Today's electronic media can reduce self-esteem
in kids, except white boys, reveals study.
Nicole Martins, an assistant professor of
telecommunications in the IU College of Arts and Sciences, and Kristen
Harrison, professor of communication studies at the University of Michigan,
also found that black children in their study spent, on average, an extra 10
hours a week watching television.
"We can't deny the fact that media has an
influence when they're spending most of their time -- when they're not in
school -- with the television," Martins said.
Harrison added, "Children who are not doing
other things besides watching television cannot help but compare themselves to
what they see on the screen."
Their paper has been published in Communication
. Martins and Harrison surveyed a group of about 400 black and
white preadolescent students in communities in the Midwest over a yearlong
period. Rather than look at the impact of particular shows or genres, they
focused on the correlation between the time in front of the TV and the impact
on their self-esteem.
"Regardless of what show you're watching, if
you're a white male, things in life are pretty good for you," Martins said
of characters on TV. "You tend to be in positions of power, you have
prestigious occupations, high education, glamorous houses, a beautiful wife,
with very little portrayals of how hard you worked to get there.
"If you are a girl or a woman, what you see
is that women on television are not given a variety of roles," she added.
"The roles that they see are pretty simplistic; they're almost always
one-dimensional and focused on the success they have because of how they look,
not what they do or what they think or how they got there.
"This sexualization of women presumably
leads to this negative impact on girls."
With regard to black boys, they are often
criminalized in many programs, shown as hoodlums and buffoons, and without much
variety in the kinds of roles they occupy.
"Young black boys are getting the opposite
message: that there is not lots of good things that you can aspire to,"
Martins said. "If we think about those kinds of messages, that's what's
responsible for the impact.
"If we think just about the sheer amount of
time they're spending, and not the messages, these kids are spending so much
time with the media that they're not given a chance to explore other things
they're good at, that could boost their self-esteem."
Martins said their study counters claims by
producers that programs have been progressive in their depictions of
under-represented populations. An earlier study co-authored by her and Harrison
suggests that video games "are the worst offenders when it comes to
representation of ethnicity and gender."
Other research is starting to show the impacts of
other kinds of entertainment sources, such as video games and hand-held devices.
It indicates that young people are becoming creative at "media
"Even though these new technologies are
becoming more available, kids still spend more time with TV than anything
else," Martins said.
Interestingly, the young people were asked about
their consumption of print media, but the results were not statistically
Martins conducted the research while she was
completing her Ph.D. at the University of Illinois, as part of a larger
longitudinal study done with her co-author, Harrison. They sought out certain
school districts in Illinois because of their diversity, but African-Americans
were the predominant minority group.