TV linked to lower self-esteem in most kids, but not white boys

Carolyn Morris
Shine OnMay 31, 2012

Pre-teen girls or black boys who watch lots of television don't feel so good about themselves. That's not the case, though, for white boys.

In a study to be published in the June issue of the journal Communication Research, a group of 396 white and black pre-teens in the Midwest United States were surveyed over a period of a year. Researchers asked about the amount of time they spent watching television and measured their levels of self-esteem.

It turns out that while white girls and black girls and boys all suffered from lower self-esteem when they spent more time in front of the television, white boys actually became more confident.

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"Regardless of what show you're watching, if you're a white male, things in life are pretty good for you," co-author and assistant professor of telecommunications at Indiana University, Nicole Martins, says in a university publication.

"You tend to be in positions of power, you have prestigious occupations, high education, glamorous houses, a beautiful wife, with very little portrayals of how hard you worked to get there."

Martins argues that the way girls, women and black Americans are portrayed on television don't lead to the same rosy feelings. She explains that while many black boys and men are criminalized or depicted as hoodlums, women are often shown in one-dimensional and image-focused roles.

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And aside from the demeaning messages, the time spent sitting passively in front of the television could be taking away from other, more rewarding, activities.

"These kids are spending so much time with the media," she says, "that they're not given a chance to explore other things they're good at, that could boost their self-esteem."

However, not all experts agree that self-esteem is the be-all-and-end-all of a child's development.

"I deal with aggressive and violent children who have self-esteem that can be much higher than the average child," Alan Kazdin, a professor of psychology and child psychiatry at Yale University, tells ABC news. "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."

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