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Is the Media or Content Bad?

Nowadays we often hear that the media has a detrimental effect on child development. Many child experts also cite the media as the root cause of the rash of problems involving children today, ranging from emotional, behavioral, and educational problems to bullying, refusal to attend school, juvenile delinquency, abuse, crime, and murder.

Despite these claims, very little research has been done to fully corroborate their validity. This can only be achieved through scientific methods involving cohort research and studies of children from birth that follow up on and analyze, in particular, their emotional development and living environment. Such studies have just begun in Japan and other countries. Dr. Takashi Okada, a psychiatrist who works with young people at a medical juvenile detention facility, recently published a book entitled "Cerebral Pollution." I read this book and would like to offer some of my own insights on the question "What's so bad about the media?"

At present, certain types of media are the targets of criticism, in particular, TV, video, games, the internet, and other new media. Is the media itself to blame, that is, is it bad to learn and play with such media, regardless of the content? Or is the problem the content- what is carried and conveyed by the media? It is necessary to make such distinctions. The first position seems to assume that any type of information, whether natural or real becomes virtual content when it is conveyed by such media, and this makes it bad for children. The latter position assumes that the content of such media is bad for the emotional development of children. Scenes of violence, graphic depictions of sex, murder, war, etc., are the most typical of this type of content. At a symposium held with U.S. researchers as part of the Japan Pediatric Society, the U.S. researchers stressed that the problem was rather one of content.

This position is underscored by an incident that occurred in 1999 at a high school in Colorado in the United States. Two male students came to school with guns and suddenly began shooting at students eating lunch outside on the lawn. They then went from classroom to classroom, shooting for 46 minutes, leaving 13 dead and 24 injured. Experts claimed that the rampage was caused by their enthusiasm for video games. This was because the boys had been particularly fond of a game with a bloody massacre scenario in which players shoot one person after another. Using the basic human program of imitation, the two boys had acted out the game of virtual killing in real life. The program that controls rationality and knowledge in frontal lobe had ceased to work.

In this way, the dark side of media has tended to be highlighted in discussions, but such incidents suggest that if media content is good or if methods are given adequate consideration, it can also be used to exert a positive effect on children's emotional development. This indicates that in our media-oriented society today we have to try to eliminate bad information from the everyday life environment of children and introduce good information. In other words, we have to protect our children from cerebral pollution by bad information. I believe that this will require research on the relation between children's emotional development and the media from the perspective of Child Science.
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