Overview of Project
Our group is doing research for Common Sense Media group. We looked at how social relations are affected and more specifically, family relations, friend relations, effects on children, and relationships in virtual communities.
Overview of problem:
Although digital media use has improved may aspects of citizen’s lives, too much of one thing is never good and digital media should be included in that statement. Over using digital media technology impacts the social relationships we have with our family and friends once we start prioritizing screen-time over face-to-face interaction. As children are growing up in this electronic age, where this media is almost everywhere they look, and this is impacting their development and overall life outcomes.
Digital media can be seen as a huge tool when it comes to early childhood learning, but that doesn’t mean setting a child in front of a television is the answer. Too much interaction with digital media is seen to have more negative effects than positive on children under a certain age. Once those children get to an age where they are able to understand the content and context in which the information is being given then it has the ability to have an effect on their overall individual development.
In 1999 the American Academy of Pediatrics put out reports that said too much screen time has more negative effects on children than positive and although there was no evidence to back up those claims at that time, the evidence is being discovered in today’s research. According to the AAP, in 2007, 75 percent of children were watching television and 32 percent were watching videos/DVDs for around an hour and twenty minutes, on average. While this same research showed 27 percent of five to six year olds were using a computer for at least 50 minutes a day. This study was one of the first to show comprehensive information on the overall extent of digital media use in young children living in America. But it was also the first to have a call for more research on the developmental impact of these media.
The urge to set children in front of a tablet or television screen these days is huge, and is seen at home, in the car and even at the grocery store. Although this seems to be the societal norm, this is not the way children should be learning. In a 2011 AAP survey, it showed that 90 percent of children under the age of two watch some form of digital media and these young children watch television for around one to two hours per day. “The concerns raised in the original policy statement are even more relevant now, which led us to develop a more comprehensive piece of guidance around this age group,” said Dr. Brown, a member of the AAP Council on Communications and Media.
Some of the key findings in the AAP 2011 study of two-year-old children and the effects of digital media exposure include: Unstructured playtime is important, children learn best from human interaction, children learn more from live presentations than televised ones, television viewing before bed can cause poor sleep habits, and heavy media use can cause language delays once in school. This report said that young children need free play time where it is completely up to them as to what their brain sees, does and acts. This is beneficial for brain development, more so than electronic media because children learn to creatively think, develop reasoning and problem solve through this unplugged play. According to Dr. Brown, “In today’s ‘achievement culture,’ the best thing you can do for your young child is to give her a chance to have unstructured play, both with you and independently. Children need this in order to figure out how the world works.”
Dr. Aric Sigman, a British psychologist, surveyed 30 scientific papers on television and computer screen viewing. Dr. Sigman, who is an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society and a Member of the Institute of Biology, found evidence that too much television causes short-sightedness, disrupts hormonal balance and leads to increased risk of cancer and premature puberty. This screen time also slows down the metabolism which is linked to increase in obesity and type 2 diabetes. Dr. Sigman’s advice is there should be no television for children under three, children three to five should have less than a half hour, while older children should have no more than an hour. But in today’s world is this even a possibility. Dr. Sigman’s recommendations have been criticized by other experts due to the unrealistic actions it calls for, but the research still holds significance. Electronics, digital media and television are not only imbedded in homes but in the school systems, cars and eventually future workplaces for these children.
The AAP has put out the “Media and Young Minds” policy statement that targets children from the age zero to five and gives recommendations for pediatricians, families and the industry. This policy statement urges parents of children 18-24 months to avoid digital media use other than video chatting. And if it is introduced, only high-quality media use with parental control.
“I learned from my research that although there are a lot of positive effects from digital media use in children, they don’t learn just from placing it into their hands and too much is when those positives begin to change into negatives. Overall, children are going to learn from the way their parents interact with any device or media platform more than they are going to learn from just messing around with it.” – Kendra Gill
The creation, strengthening and loss of friendships are all part of digital media but it is important to recognize that different types of digital media affect the way people interact socially. Video games like Massive Multiplayers Online can create friendships and strengthen one’s team related skills but also damage friendships outside of the alternate reality they play in. Social media generally creates friendships in reality where online video games can create friendships that often only exist in the virtual world.
