Chapter 1
Introduction

The presence and intensity of media influences—television, radio, music, computers, films, videos, and the Internet—are increasingly recognized as an important part of the social ecology of children and youth, and these influences have become more visible and volatile in recent decades. Research that explores the level and effects of media influences calls for measurements of the quantity and character of exposure to a variety of potentially overlapping media sources, an analysis of the content of the media output, and examination of the social context and relationships that are associated with the media experience.

Additional effort is needed to develop theories that can identify underlying processes and mechanisms that link media influences to outcomes. Outcomes in turn call for tools that can measure, evaluate, and help explain how certain media experiences influence, and are influenced by, health and behavioral factors as well as cognitive and developmental processes. Methodologies from a variety of disciplines— communications, economics, neuroscience, pediatrics, and psychology, to name a few— have been applied to these questions, and a strong body of research and valuable findings has emerged. Nevertheless, the field is relatively young and many methodological and theoretical questions remain, even as new digital technologies continue to pose unique challenges to researchers.

While current media studies focus on the social environment of the millennium generation, there is nothing new in adults being worried about corrupting influences on young people. Early Greek philosophers argued about the relative merits of a focus on rhetoric in the education of their youth at the expense of reason and understanding. When novels were first published during the eighteenth century, many people were concerned that readers, especially the young, would be corrupted by the licentious and immoral behavior described, as well as by the indolent lifestyle they perceived novel readers to follow. By the twentieth century, the potential causes for concern had proliferated dramatically. Today, media experiences seem to expand by the month, and while much of the concern about their influence on young people may represent older worries in new forms, the media ecology of today’s children and youth also presents a new frontier that offers unique challenges for research studies.

A child born in the 1930s might have spent as much as several hours a week listening to the radio; reading comic books, newspapers, or magazines; or watching a film at a local theatre. Since television was first introduced in the 1950s, the number of hours young people spend interacting in some way with media, as well as the range and capabilities of the many devices and activities that could be considered media experiences, have increased to an extent far beyond the imagining of today’s grandparents when they were young. Children today use electronic media from two to five hours daily, and infants—even in utero—are regularly exposed to a variety of media



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Studying Media Effects on Children and Youth: Improving Methods and Measures - Workshop Summary Chapter 1 Introduction The presence and intensity of media influences—television, radio, music, computers, films, videos, and the Internet—are increasingly recognized as an important part of the social ecology of children and youth, and these influences have become more visible and volatile in recent decades. Research that explores the level and effects of media influences calls for measurements of the quantity and character of exposure to a variety of potentially overlapping media sources, an analysis of the content of the media output, and examination of the social context and relationships that are associated with the media experience. Additional effort is needed to develop theories that can identify underlying processes and mechanisms that link media influences to outcomes. Outcomes in turn call for tools that can measure, evaluate, and help explain how certain media experiences influence, and are influenced by, health and behavioral factors as well as cognitive and developmental processes. Methodologies from a variety of disciplines— communications, economics, neuroscience, pediatrics, and psychology, to name a few— have been applied to these questions, and a strong body of research and valuable findings has emerged. Nevertheless, the field is relatively young and many methodological and theoretical questions remain, even as new digital technologies continue to pose unique challenges to researchers. While current media studies focus on the social environment of the millennium generation, there is nothing new in adults being worried about corrupting influences on young people. Early Greek philosophers argued about the relative merits of a focus on rhetoric in the education of their youth at the expense of reason and understanding. When novels were first published during the eighteenth century, many people were concerned that readers, especially the young, would be corrupted by the licentious and immoral behavior described, as well as by the indolent lifestyle they perceived novel readers to follow. By the twentieth century, the potential causes for concern had proliferated dramatically. Today, media experiences seem to expand by the month, and while much of the concern about their influence on young people may represent older worries in new forms, the media ecology of today’s children and youth also presents a new frontier that offers unique challenges for research studies. A child born in the 1930s might have spent as much as several hours a week listening to the radio; reading comic books, newspapers, or magazines; or watching a film at a local theatre. Since television was first introduced in the 1950s, the number of hours young people spend interacting in some way with media, as well as the range and capabilities of the many devices and activities that could be considered media experiences, have increased to an extent far beyond the imagining of today’s grandparents when they were young. Children today use electronic media from two to five hours daily, and infants—even in utero—are regularly exposed to a variety of media

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Studying Media Effects on Children and Youth: Improving Methods and Measures - Workshop Summary stimuli. This pervasive experience has raised many questions about how media exposure, content, and context influence young people’s health, development, and behavior. Researchers are increasingly concerned not only with how much time children spend with the media in general, but also with how they apportion their exposure over different sources and types of media. Furthermore, interest is growing in examining how the experience with media exposure, content, and context has changed over the decades in response to new media features and technologies as well as reflecting other social and economic trends. As an increasingly pervasive and vibrant part of the social ecology of children and youth, media influences have drawn the attention of parents, practitioners, and policy makers who seek to curb risky exposures as well as to identify ways to promote positive media practices that can foster healthy development. These questions are extremely complicated to investigate. Recognizing the importance of this research, the Board on Children, Youth, and Families, under the auspices of the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine, and with the sponsorship of the Henry J.Kaiser Family Foundation, held a workshop in March 2006. Its purpose was twofold: to examine the quality of the measures used in studies of the effects of media on children’s health and development and to identify gaps in both research and practice. The goal was for a variety of experts to consider steps and strategies that could move this research forward and improve its utility for helping parents, practitioners, and policy makers guide young people in navigating a media-rich environment. The specific charge to the Program Committee for a Workshop on Improving Research on Interactive Media and Children’s Health, which planned the workshop, was to consider: The nature of key research literatures that examine different types of media exposure among children and youth; as well as the types of behaviors and interactions associated with media use (including television, video games, computers, cell phones, and the Internet); The strengths and limitations of different types of measures used in studies of media, children, and youth; and Opportunities and strategies for developing one or more studies in this field that can inform the development of research, policy, and practice guidelines regarding media use, content, controls, and guidance for children and youth. The committee met once by phone and collaborated via electronic mail to develop strategies for describing how media research is conducted and the methodological issues it poses. This planning effort prompted the development of two background papers and a subsequent day-long discussion that included sessions on the state of the art in current measures of media exposure; the research designs, tools, and frameworks used in social epidemiological and prevention research; and the role of theory in explaining relationships among media exposure and outcomes. In this way the committee was able to represent a variety of perspectives, even though the available time would not allow for comprehensive coverage of any of the issues. This report provides a summary of that discussion, supplemented with information from two papers prepared for the workshop, which are available at

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Studying Media Effects on Children and Youth: Improving Methods and Measures - Workshop Summary <http://www.bocyf.org/030206.html>. It begins with an examination of the potential impact of media exposure, followed by a description of the basic research questions and the methods currently used to study them. Methodological questions and challenges and theoretical approaches are described; they are discussed from the perspective of other kinds of epidemiological research. The report closes with a discussion of future directions for the field.