Research on the Effects of Media

© 2008-2011 Douglas A. Gentile; All Rights Reserved

Douglas A. Gentile, Ph.D.

Resources for Parents

Parents sometimes feel overwhelmed and wonder if they are actually able to make a difference in a media-saturated world.  The good news is that the research demonstrates that parents are actually in a very powerful position.  When parents set limits on the amount of screen time their children watch, set limits on the content so that it is age-appropriate, and talk to them about what they see and hear, this is a powerful protective factor for children.  See below for details.
How much is too much?  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends:

No TV, video games, or computers in children’s bedrooms

No screens until children are 3 years old

No more than 1 to 2 hours a day of total screen time, which includes all screens (TV, DVDs, TiVo, video games, computer, handheld video games, iPods, texting, IM, etc.), excluding time for school projects.  They mean the 1 hour a day for elementary school ages and 2 hours a day for secondary school ages.

What is age-appropriate content?  There is no single definitive answer, and it may vary depending on the values of each household.  Nonetheless, research demonstrates that violent media (in which characters attempt to injure each other) can increase aggressive thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors.  Furthermore, research demonstrates that sexy media is associated with earlier initiation of sex, and riskier sexual behaviors.

What is meant by “talking to children about media?”  It is important to discuss the reasons why you set the limits that you do, and even more importantly, to discuss the themes that come up in media.  I don’t mean that you as parent simply criticize the media, but instead ask your child questions that helps him/her think through the messages that may not be immediately apparent.  This is known as “active mediation” in the scientific literature, and is actually very difficult for most parents to do.  For example, after viewing a show, you might note that in this show that two characters slept together without really knowing each other or even discussing protection, and ask them what they think about that.  Ask them why they think the show portrayed it that way.

Jo Frost, known on TV as "Supernanny" asked Dr. Gentile to help devise two pseudoexperiments on violent video game effects on desensitization and prosocial behavior.  

To see clips of the experiment, click HERE

To see advice for parents, click HERE
Science of Parenting
In collaboration with Iowa State University Extension, Dr. Gentile has an entertaining monthly half-hour radio show that brings experts directly to your ears. Click HERE for more information, click HERE to listen, or click HERE to go to the Science of Parenting website, where you can also read the blog and get supporting materials.
Audio interviews with Dr. Gentile on multiple topics are available for you HERE
Useful Links
Media Research or Information
Information for Making Wise Media Choices
Common Sense Media videogame and movie reviews
Movie Mom movie reviews for children
Kids in Mind movie reviews
Screen-it movie and DVD reviews

Parenting Research or Information
Mind Positive Parenting by Dr. David Walsh
Parent Further by the Search Institute
Traditional Parenting by John Rosemond
Video Clips