Mapping Media Effects
The remit* of the Byron Review is to address 'the risks to children from exposure to potentially harmful or inappropriate material on the internet and in video games'. Several general points arise from this. Firstly, we need to acknowledge that that there might be a range of potential risks here, beyond those that appear most obvious; and similarly that harm or what is deemed inappropriate may take many different forms. Secondly, we need to accept that some risks may be unavoidable*, and even a valuable part of young people’s development: it may be necessary for children to encounter risks if they are to learn ways of dealing with them. Thirdly, we must recognise that risks and benefits may be difficult to separate; and that avoiding risks may also mean avoiding potential benefits. These three issues are considered in turn in this Section.

Defining Negative Effects

Looking across the research literature, one can see that a very wide range of potentially negative effects of media have been identified and discussed. These would include effects relating to:

• violent content – including imitation (in the form of aggression or antisocial behaviour), desensitisation* and fear

• sexual content – including imitation (in the form of promiscuous* or unsafe practices), arousal*, and shock or disgust

• advertising – in relation to misleading claims, as well as consumerist or materialistic attitudes more broadly

• inappropriate or unwanted contact with others – for example in the form of ‘stranger danger’ or bullying*

• health – for example to do with smoking, alcohol and drug-taking

• eating behaviour – in relation to both obesity* and eating disorders

• general personality disorders, such as low self-esteem, ‘identity confusion’ or alienation*

• physical effects of excessive use – for example RSI*-type conditions and eyesight problems relating to computers

• the undermining of children’s imagination and free play

• the physical development of the brain, and disorders such as attention deficit and hyperactivity

• sleeping problems and other behavioural difficulties

• reduced time for family interaction, or relationships with peers

• reduced levels of educational achievement, or reading more specifically • mistaken values, attitudes or beliefs – for example in relation to gender or ethnic stereotyping.

Beneficial Effects

Another issue that needs to be addressed here is to do with the potentially positive effects of media on children. While nobody would deny the need to protect children from negative or harmful effects, it is possible that in doing so one may also prevent them from experiencing a range of positive consequences. Indeed, in some circumstances negative and positive effects may be impossible to separate.
For the reasons I have identified, research on children and media has been very much preoccupied with the search for negative effects. Nevertheless, a range of potentially positive effects can also be proposed, as follows:

• learning – in relation to specific educational content or health messages, as well as general knowledge

• language – language acquisition, and the development of skills in reading and written communication (for example, via the internet)

• development of cognitive skills – for example, skills in spatial awareness*, hypothesis testing or strategic thinking (for example, in computer games)

• development of pro-social behaviour and moral values – tolerance, cooperation, and so on

• awareness of social issues – for example, knowledge of current affairs, social problems or other cultures

• social interaction – the role of the media as a basis for discussion within the peer group or family, as well as interaction through the media (for example, via the internet)

• civic participation – the media as a means of promoting social awareness, volunteer activities and political action

• creativity and self-expression – the use of the media as a means of creating and distributing one’s own media products

• cultural value – as with books or other cultural forms, media offer the satisfactions of narrative, of pleasurable images, and of meaningful representations of the real world

• identity development – like reading, media may help to develop imagination, empathy* and a sense of one’s personal tastes and values • entertainment and relaxation

• developing the ability to sustain attention* – for example through concentration on a computer game

• the encouragement of creative activities – play, ‘make and do’ activities, hobbies, reading, and so on.

The Impact of the Media on Children and Young People with a particular focus on computer games and the internet, pp.12 and 17/18
By Centre for the Study of Children, Youth and Media, Institute of Education, University of London
December 2007

*remit - Aufgabe, Aufgabenbereich
*unavoidable - unvermeidbar
*desensitisation - Desensibilisierung
*promiscuous - leichtfertig, wahllos
*arousal - Erregung
*bullying - Mobbing, Schikanieren
*obesity - Fettleibigkeit
*alienation - Entfremdung
*RSI = repetitive strain injury syndrome - Verletzung durch wiederholte Belastung
*spatial awareness - räumliches Bewußtsein
*empathy - Einfühlungsvermögen
*sustain attention - Aufmerksamkeit aufrechterhalten

1. What is the Byron review about and how are risks and benefits of potentially harmful Internet material considered in respect to young children?
2. Pick any three of the negative effects of media which you consider serious and comment on them.
3. Choose any three of the beneficial effects of the media and emphasise their positive effects on children.
4. How should parents take influence on their children regarding the Internet, esp. video games and social networking services like Facebook and MySpace?

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