The media is all around us. Its direct, indirect, desired and undesired impact is a part of our everyday life. And this is a reality. A reality that needs to be accepted, and then worked upon so that the most vulnerable population, children, can be taught skills to be able to deal with its effects of media on their lives.
The media’s effect has been studied extensively in the past few decades. It has been established that the media has a significant impact on children at large. Most studies have been about violence in the media. But there is evidence to suggest that beyond violence as well, the media has psychological effects on children. It’s been seen that by continuous exposure, children get uninhibited and insensitive to what they are exposed to. And they also have a strong tendency to ape what they see, more so since they have a tendency to “hero worship”. And the key concern of exposure to the media is “distortion of reality perception”, which means that they tend to believe in what’s not real or let’s say what’s not the best appraisal of a situation. This leads to an impact on their belief systems.
Our approach needs to be multi-faceted and targeted via different mediums. The idea is to generate what is called media literacy, which is an ability to imbibe what is being shown, analyse it while keeping in mind the context and engage in the right decision-making process regarding it. A significant factor is parents’ role in ensuring that the child is able to assimilate and integrate the experiences, observations and knowledge that s/he garners from the media.
It is not about supervising everything that is being watched but about making sure that parents address a significant number of the issues and at the same time maintain a relation with the child and discuss his/her observations and experiences.
Schools are crucial players in a child’s development and many issues can be effectively discussed in the confines of a classroom on the initiative of a teacher, of groups of students or counsellors. Peers are one of the most significant influences in any child’s life and we need to encourage the concept of Prosocial Peers, where in the modelling of the right behaviour and language encourages others to follow in the same steps. At the same time, fostering class discussions on such topics and encouraging children to participate in debates pertaining to media literacy is an ideal method to enhance the participation of school children.
Finally, I believe what would make a prime difference, is the media itself: exercise self-censorship to be able to minimise the negative impact on children as well as utilise role models and the tools of effective communication for a positive change in children and society.
The author is a psychiatrist, and chief, Department of Mental Health and Behavioral Sciences, Max Healthcare