Friday, February 12, 2010

Our Response to the Kaiser Report on Teens & Media

On January 20, 2010, the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) released Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds. The tagline: “Daily media use among children and teens up dramatically from five years.”

KFF explains that while this age group already devotes over 53 hours a week on “entertainment media,” the use of multiple media outlets at the same time – such as listening to music while surfing the web – exacerbate this daily intake of media content. Upon comparing 2009 findings to those of their 2004 Generation M2 report, the report authors claim that children and teens have gained an additional hour and seventeen minutes of daily media exposure. They attribute a number of influences to this increase, such as the popularity of “mobile media,” which drives the accessibility of media. Not surprisingly, three-quarters of 8 to 18-year-olds say that their media use is unmonitored by parents and guardians, and according to the KFF report, this unbridled flow of information is taking its toll on kids. The authors assert that “heavy media users” suffer from poor grades in comparison to “light media users.”

At Hardy Girls Healthy Women (HGHW), we pose that the wellbeing of children and youth are affected far beyond their performance in school. We argue that media use among 8 to 18-year-olds, as reported by KFF, sheds light on the venues where girls and boys are gathering media messages, and subsequently, where they are learning negative gender stereotypes.

Let’s take a look at social networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace, where media bombardment is commonplace. Advertisements featured on these sites are often marketed to a specific audience, making their impact even more pinpointed and dangerous. A middle-school aged girl may encounter, for instance, a plethora of ads suggesting weight loss solutions as the secret to happiness. A high-school boy may alternatively be offered games that appeal to his heightened online presence but that also portray men as violent and malicious members of society. Both scenarios show that gender norms are being delivered to girls and boys across the media spectrum.

Multi-tasking with media-based products threatens children and teens even further, as their ability to deconstruct images and content are squandered by repeating and overlapping messages. For example, while perusing her Facebook profile, a teenage girl comes in contact with numerous advertisements, including those that promote body augmentation and negative body image. Meanwhile, the lyrics of a familiar pop song playing on her computer reiterate the degradation of women’s bodies. The message from both the song and the advertisement are not only common but normalized features in this young girl’s life, and without the skill set needed to tackle multiple media outlets, these messages continue to guide her self-perception.

While exposure to the media carries a number of drawbacks, particularly for children and teenage consumers, the messages can be broken down. Cultivating media literacy among the younger generation is one such way to empower children and teens. Lyn Mikel Brown, co-founder of HGHW, along with her colleagues, argue that by fostering such a analytical eye, youth become active objectors to the mainstream stereotypes and negative portrayals of girls and boys.

To learn more about media literacy, please join us for our spring trainings in Portland and Boston. You can sign up online or by phone.

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