Media's Impact On Children Topic Of William Mckinley Lecture

April 13, 2010

Dr. Alvin Poussaint, author, psychiatrist, and educator, spoke about the media's impact on children in society at Mount Union College at the William McKinley Visiting Scholar Lecture.


He spoke on a wide variety of media-related topics, including violence, advertising and materialism, and sex on television. Poussaint said that television created more stress during the events of Sept. 11 because "visual images, more than print, create images in the brain." He also mentioned that, many times, parents forgot their children were watching the news programs, which caused nightmares and fearfulness.

He noted that a majority of television and computer usage is unsupervised because of the absence of parents and the fact that 54 percent of children under 18 have a television or computer in their room. He said that in the average household, the television is on for seven hours a day, usually serving as background noise which is a major input as to what children are receiving.

Poussaint mentioned that even preschoolers have their own television, and that the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend children under two to watch any television because it interferes with their development.

He also said that advertising is a deceptive practice that exploits children because they don't know what to believe or what is the truth. He noted that in Sweden, ads aimed at children 12 and under are illegal. Denmark controls all advertisements during children's shows. Other countries are also attempting to curb marketing to children. Yet, he says, the United States continues to persuade children in "what they think they need and what establishes their worth."

Poussaint also believes that materialism, which is a direct effect of advertisement, lowers the quality of life. He said that children are less happy, less vital, suffer more depression, use drugs, construct poor relationships, and contribute less to the community. "They always say, 'What can I get for myself?'"

Poussaint also spoke about sex and violence on television, which does not push warnings or responsibilities that he feels children should know about. He said that 30 years of research has shown that children are in fact affected, and that they tend to use violence as a first choice and it teaches them how to use weapons. He said that ratings don't work because parents ignore them, and that the V-Chip is ineffective because parents don't know about it.

Poussaint was born in East Harlem, and attended Columbia and earned his M.D. from Cornell. He has worked as director of a psychiatric program at Tufts Medical School, professor of psychiatry and faculty associate dean for student affairs at Harvard Medical School, and script consultant for The Cosby Show. In 1997, he received a New England Emmy award for Outstanding Children's Special as co-executive producer of Willoughby's Wonders.

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