It is important to note that people who meet and create friendships within virtual worlds can still become friends in reality and interact on online communication devices like Skype, TeamSpeak3 and Discord, but generally speaking friendships online do not go past talking to each other online using text and voice. This lack of face to face communication can have consequences in “the real world”.
The consequences of lack of face to face communication but still very real friendships in the virtual world is reinforced in the Substitution Theory. This theory suggests that real life friends and community interactions become replaced by virtual communities. Thus creating a disconnect between pre-established friendships and decreased connections with parents.
Studies dealing with online gaming (Steinkuehler & Williams, 2006; Cole & Griffiths, 2007; Williams et. al, 2006) revealed that MMORPGs might be a place for a informal sociability, but socially less useful than offline relationships Given the fact that the sociability of people is generally limited offline relationships could suffer.
The causes behind substitution can vary. It can happen when an individual has a hard time interacting with people face to face and finds it easier to communicate with someone when they are not in person. It can also happen when someone is bullied in school and wants to escape to a world that is not as harsh as the one they live in. Family issues may also be a reason for people to escape to these fantasy worlds to escape troubled friendships in the real world.
Addiction can often be a consequence of such habits. In general, media research in the context of addiction and games suggests that excessive playing can lead to social isolation and dissolving relations with friends and family. Research is unclear if addiction creates isolation or if isolation leads to addiction but what is clear is that the two are related when it comes to online interactions.
“In doing research for this topic I discovered that this topic was very relatable to me. Maybe not on an extreme level but relating as to why I went to video games. I personally am able to validate certain talks of addiction and Substitution theory in my own life. In doing research it has made me look at the way I play video games.” – Ethan Fogle
Contagion theory is something that proposed with the anonymous nature of a large crowd, people are more likely to be violent. While this is not necessarily a negative thing, it can lead to negative behaviors in virtual communities. In a Ted talk, a professor talked about how racism exists in the communities of video games such as a halo. A famous UFC fighter shared his experience of playing video games online and constantly being called the “n-word”. An even more egregious example is a study the professor performed. A player changed his gamertag, the name people see when you play online, to “GayBoy”. What followed was a torrent of homophobic language, and a show of prejudice. So, we link this back to the contagion theory. While many of the people shown in that video may not have actually been homophobic, if one person starts the negativity, it can be easy to pile on that and join in the behavior. As parents and friends, there becomes a need to know what kind of communities do you let your loved ones get involved with. Does this community promote growth and positivity? Does it allow for real life interaction and promote healthy social habits? These are all aspects of a community that need to be examined.
A very popular community in the gaming industry right now is the Destiny community. It has spawned multiple sub-communities within itself that do good work. According to a former community manager, Julien Wera, a community can be split into two parts; networks and meta-communities. “Not all networks are meta-communities, but all meta-communities are networks in some way… It can be hard to tell the difference between a community, a network and a meta-community, but again, it’s all in the “community spirit”.” There is a meta-community called “Dads of Destiny” where fathers who game, and have limited time due to their family responsibilities, can talk and find others who share their schedule of play. There is even a real life meet up event where people who play the game can socialize with other players and even meet the more famous players who have large followings in the community. This is not the case for all communities, though.
While Mass Multiplayer Online (MMO) games are great at cultivating these online communities, their games can rely things that promote unhealthy behavior. Destiny, for example, is based on a “carrot on the stick” system where players are constantly playing the game to get good gear. The gear drops randomly, and can sometimes a player receives duplicate items, or items that are useless to them. This encourages them to keep playing and keep playing, trying to get something that is completely based on luck. To put it simply, games of this nature are like a slot machine that can take 30 minutes to 2 hours (at the extreme) to pull. On the surface, you can see friends having fun earning cool looking gear, and sometimes that’s all it is; dig a little deeper though and it’s essentially a group of addicts who are all enabling each other. Yea you can win, but you could also get nothing, which begs the question: Can the good of a community outweigh the negative behavior that the realm they exist in?
