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Mass Media vs. Reading: The Battle Continues

Apr 9, 2008
Much has been written about the way in which the mass media of communication affect children. Paul Witty has systematically studied this question over a period of years; he has summarized information on how many hours a week children spend viewing television, which programs they watch, what effect television has on their reading.

Elementary school children spend, on the average, about twenty-seven hours a week looking at TV programs. Their parents spend about the same amount of time; teachers and high school students spend less. Except in individual cases, there is no clear evidence that watching TV decreases reading. But it will be interesting to hear what some teen-agers say about the influence TV has had on them.

Undoubtedly, TV competes with reading, as the following statements suggest:

"When I see dramatizations of stories on TV, I have no urge to read books about them."

"TV has affected my reading, because when a good television movie comes on, I stop reading."

In defense of television, radio, and movies other teen-agers give them credit for a number of values, some not commonly assigned. The most common comment is that these media sometimes stimulate them to read or to buy books.

A bright girl with excellent reading ability gave several concrete examples:

TV, the movies and comics have had some effect on my reading. For example, I saw an episode last year which was taken from the book Pride and Prejudice. I became so interested in the plot and characters that I got the book from the library and read it. Another time I saw the movie Flicka and its sequel Thunderhead and eventually read both books. These are just examples and have occurred many times.

These few quotations suggest most of the pros and cons of radio, TV, and movies as they are related to reading: they do enrich the child's experience background for reading; they introduce him to new words, thus increasing his vocabulary; they may arouse his interest in reading certain books and plays; they may stimulate him to compare the book with the television, radio, or movie version.

Whether TV and radio increase one's listening ability is an open question. Sometimes it seems as if continuous bombardment by insignificant sounds must cause psychological deafness, or a disinclination to listen.

Even more has been written about the effect of comics, especially on juvenile crime and mental health. The teen-agers have something to say about the values of comic books. They make three main points: reading the comics may give one the impression that reading in general might be fun; it is necessary to acquire some reading ability in order to understand the comics; and certain comics may lead one toward a better quality of reading material. They have expressed these ideas in their own words as follows:

"Comics gave me a funny point of view of reading." [If comics convey the idea that reading might be fun instead of drab drudgery, they serve one useful purpose, especially for reluctant readers.]

"TV, radio and movies have no effect on my reading ability. But comics tell me what is going on. So comics have helped me in my reading."

Reading will survive television as it has survived other competitors. The more able learners prefer to use their own imaginations rather than accept the producer's version of a story. They prefer to reflect on what they read rather than be hurried from one program to another. The interruptions for commercial messages annoy them. And they want to have access to the ancient and modern wisdom of the world.

These programs do take up a lot of children's time. But we can help them plan a balanced day, including time for reading, for outdoor activities, for being alone, and for being with friends.

If used wisely, the mass media can actually help children's reading.
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