Academic journal article The Journal of Early and Intensive Behavioral Intervention

Reducing Media Viewing: Implications for Behaviorists

Academic journal article The Journal of Early and Intensive Behavioral Intervention

Reducing Media Viewing: Implications for Behaviorists

Article excerpt


American children spend an average of 6 hours and 32 minutes each day using various forms of media. Research has suggested that this high level of exposure has a negative impact on children's attitudes and behaviors. For example, media violence increases aggression in children, especially video games which allows children to be the aggressor and obtain rewards for violent acts against others. In addition, media influences sexual behaviors and attitudes by sending contradictory messages that glamorize sexual activity and disregard the risks of such behaviors. Along with these negative behavioral influences, media also impacts children's health and is linked to the rise of childhood obesity. From 1980 to 2000, rates of children being overweight have doubled, while obesity continually is associated with higher rates of hypertension, asthma, type II diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. The majority of research has found a link between the amount of time children spend watching TV and their body weight. Given that 81% of children age 2-7 use media unsupervised (Kaiser Family Foundation, 1999), parents need to play a more active role in monitoring their children's use of electronic entertainment activities and structuring socialization activities. In this article, we will review behavioral technologies to assist parents in reducing their children's media use.

Keywords: television, media violence, intervention strategies.


In a comprehensive examination of the literature over two decades, Comstock and Scharrer (1999) conclude that children who watch excessive television perform poorly on standardized achievement tests. Furthermore, it was discovered that excessive media usage negatively affects school performance because viewing replaces time that might otherwise be spent reading or engaged in alternate school-related activities. Practice time is lost, and as a result, children (particularly those with learning disabilities who are in need of the practice) lose fluency and automaticity in skills (Corteen & Williams, 1986). Researchers have also found that children's writing is often similar in style to television show scripts, which are often fragmented and disconnected without regard to logic. Henke (1999) found that 39% of children stated they would prefer to surf the Internet than to engage in their favorite after-school activity. Time spent in educational activities and social interactions are negatively related to time watching educational television (Huston, Wright, Marquis, & Green, 1999). Heavy viewers also are more likely to hold common cultural stereotypes, many of which are emphasized on television. In addition, those who watch excessive amounts of television and utilize other electronic media have little time for other critical life experiences, such as learning to play cooperatively with others.

Meanwhile, network television has tended to feature high levels of violence and other inappropriate programming. A five-year study by the American Psychological Association estimates that the average child has watched 100,000 acts of violence and 8,000 acts of murder by the time he or she leaves elementary school. Furthermore, by the conclusion of high school, the average child has been exposed to 200,000 acts of violence (Huston et al., 1992). Singer, Miller, Guo, Flanner, Frierson and Slovak (1999) found that 45% of the variance in students' violent behavior can be accounted for by demographics, parental monitoring, television-viewing habits, and exposure to violence. In a published longitudinal study, Johnson, Cohen, Smailes, Kasen, and Brook (2002) found a significant association between the amount of time spent watching television during adolescence and early childhood with the likelihood of aggressive acts against others, even when controlling for childhood neglect, family income, neighborhood violence, parental education, and psychiatric disorders. …

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