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Van Evra, Judith. (2004). Television and Child Development (3rd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. 278 pp. ISBN: 0-8058-4864-9.
Almost since the inception of television, the question of its impact on children has been questioned and studied. Do children who watch violence have a propensity to commit violence? How much TV is okay for children? Does watching television cause children to become anti-social? These are just a few of the many questions researchers have sought to answer over the years. Judith Van Evra’s book examines the vast array of research on this topic, providing a comprehensive overview and giving readers a look at the substantiated research findings regarding this controversial topic. A Canadian, Van Evra has a Ph.D in Clinical Psychology and is a past president of The College of Psychologists of Ontario, a regulating body of psychologists. This new edition spans beyond television, considering as well the influence of new media, including video games, the Internet and other interactive tools.
Divided into five sections, the book begins with a discussion of the theoretical perspectives behind research on children and television and then explores the various research methodologies used. These chapters provide readers with the needed background information for the sections that follow. Sections two, three and four present the research findings. Research on the cognitive aspects of media experiences are examined in section two, section three looks at the research on the social, emotional, and behavioral aspects of media experience and section four outlines research on the impact of other technologies. The final section, five, looks at interventions and conclusions based on the information presented. Chapters in each section give a succinct review of the research along with a summary of findings and discussion questions to help readers understand the material more fully. This common format helps readers gain the key information about the research in each of the various areas. While technical in nature, Van Evra’s clear style and precise explanations helps those without strong research backgrounds benefit from the information provided.
Van Evra starts by providing readers with vital background information about this important area of research, including the theories behind the design and the methodologies used in the research. Research about children and their media experience crosses disciplines and in this foundational chapter, Van Evra shares perspectives from both communication and psychology. Her discussion centers on the theories of social learning and social cognition theory, cultivation theory and uses and gratification theory. Each theory is defined and relevance to research about children and media explained, including both the advantages and disadvantages of each theory. Finding of key research studies are discussed as well.
Since research about children and television began, controversy regarding the findings has existed. Disagreements are common because of the precarious nature of the variables and the technicalities involved as Van Evra explains, “Yet designing studies to ferret out meaningful associations and drawing valid conclusions from such complex phenomena presents a most formidable challenge to research” (24). She spends time addressing these concerns in the section half of section one where she gives a thorough review of the various research methodologies used. Though only nine pages long, this section describes for readers the various research designs, the research settings and timelines, the participant populations as well as the techniques used for data collection and analysis. The value of the information is further enhanced by Van Evra explanation of how each of these impacts the research outcomes. Readers will find the clear descriptions provided here a useful resource as they read through the volume.
With the background information in place, Van Evra moves on to explore the first area of research related to children and media experience: informational processing. In chapter three, research about how children attend to television, how they comprehend television and what they retain from television viewing is explored. A look a gender difference related to information processing is discussed as well. Several conclusions are drawn by Van Evra including the distinctions between older and younger viewers and the impact of development and motivation on information processing of media viewing.
Chapter four explores an area of key concern: the influence of television on language development, reading skills and academic achievement. Controversy surrounds this area with some contending television is an aid and others contending it is not. What does the research really say? Van Evra highlights key findings on the topic in this chapter. Specific discussion of Sesame Street is included along with parental intervention and the impact of socioeconomics. This is clearly an area of significance for as it noted in the text, “Many children spend more time in front of a TV set than in school” (Morgan as cited in Van Evra, 67).
Part three, chapters 5-9, examine Social, Emotional and Behavioral Aspects of Media Experience. Chapter 5, Violence and Aggression, not surprisingly, is the longest chapter in the book running over 30 pages. In this chapter, Van Evra seeks to bring clarity to the variety of findings related to this issue. She goes into detail on the variables and as well the potential casual explanations. In summary she concludes, “Although most researchers agree on findings of a correlation between media violence and aggressive behavior, not all agree on a causal direction” (103).
Cultural diversity is the focus of chapter 6 where studies dealing with various media stereotypes are examined, including gender, occupational and racial and ethnic. How these factors impact children’s attitudes and thinking is the focus of research discussed here. In chapter seven, Van Evra moves into the area of Advertising and Behavior, looking at research which examines how viewing advertising affects children. The significance of advertising and children is undisputed. Statistics shared in the text note that children between the ages of 12-19 spend approximately $104.00 per week according 2001 data (117). Just how this media experience impact children’s buying behavior is unclear as the discussion notes. This chapter also includes some discussion about how advertising techniques have worked in campaigns to change children’s behavior such as smoking and shoplifting.
Chapter 8 explores the relationship between television viewing and family. What influence does family have on the impact television has on children? What role do parents play? Coviewing with parents and siblings in explored as is the impact of DVD’s and VCR’s on family viewing habits and patterns. Health related issues and television viewing is the focus of chapter 9 where the author examines research findings related to the use of mass media and sexual behavior, drug and alcohol use, tobacco use and body image and eating disorders. These very practical issues aren’t the specific domain of television, but the influence can be substantial as shown by the studies discussed. Section three ends with chapter 10, a review of the research on how television viewing impacts social and emotional issues of childhood. Clearly violence and aggression have taken the forefront in this area of research, but findings indicate that children are influenced in other social/emotional areas like fear, anxiety and social relationship. The chapter also contains a discussion of the impact of television viewing on exceptional children (learning disabled, high risk, etc), showing that this population may be at the greatest risk for negative results from television viewing.
The book’s final section, four, new to the third edition, tackles the topic of how new medias are influencing children. Chapter eleven looks at usage among children, while chapters 12 and 13 looking at the specific reasons for usage: technologies for information and technologies for entertainment, acknowledging that there is overlap between the two categories. Chapter 12 includes information on the use of the Internet in school and the affect this is having on students and classroom. The longer of the two chapters, chapter 13 enters the territory of music videos and computer and video games, looking at how these affect children. Video games are explored further with a look at studies dealing with games and aggression and games and prosocial behavior. Virtual reality is examined separately. A key point in this chapter is the differences being discovered regarding the impact of television on child development and the impact of new media on child development. The research clearly shows a significant difference between the two and the rapid development of new media uses means research in this growing, expanding field will be needed.
Once readers have worked through the specific data on each of the various topics, Van Evra moves, in the final two chapters, to a discussion of suggested interventions based on the research findings as well as an overall summary of the findings and suggestions for future research. While much research has been done on these topics, the need for newer studies remains strong. A substantial reference list, an author index and subject index round out the text. The excellent organizational format enhances the usability and readability of the book.
Anyone interested in the development of children in the 21st century will find Van Evra’s text essential. In a single volume, she provides a comprehensive, yet concise overview of an enormous, and ever expanding, topic. Her writing is clear and readable; the content strong and relevant. How mass media impacts the development of children will continue to be a formidable topic for research as those involved in the care of training and children need this information so they can effectively guide, train and educate children in the best way possible. Highly recommended.
Stephanie DeLano Davis
Spring Arbor University