Media benefits and child development
There are many negative messages about media, and how viewing and interacting with it might harm children.
But children can also benefit from media. The benefits depend on how old children are, and what kind and quality of media they’re using.
If your child is aged under two years, using media with an adult can help keep him connected with people he loves – for example, a fly-in fly-out parent. But if your child is aged under 18 months, he should use media only for video-chatting. If he’s aged 18 months to 2 years, he should use media only when you or another adult can use it with him.
Older children and teenagers
If your child is older, carefully chosen TV programs, movies, apps and computer games can offer many developmental and social benefits. These can have more value through middle and later childhood. Also, social media can have social benefits for teenagers.
How media can benefit children
Younger children can get developmental benefits from using media. These benefits include:
- literacy skills – for example, children can start learning letters of the alphabet through programs like Play School and Sesame Street, or through educational computer games and apps like Teach Your Monster to Read
- numeracy skills – for example, children can start learning to count or identify shapes through programs like Sesame Street and Play School
- social skills – for example, children can start learning how to cooperate by watching TV programs and using computer games and apps that show helping behaviour. Examples include apps like Toca’s Tea Party and websites like ABC for Kids.
For older children, the developmental benefits of media include:
- intellectual benefits – for example, children can develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills by playing computer games designed to develop these skills, or they can develop ethical thinking by comparing family values with values in fiction or documentaries
- educational benefits – for example, TV shows and movies based on books can encourage children to read
- social benefits – for example, joining online clubs can help children practise using social media safely, or playing computer games with friends and family can help them practise turn-taking and cooperation
- creative benefits – for example, children can develop skills in imagination, art, video-modelling, music and media by using software and apps like My Story or Bubl Draw, or they might be inspired to make something by a TV show.
For teenagers the benefits of media include opportunities to develop or explore:
- reading, writing and critical thinking skills – for example, by using blogs and chat rooms
- social connections – for example, by connecting with others on social media
- political and social awareness – for example, by watching news, current affairs and documentaries, or reading about issues online
- values – for example, by observing role models in the media
- new creative forms – for example, by learning to play the guitar using YouTube videos and a guitar tabs app
- support options – for example, by using peer-based or professional online counselling
- forms of self-expression – for example, by contributing to debates on websites or creating content like blogs or short videos.
Helping your child get media benefits
You can help your child get media benefits by being 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 watch TV shows that offer extra learning opportunities.
When you’re watching TV and movies together, try discussing how the plot works, how your child feels about what’s happening, and what would happen in real life if you behaved badly or illegally.
You can also talk about how the people are actors, and how special effects make things seem to happen.
Deciding what media is ‘good’
Deciding whether a TV program, movie, computer game, app or website is good quality can be tricky.
You can find out about classifications at Australian Classification. And you can use online reviews to help you decide whether a movie, app or game is high quality and whether it has educational benefits. You could try:
Other parents and your child’s teachers can also be a useful source of information about quality media that’s good for children.
Content with a good story that doesn’t depend on violence for its entertainment value is always worth looking for.
You can also look for TV programs and movies that give your child the chance to find out about new things like places, animals, people, ideas, issues and cultures she couldn’t see or connect with otherwise. These can inspire her to try new activities and think about 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’d like your child to copy.
Some movies and TV programs can expose your child to diversity, especially ethnic diversity, which is a good thing.
Software, apps 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. The more interactive computer games and websites are, the better they’ll be at helping your child learn more effectively.
Avatars and games can give older children and teenagers the opportunity to develop identity and empathy by letting them ‘try on’ different physical and psychological characteristics.