape their lives. Frequently, those values are tied to how much children view certain types of media productions. So, the impact of media use on children and youth is a question of how much exposure they have and to what type of media.

What is Media?

It is first necessary to fully understand what media is before it can be evaluated. In short, media can be defined as a means of communication. So, media is anything from two cans tied together with a taut string, to the most complicated cellphone or tablet sold. The types of media used today are television, the internet, newspapers, cell phones, radio, magazines, and computers of all types. Children and youth have access to all of the means of communication and what effect new methods of communication have on children is a question parents have been asking for some time.

How Different Types of Media Affect Children

In general, parents worry about two things primarily when it comes to video media: sex and violence. This has been a topic of study for more than a hundred years or since the first movies were shown. It has generally been assumed that children and youth should not be subjected to too much of either, but where is the line? Since movies, television and all other forms of video media have added more sexual and violent content, how has this impacted young people?

Several important facts have been gleaned from different research studies. Namely:

  • Viewing television shows and movies has both positive and negative impacts. When a child watches programs such as Sesame Street, they learn valuable skills and it helps cement rudimentary aspects of education (such as counting, learning letters and reading). However, there are many negatives.
  • More time watching means less time playing and being active.
  • It places the child in a fantasy world at a time that they have difficulty distinguishing between what is real and what is fantasy. Too much time watching fictional programs can actually stunt real development.
  • It takes away time from learning. Even though some programs are educational, children who forego reading and homework to watch TV do worse in school.
  • Viewing a large number of violent acts has been linked to an increase in violent tendencies.
  • Television commercials many times promote unhealthy food choices and extended viewing increases the amount of snacks a child will consume.
  • Many teenagers view television and movies as their main source of sexual information. Whereas school sex education programs promote safe sex, current media rarely does.
  • Children and youth see as many as 300 alcohol commercials every year. The majority of these commercials, let alone the scenes in movies and TV shows, show alcohol consumption in a positive light. Young people are rarely exposed to the negative effects of excessive alcohol consumption.

Besides TV and movies, video games have become a major source of entertainment. They have the same adverse effects as TV (player is sedentary, increased consumption of snacks, violence, unreality, sexual scenes), but they are in worlds that are obviously not real. However, children and teens can have trouble separating reality from game play. With the advent of real world play (such as in Pokemon Go), the division between what is real and what is fantasy blurs even more.

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