As technology becomes an increasingly larger part of our lives, children are spending longer periods of time plugged in.  The average child now spends seven hours a day consuming technology, TV, and video games, and researchers have wondered how this increase in screen time affects youth.

While most discussion around the affects TV on kids have centered on behavior, body image, and eating disorders, a recent study published in the journal Communications Research aimed to look at how TV affects children’s self-esteem. According to the findings, with the exception of white boys who are often affirmed by the images of white males they see on screen, when children increased their TV watching their self-esteem took a hit.

ABC News reports:

Researchers from Indiana University surveyed close to 400 boys and girls between the ages of 7 and 12, of whom 59 percent were black, and slightly less than half white, to see if there was a correlation between time spent in front of the TV and children’s self-esteem. They tallied the amount of TV watched and had the participants complete an 11-item questionnaire intended to measure overall feelings of self-worth.

Given that children spend more than seven hours a day with some sort of media (computers, TV, video games), examining the influence of media on how they feel about themselves seemed long overdue, she said.

The study authors said that while white male TV characters tend to hold positions of power in prestigious occupations, have a lot of education and beautiful wives, the TV roles of girls and women tend  to be less positive and more one-dimensional. Female characters are often sexualized, and success is often measured according to how they look. 

Black men and boys are often criminalized on TV, the researchers said, which can affect their feelings of self-worth.

According to the study, self-esteem has significant behavioral and emotional ramifications, and it is often correlated with motivation, persistence and academic achievement, particularly among children.

While many are concerned with the self-esteem of children, others caution that having a healthy dose of self-esteem isn’t the most important aspect of a child’s life.

Alan Kazdin, a Yale University professor of child psychology, says self-esteem is a bit overrated.

“As citizens, we think of self-esteem as very important, but I deal with aggressive and violent children who have self-esteem that can be much higher than the average child. Yes, every parent wants their child to feel good about themselves, but high self-esteem is not an elixir to get you through life. It is not the protective factor we’d like it to be,” he explained.

Despite the debate over the effects of TV, one thing is clear: kids need to spend less time consuming media and more time experiencing life.

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