In order to make sense of the relationship children have with the media that surrounds them it is only natural for researchers to define theories. One of the main developmental theories was defined by Jean Piaget, it’s called the “cognitive-developmental theory” (Scheibe, 2007).
The theory focuses on the fact that children actively construct their understanding of the world through “the ongoing processes of assimilation (incorporating new information into existing knowledge) and accommodation (reorganizing ways of understanding to take into account new information) (Scheibe, 2007,65). In plain English: taking new info adding it to existing info and then shuffle it around to make sense of the new info so its one complete and happy information puzzle.
This theory describes the different stages of development from “being” a kid to “becoming” an adult. Trust me, the “becoming” part is still confusing.
Coinciding with the cognitive theory there are two approaches researchers have developed when analyzing how the media effects children. Both are vastly different from each other in that the “becoming” theory values the comparison to adult thinking and the “being” theory completely dismisses it as a thing of value (Lemish, 2007). It’s OK, reread that again. Phew, much better.
Roll up those sleeves, let’s dig a bit deeper.
There are two different approaches when researching media and its effects on children. BECOMING: The first theory researchers use is the “becoming” approach, which views children as in the process of “becoming” an adult. This approach is more quantitative and measured by numbers. In general, they test the abilities and skills in comparison to the “ideal model of the adult thinker” (Lemish, 2007, 76). This approach is also called the “the deficiency model” because it “assumes that the child is ‘deficient’ in comparison to the adult.” For example, researchers my count how many times that child behaves in a specific way in response to viewing television. In this type of study the researcher has control. They can choose the kind of programming the child watches, the skills tested, and the toys that exist in the room in order to prove their hypothesis (Lemish, 2007). The major strength of this method is “its ability to examine long-term, accumulative influences of media use on a very large number of children and to offer insights that can be generalized to other situations” (Lemish, 2007, 77)
BEING: The other theory is the “being” approach. This approach is more qualitative research because it observes children in their natural environment like their homes, schools, playgrounds and recently the Internet. In this approach researchers often dig deeper. Not only do they observe the children from an outside-in approach, but also the inside-out approach and actually talk to the children, this type of researcher is called an ethnographer (Lemish, 2007). Researchers focus on seeing the children as “beings” in their own right, at all stages of development without trying to link them to the adult thinkers (Lemish, 2007). Because “what is perceived as central or important in a medium or a text for adults is not necessarily so for children” therefore making the comparison to adults irrelevant and “misleading” (Lemish, 2007, 78). Unlike the “becoming” theory, which focuses on the deficiency of children, the “being” theory focuses on the competency children have with the media. Researchers in this approach believe children can actively make sense of what they are seeing on television in order to develop their own thoughts and opinions about the world around them.
The moral panic that adults have on the media and its relationship with children will always exist as the society grows and changes. However, the panic will vary, as discussed, depending on the “type” of adult, whether a parent, a journalist or documentarian, a marketer, a researcher, or if they’re fancy all four. Parents will always have concerns. Journalists and documentarians will always have an opinion, though they aren’t supposed to. Marketers will always have a product to sell. And Researchers will always have something to prove. At one point in my life I may take up all of these different professions. So, it’s important to be able to distinguish the various perspectives in order to remain objective and not get caught up as an adult in this moral panic.