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date: 24 June 2017

The ABCs of Media and Children: Attention, Behavior, and Comprehension

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication. Please check back later for the full article.

Children are and have been active media users for decades. Historically, the focus on children and media issues have centered on the concerns and consequences of media use, generally around violence. In the last 40 years, we have seen a shift to study children and media from a more holistic approach, to understand both the positive and negative relationships between children and media use. Further, the recognition of the very important developmental differences that exist between children of different ages and the use of grand developmental theories, including those by Piaget and Vygotsky, have supported the field’s understanding of the unique ways in which children use media and the effects it has on their lives. Three important constructs related to a more complete understanding of children’s media use are the ABCs (attention, behavior, and comprehension). The first construct, attention, focuses on the way in which children’s attention to screen media develops, how factors related to parents and children can direct or influence attention to media, and how media may distract attention. The second construct is the behavioral effect of media use, including the relationship between media use and aggressive behavior, but importantly, the positive effect of prosocial media on children’s behavior and moral development. Finally, the third construct is the important and dynamic relationship between media and comprehension and learning. Taken together, these constructs describe a wide range of experiences that occur within children’s media use.