All communities require managers. In an online environment such as games, this means being the communication line between players and developers. The community manager takes feedback from players, and analyzes it to see what the problem is, and relay it to the developers. On the other side of the coin, the manager is also letting the players know what is possible development wise, and relaying what the developers can do about it. To cultivate this community, Wera says a manager must do four things: Know your community, communicate, be honest, and finally, don’t underestimate your community.
“After researching the nuances of virtual communities, I saw a larger part of the negative side of communities. As someone who considers themselves part of one, it’s easy to tell others about how great it is and only mention the positives. I think you need to ignore negativity a lot, but also look at the negativity critically, and see where it’s rooted in. Sometimes the negativity is just random piling on or trolls being trolls, but in other cases in can reveal a much larger issue.” – Eric Sinks
Immediate Family Relationships:
Technology has provided society with a number of advancements in everyday life. People are able to do a plethora of things on the internet that was not possible just a decade or so ago. Consumers are able to shop online, get their news online and communicate with friends, family, and even strangers. However, as with most things in life, there needs to be a balance. As the years go by, it’s becoming clear that technology is adding a new dynamic to our lives and relationships. Most notably it’s creating new dynamics in familial relationships.
One familial dynamic that’s being tested are the relationships between parents and their children, specifically children who are in their teens. An article by NPR shared a study that looked at nearly 2,000 parents who have kids. One of the findings that came from the study showed that these parents spend about 9 hours and 22 minutes in front of a screen each day. The study classified “in front of a screen” as texting, checking the weather, Googling, etc.
In the same article NPR states that they gathered around 20 parents. They discussed these new technological challenges the parents are facing with their kids. Some of the parents mention privacy and safety as a concern. While others asked how should they monitor screen time at home. The latter question is one that family therapist, Kristen R. Qualls, has been asked often in this age of technology.
She says that parents struggle to regulate their children’s use of devices that grant them access to the internet. She goes on to mention that a power struggle can occur when parents don’t learn how to be gentle yet firm when handling their child’s access to electronic devices. When this power struggle occurs a rift can form in the family. This rift can cause both parents and kids to dislike each other. She notes that when this happens her sessions revolve around rebuilding trust and reestablishing the connection between the parents and the child.
Not all families go through such hardships when dealing with technology. Electronic devices also allow families to bond in ways they usually would not. According to a dissertation, adolescents who play video games tend to be closer to their families compared to adolescents who play no video games. Although video games are more often than not played solo, gamers actually prefer to play with their family or friends. The interviews in the dissertation contribute it to the fact that family members are getting the chance to interact with each other in a new environment.
To help alleviate some stress that may come from questions on how to regulate their children’s use of technology, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends coming up with a “Family Media Plan.” The plan would help regulate when, where and how much time one’s family should use their electronic devices.
Qualls mentions that this is the most ideal way of mending relationships in the family. When everyone is starting to feel distant from one another, creating a plan is the way to go. She says that when confronted with this problem from her patients she highly recommends structure. She said that adults have to model the behavior first for the children to follow. The behavior includes limiting time online, have electronic-free time, and communicate the desired electronic-free time. In addition to this she recommends always unplugging regularly, putting the devices away in a spot that’s not next to your bed and drive with your devices out of reach while in the car.
“From doing this project I learned that,like with all things in life, digital media in moderation is fine. When used too much, digital media can start changing family dynamics for the worse. The struggle between the parent and child can start to become too overwhelming and can potentially cause a rift in the family. When used in moderation technology can be used as another way for families to spend time together and interact with one another. These interactions can strengthen relationships within the family unit.” – Emmitt Lewis
More knowledge should be put into people’s ear and flashed before their eyes about the harm that too much can do, but also how to make this advanced technology a tool for everyday life and not just an outlet when you’re bored or upset. For the ones that already have digital media flooding their lives, it is up to you to show the next generation how to effectively and beneficially use the digital media that we have been given. If taught to use technology and digital media as a tool for learning and furthering one’s goals, they will continue to grow and use these electronics for the better and not just for entertainment value.
