Helping Children Understand and Use Media

Every day, the average American 8 to 18-year-old watches approximately four hours worth of television, movies, videos and DVDs. Typical 0 to 3-year-olds watch over an hour a day. Television has become the medium of choice for this generation. They have even been called Generation M or the Media Generation. The typical 8 to 18-year-old lives in a home with 3 TVs, 3 CD/tape players, 3 radios, 3 VCR/DVD players, 2 video game consoles, and a computer. 68 percent have a television in their bedroom, 54 percent have a VCR/DVD player in their room, 55 percent have a video game console, and 31 percent have a computer.

The average hour of television contains over 10 minutes of commercials. So the average 8 to 18-year-old sees almost an hour of advertisements a day, convincing them that they need this or that. By a child’s 16th birthday they will have seen an estimated 75,000 ads for alcohol and over 150,000 commercials for foods high in sugar and/or fat. The average kid sees approximately 40,000 ads each year. By the 6th grade, a child will have seen 8000 murders on TV. 54 percent of 4 to 6 year-olds when asked to choose between television and spending time with their fathers chose television.

The Rainbow Channel was created as an alternative to commercial television for patients and families at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. Our mission is to provide state-of-the-art therapeutic, educational, and diversional programming. We feature no advertisements and seek to engage the patients with interactive programming as well as by allowing some patients to take part in the production of programs. But The Rainbow Channel can’t reach home. With that in mind, here are some tips to help your children understand media.

Media = film, television, music, radio, books, magazines, newspapers, video games, and the internet.

Watch/Use With Them

Talk to them about what they’ve just seen and how it makes them feel. Ask questions like: “Could that really happen?”, “Why do you think they made that?”, “What are they trying to say?”

Follow The Money

Ask them how much they think those people or companies make, and then help them find out. Make games out of what you’re seeing like: Count the ads, find the product placements within the program, name the actor/voice, and race to point out when the background music changes.

Watch With A Purpose

Plan what you will watch so that you’re not randomly flipping to find something to fill up time.

Make Rules

Limit their total viewing/playing time per day. Give them specific times when they may use the media. Guide them to educational programming such as: PBS, Discovery, TLC, National Geographic, History Channel, NPR, educational web sites, etc. Don’t allow them to isolate themselves in their room with the media, make it a family event. Set a good example by not allowing media to be a large part of your life.

Generation M., The Kaiser Family Foundation 2005
Zero to Six., The Kaiser Family Foundation 2003
The American Academy of Pediatrics
A.C. Nielsen Co.

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