Watching TV Lowers Self-Esteem in Black Children

Gender and race portrayals affect how young people feel about themselves.

Posted: 05/31/2012 03:47 PM EDT

Television for most of us means relaxing and being entertained. But have you ever wondered how the images you see, or lack thereof, affect you how you feel about yourself?

A new study about youth found that watching television lowers self-esteem in Black children and white girls. Ironically, white boys' self-esteem remained high.

The survey participants were made up of almost 400 boys and girls between the ages of 7 and 12; 59 percent were Black and the rest were white. Researchers from Indiana University tallied the time each child spent watching TV and compared it to the level of self-esteem each child possessed, which was determined by an 11-page questionnaire. ABCNews.com reported:

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.

Nicole Martins, an assistant professor and co-author of the report, told Psych Central, “If we think just about the sheer amount of time they’re spending, and not the messages, these kids are spending so much time with the media that they’re not given a chance to explore other things they’re good at, that could boost their self-esteem.”

And despite networks claiming they have been improving portrayals of people of color and women, this study shows it isn't enough and has consequences.

The findings are particularly important because Black youth watch a lot of TV. Last year, researchers from Northwestern University found that children of color spend more than half their day consuming media content —  an average of 13 hours a day using mobile devices, computers, TVs and other media, which is about four-and-a-half hours more than white kids. The study also found that African-American teens are more likely to have a TV in their bedrooms (which can have a negative impact on sleep), and they are more likely to eat meals in front of the TV.


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