A PSA campaign about the effects, both positive and negative, of digital media use should be put into the radio wave, on television screens, and everywhere online. Our hope is that a PSA campaign will get the information out there to people that digital media should be used as a tool rather than mindless consumption. And that too much digital media consumption has serious effects on friends, families, children, and communities. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) put out a Media Use Plan along with the, “Media and Young Minds” policy statement and the, “Media Use in School-Aged Children and Adolescents” secondary policy statement that address the use of digital media and calls for action from pediatricians, families and government organizations. Reinforcing this information from the policy statements above and giving it to the public through a PSA will hit home that this is a real issue in today’s society that can be improved.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) put out one of the first aids in helping families get on the right track with their media use. www.healthychildren.org/MediaUsePlan was launched in October of 2016 and is a tool for parents to monitor what their children are doing throughout the day and how much time is spent in front of a screen. This is not only a tool for the children, but also the parents because after all these children are learning from how their parents are using these digital technologies.
Along with this Media Use Plan came the, “Media and Young Minds,” policy statement. Led by Jenny Radesky, MD, who has made a life commitment to researching learning and advocacy for children, the council on communication and media really focuses on the parent being the “media mentor.” Rather than just giving children a device, sit with them and teach them how to use it in a constructive way that will benefit them and not just simply entertain all the time. Radesky appeared on the AAP Media Panel Discussion on Children and Media in 2016 and said that, “Literature continues to show that too much media in early childhood is associated with behavioral, developmental, sleep and obesity outcomes that can be prevented.” Although there are many different factors that come into play when talking about children’s developmental outcomes there should always be time in their day to let their own creativity and brain activity take the lead. Introducing media at a young age, even as young as 18 months, will allow children to grow up with accurate demonstrations of digital media literacy and will provide them with the right knowledge to continue to use these medias in a positive way. This policy calls out pediatricians to start the conversation early with the parents of their families. It also calls on these families to avoid media use with children that are younger than 18 months, and to limit and monitor technology time throughout the day for ones that are over a year. Finally, it gives some responsibility to the industry to make sure that the products they are creating are age-appropriate and that they are formally and scientifically evaluated before being deemed educational.
When age starts increasing and adolescents start to make their own decisions about the consumption of digital media, recommendations change understandably. Media use is highly personalized and interwoven into the lives of these children today and so too should the guidelines for digital media use. Megan Moreno, MD, who also appeared on the AAP Media Panel Discussion on Children and Media was the lead author of the second policy statement issued by the AAP. “Media Use in School-Aged Children and Adolescents,” focuses on children and teenagers from the age of 5-18. This policy statement is build off of the past ten years of evidence that show digital media negatively affecting sleep, obesity along with school and academic outcomes. These recommendations again call on the pediatricians to promote the understanding of the benefits and the risks of digital media use. They touch on the family’s role to continue to monitor screen time using the family Media Use Plan while engaging in co-viewing media with the child. Lastly, it calls on the researchers, governmental organizations and the industry to continue with their research while prioritizing longitudinal and robust study designs and interventions including the reduction of harmful media use and preventing/addressing harmful media experiences for these children and teenagers.
Digital media can be used as a tool with developing children, making new friendships and building communities. But there is a point where too much is not a good thing. Prioritizing screen time over face-to-face interaction causes more problems in the long run with mental and physical health. The use of technology will benefit more than hurt our world once the generations come to learn that it is a tool for learning and interacting, rather than for entertainment value and a boredom cure. Also bringing people’s attention to the fact that more research and information needs to be conducted about the effects of digital media. A PSA being put onto the radio waves, with the hopes for an appearance on television, that explains the need for people to understand these effects, would be the best way to reach the most people for the best price.