Media and child development: the basics
There are many negative messages about media, and how viewing and interacting with it might harm your child.
In fact, research shows that children can benefit from media. The benefits depend on how old your child is, and what kind and quality of media your child is using.
For children under two, there are no benefits from any media. For children aged 2-8, carefully chosen TV programs, movies and computer games offer many developmental and social benefits. In addition to these media, social networking sites can have social benefits for teenagers.
It’s particularly helpful if you get involved with your child and her use of media – for example, you can visit quality websites together, encourage your child to use educational software, and view TV shows that offer extra learning opportunities. When you’re watching TV and movies together, try discussing the plot, how your child feels about what’s happening, and the real-life consequences of wrong and illegal actions.
How media can benefit children
For younger children, the developmental benefits of media include developing:
- literacy skills – for example, learning letters of the alphabet through programs such as Play School and Sesame Street, or through educational computer games
- numeracy skills – for example, learning to count through programs including Sesame Street and Play School
- social skills – for example, learning cooperation by watching TV programs and using computer games and websites, such as ABC for Kids, that show cooperative and helping behaviour.
For older children, there are:
- intellectual benefits – for example, developing problem-solving and critical thinking skills by playing computer games, or developing morals by comparing family values with those found in fiction and documentary content
- educational benefits – for example, encouraging reading, particularly after watching a program or movie based on a book
- social benefits – for example, joining online clubs such as Club Penguin or Skoodle, which teach children strategies for effectively and safely using social networking sites, or playing computer games with friends and family
- creative benefits – for example, developing skills in imagination, art and modelling, music and media, through using software to create a picture, or being inspired to make something by a TV show.
Teenagers can develop their:
- reading, writing and critical thinking skills through using blogs, chat rooms and becoming involved in message boards, such as on movie or news sites
- social skills through connecting with others on social networking sites
- political and social awareness by watching news, current affairs and documentaries
- values through observing good role models in the media.
Children can be media creators, not just consumers. Making their own movies, taking photographs, and creating online content
can help them develop critical thinking, social, technical and artistic skills.
Deciding what's ‘good’
Deciding whether a TV program, movie, computer game or website is good quality can be tricky. You can be guided by the age classification, and you can use your own judgment of whether it’s high quality, challenging and well made. Other parents and your child’s teachers can also be a useful source of information about quality media that’s also good for kids.
Content that has a good story that doesn’t depend on violence or action for its entertainment value is always worth looking for. But content that includes violence or action mixed with drama and good narrative can be insightful and educational. For example, older children might benefit from watching a movie such as Schindler’s List.
TV programs and movies that give your child the chance to explore places, animals, people, ideas, issues and cultures he couldn’t see or connect with otherwise can inspire him to try new activities and engage in new ideas. This can be done through playing, creating something or finding out more about a topic.
Movies or TV programs with good role models can also positively influence your child. Good role models are people or characters who are doing things or behaving in ways that you wouldn’t mind your child copying, or that you would like your child to copy.
Movies and TV programs can also be a good way to expose your child to diversity, especially ethnic diversity.
Software and websites that get children drawing pictures or making up stories or rhymes can foster creativity. For preschoolers especially, this can also be a way for them to express ideas and feelings. Computer games that give young children simple choices – choosing a character or finding a background for a picture – can also help your child make creative decisions.
Interactive computer games and websites can help your child learn more effectively.
Using avatars or games can give older children and teenagers the opportunity to develop their identity by enabling them to ‘try on’ different physical and psychological characteristics.
is the time you spend on screen-based activities each day – TV, movies, DVDs, the internet, video games and even your mobile phone. The latest guidelines separate school-related screen time and recreational screen time. They recommend limiting recreational screen time to no more than two hours per day for children over five and young people. For your child’s development, it’s best to balance your child’s media use with creative play, sport and music.