On Friday, the Clinton Campaign introduced a new ad called “Mirrors.” Two months ago, the Clinton Campaign launched an ad called “Role Models.” Both of these ads really got me thinking about media effects with youth and how media effects are being used as a campaign tool. Adolescence is a particularly important time for political learning, marking a transition from general ideas of power and symbols to represent politics in childhood to a deeper understanding of the political process including participation in the election process with casting of their first votes (Moeller & de Vreese, 2015). In order for children to enhance their political learning, Moeller and de Vreese (2015) suggest that we need to encourage adolescence to pay more attention when watching or reading the news. However, these researchers also found that children younger than 15 are already able to make enough sense of the news to learn from it about politics.
Which brings us to these two ads. “Role Models” focuses on the impressions being made upon younger children about politicians while “Mirrors” addresses the messages that adolescence (particularly adolescent girls) are hearing during this campaign process. The first suggests a concern about fear and victimization while the second calls into question degrading messages about women. Both of these topics have a long history of media effects research. We know that news media can scare viewers, both young and old. Children are increasingly frightened by the news as they grow from Kindergarten through their elementary years, particularly regarding news about violence between strangers (Cantor & Nathanson, 1996). More recently, researchers found that older children were more likely to be frightened by news than younger children, and older children recalled news about violence and crime more than younger children (Smith & Wilson, 2002). The ads suggest that children and youth are learning messages of fear and degradation from politicians. Whether or not you believe these ads or support either candidate, it is really important for us to take a step back and ask ourselves what are our children learning from the media, in particular the news, about politics and politicians. What can we do to ease fears from news consumption, and not just of politics but of any topic that may be frightening? What can we do to support healthy self-image and confidence in today’s youth?
Please remember to talk to your children about what they see and hear in the media. First, let them tell you what they see and how they feel about what they see and hear. We may not see the same things they do, and we need to know what they are thinking about what they have seen and heard. Second, teach them about where they are getting their information. They need to begin to carefully consider the sources of information to begin to make judgements about the credibility of information. Third, when possible, take your children with you to vote. Let them learn about the process and see you vote – serving as a model for them in the future. Finally, encourage curiosity in the world around them. If this campaign has sparked an interest in news and in their world, this is a time to fuel the flame and help them navigate media sources to learn more. There are many places to find information and for children and youth to participate in their own way in the electoral process. Check these out:
- Common Sense Media – 14 Tips to Steer Kids of All Ages through the Political Season: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/14-tips-to-steer-kids-of-all-ages-through-the-political-season#
- PBS Kids – You Choose: http://pbskids.org/youchoose
- Nickelodeon’s Kids Pick the President: http://www.nick.com/kids-pick-the-president/
- Time for Kids – Election 2016: http://www.timeforkids.com/minisite/election-2016
- PBSLearning – Election Central: http://cet.pbslearningmedia.org/collection/election-central-2016/
Cantor, J., & Nathanson, A. I. (1996). Children’s fright reactions to television news. Journal of Communication, 46(4), 139-152.
Moeller, J., & de Vreese, C. (2015). Spiral of Political Learning The Reciprocal Relationship of News Media Use and Political Knowledge Among Adolescents. Communication Research, 0093650215605148.
Smith, S. L., & Wilson, B. J. (2002). Children’s comprehension of and fear reactions to television news. Media psychology, 4(1), 1-26.