Is Paying for Studies on Media Use by Children Really Necessary?

media use
A study was published yesterday, March 31, on how parental monitoring of children’s media use positively benefits children with regard to their amount of sleep, school performance, reduced aggression and pro-social behavior—that is, the reduction in their tendency to be antisocial. This study is one in a long series of such studies, all of which cost real dollars to implement and carry out. This money, whether it comes from the government or private sector, is surely traceable back to private citizens’ tax dollars, if not in every case, then in a majority. What private citizens, including parents, should perhaps be asking instead of the questions posed in these studies is: is paying for studies on media use by children really necessary?

What happened to the days when people were okay being the experts on their own children? There are parents out there who really do not take responsibility for the ills they do their offspring by allowing them to play an unlimited amount of shooter games, but they are probably not the majority. For those parents, who do not ascribe to affecting their children’s behaviors one way or another, these studies will not make a difference. The studies are to affirm the beliefs of parents who already think along these lines or wonder about such necessary things. Therefore, such studies as the one reported on yesterday are effectively preaching to the converted. Why then spend money paying for conclusions many people have already come to themselves, without such studies?

When parents of a certain mindset (and this would likely include the bulk of parents across classes) get together and really discuss issues such as the amount of time their children spend on video games, computers and television, the conversations, by and large, are the same. It is possible from first-hand observation to note that when one’s child plays for a long time on electronic media and then has to relinquish it, that behavior is afterwards more aggressive than it had been before.

It is easy to see children becoming less social and therefore more anti-social when allowed to stay indoors using a Nintendo DS, Xbox or PS4, or even simply a computer, now quite old-fashioned for gaming media. Given the chance, many kids will choose a virtual world instead of the real one: it is immediate, contains no rejection, is filled with color, light and speed, and they are (within their range of ability) in control. Television and YouTube go a step further and remove all responsibility and thought, allowing for ultimate relaxation. It is like being spoon-fed one’s recreation. Families are paying for this extreme media use by children, and this really is not necessary.

Firsthand observation will show one’s child gaining weight from too much inactivity, losing necessary sleep based on brain hyperactivity after gaming use, and, as already discussed, being more antisocial. Aggression, too, is not limited to only after relinquishing media, but can be seen across the board in children who use it too frequently. These are all results found in the aforementioned study, results that were the conclusions of nothing other than firsthand observation, ironically by school teachers and parents. The study was conducted using over 1,300 children from Minnesota and Iowa in grades 3, 4 and 5, with take-home questionnaires soliciting information from adults close to the respective children. Parents are therefore literally paying second-hand for studies they are participating in firsthand, on a voluntary basis. Money being spent on such obvious reportage is not only ironic, but ludicrous. One feels the dollars could instead be put to better use by paying for cancer research, autism or genome studies.

Why does society authenticate and support such media use studies, despite the fact they imitate life in the most obvious of ways? Perhaps because parents have been told for too long that the purview of their job should be relegated to “the village.” If the village were truly helping parents in first-world societies, there would be bigger tax-breaks for families with young children and other useful financial incentives, including governments paying for better education and healthcare, both much more necessary than these studies. Instead, society gets families to pay to put themselves under the microscope. This gives the illusion that someone else is paying attention to children, and ultimately takes responsibility away from parents who can perhaps relax a bit too much, fooling themselves into thinking that they do not have to.

Opinion by Julie Mahfood

Follow Julie Mahfood on Twitter @JulieWrites2


JAMA Pediatrics