Television and Child Development

Article excerpt

Television and Child Development, 3d ed. Judith Van Evra. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004. 302 pp. $29.95 pbk.

Television and other electronic visual media (i.e., Internet, VCRs, DVDs, cable, music videos, computer and video games) have the strongest effect on children who perceive their content as reality. These children also spend a long time watching the media and have few other sources of information. According to Judith Van Evra's third edition of Television and Child Development, these generalizations can be applied to social (e.g., interaction and helping), emotional (e.g., fear and empathy), physical (e.g., violence and sexuality), and intellectual (e.g., reading and academic achievement) aspects of children's and adolescents' development. Van Evra stresses complexity of viewing experiences and identifies many interactions among demographic, developmental, cognitive, and media use variables as a key for understanding the impact of television on children.

The new edition contains updated and expanded coverage of research findings, especially in the area of new technologies. Overall, about 40% of references are dated since 1998 when the previous edition was published. Seven entirely new chapters include information about research methodology, cultural diversity and stereotypes, health issues and lifestyle choices, social-emotional issues, use of the Internet, use of computer and video games, and intervention strategies.

Van Evra unifies the research findings in a theoretical model that integrates uses and gratifications and cultivation theories of media effects with developmental differences in information-processing abilities and cognitive skills. A broad range of interacting factors within these theories such as gender, socioeconomic background, the nature of content and its technical characteristics, motivations, and context for viewing determines whether the effects on children are positive or negative. For example, Van Evra cites studies showing that greater use of the Internet has been associated with less communication among family members, decreased size of social circles, and increased loneliness and depression. In classrooms, however, Internet access to sites related to class material positively affected the attendance and engagement of at-risk students. Such examples justify Van Evra's call for greater attention to the differences among attitudinal, emotional, and behavioral effects.

It is puzzling, however, why Van Evra does not impose consistently the theoretical distinctions she makes as the book's organizing principle. For example, part two, "Cognitive Aspects of Media Experience," topically deals with language, reading, and academic achievement. The subsequent chapter, "Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Aspects of Media Experience," includes all other topics, although it is clear that some of them, such as research on aggression and cultural diversity, have strong cognitive underpinnings. …


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