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Thursday, 22 March 2001

Addicted to MTV

Written by  Anat First, PhD

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QWe got cable television a month ago and my two teenage daughters seem addicted to MTV. I see their behavior deteriorating. They have no motivation to do anything else and they seem more tense. Is the extra television watching the cause of this?

AUnfortunately, I can't give a clear-cut answer to your question. Researchers are divided on this issue. Some claim that television is the most important factor in our media culture; that many of our images and much of what we learn and know comes from our media environment. They say that television has a great influence on those who watch it.

Others say there is no influence from above, as it were; that everything depends on what the consumer does with what he sees or hears. In this view, the consumer interprets what she sees; she comes to the medium with her own particular needs. In other words, there is no direct influence -- it's what you do with it. According to this view, if someone is influenced by violence on TV, it's because he has a predisposition to violence.

Researchers who subscribe to the first view would say your girls are being very influenced by TV and that the TV is causing the symptoms you see. Those who subscribe to the second view would say that what's going on has more to do with your daughters' personalities, needs and the social context in which they find themselves.

Many things other than television can cause deterioration in behavior in the teen years: puberty, a crisis with a boyfriend, or other things of which you may not be aware. We know that television is an escapist media. Perhaps they are coming to the television because of such problems. We often see kids this age closing themselves up in their rooms and listening loudly to a tape of depressing songs. Can we say the music is influencing them? Or are they listening to this type of music because of their own needs?

We also know that the teen years can be a very tense time. Perhaps some of the tension is caused by the fight over how much television watching is acceptable.

It's true that television is taking up more and more room in our lives and it's very modern to blame television for our problems. But life is much more complex. We know that the teen years are a time of building personality and identity. There is a lot going on. I wouldn't hurry to blame television. There are more complex processes at work.

There is no research to prove this, but common sense would also suggest that sitting so long in front of the television (or any medium) might have a detrimental effect on a growing child.

Hanna Adoni, PhD, professor of communications, department of communications and journalism, Hebrew University, adds:

Research shows that there is a very strong novelty effect when a new medium is introduced. Kids are hungry for what is new. The change in behavior that you notice could definitely be a part of this novelty effect. However, research also shows that slowly and with time, the effect wears off and children return to other activities. They will watch more television than they did before cable, in this case, was introduced, but it will be less than they are watching now.

Last modified on Thursday, 22 March 2012 15:32
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Anat First, PhD

Anat First is a lecturer in the Department of Communications and Journalism at the Hebrew University.

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