Media literacy for clinicians and parents

V. Susan Villani, Cheryl K. Olson, Michael S. Jellinek

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Media literacy is a young field that has evolved over the last two decades in response to growing concern about how mass media affect children. This article has outlined an approach for clinicians and parents that is highly individualized and family based. Larger school-based approaches logically would have some appeal, but actual research in this area is scant. One randomized, controlled school-based study used a 6-month, 18-lesson curriculum to encourage second- and third-grade children to monitor and limit their media use and be "intelligent viewers" [82,83]. As a group, the intervention school students were found to have reduced their television use and perhaps videotape and video game use (parent and child reports differed or changes were nonsignificant); they also showed reductions in some measures of aggression at post-test relative to controls (peer-rated aggression and verbal aggression observed on the school playground). Other measures showed no significant changes, however. Because results were reported at the school level, it is hard to know what might have accounted for any changes at the individual level (eg, amount of exposure to the curriculum, changes in use of various media, or parent education about media use). The content of television programs, videos, and video games was not assessed. Influencing choices about media content may be as important as limiting amount of media consumption, except when it comes to physical health, weight gain, and displacement of healthier activities. The Robinson study looked for effects of media consumption on weight and found that reducing meals eaten in front of the television and time sitting watching television promoted a healthier body weight. Future studies might provide useful insights for parents and health professionals on the relative influence of school-based and parent education on media literacy and changes in media choices and home routines. Differing definitions, perspectives, and methodologies add to the challenge of translating existing media research into advice on which parents can act. The availability, content, and interactivity of media are evolving so fast that research conducted even a few years ago may offer little guidance. We also know little about how the dose of media, context of media use, and children's temperament, experiences, and relationships might mediate any positive or negative effects. We can, however, draw some comfort from the knowledge that children are influenced overwhelmingly by the values and behavior of their parents (and how they are treated by others, especially caregivers and teachers). In general, children are resilient and have an amazing capacity to adapt to the world. Parents, as they do for many areas of a child's life, must assess their own values and experiences, listen to various experts, and then guide children toward productive autonomy. On a societal level, concerns about media's influence - especially on violence and social isolation - can be mitigated by addressing issues known to affect children's healthy development, such as day care, educational opportunities, after-school activities, adequate health care, access to mental health services, and protection from violence in the home. Efforts to give parents and families more time together and provide high-quality care for children when parents are absent are the positive supports that will help children and families cope with rapid cultural change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)523-553
Number of pages31
JournalChild and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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