Research on adolescents’ television diet

It is not that adolescent students should stop using the television or Internet, but that they should learn how to use them. This is one of the premises of the UNESCO Cathedra in Communication and Educational Values, based at the Faculty of Philosophy and Educational Sciences of the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU). A premise that responds to the results arising from the research since the Cathedra began in December 2009. “Our objective is the communication media — mainly new technologies and television — as agents of socialisation. We are convinced that, in the socialisation of adolescents, it is the family that fundamentally counts, then friends and then the communication media, which has been shown to have more importance than the school”, explained Concepción Medrano, coordinator of the Cathedra.

Ms Medrano is professor of Evolutionary Psychology and Education, and coordinates a team made up of experts in Psychology, Educational Psychology and Journalism from the UPV/EHU itself and from the universities of Guadalajara (Mexico), Malaga (Spain) and Zaragoza (Spain). The medium about which most research has been undertaken is the television. Concretely, the first results come from The television diet, values and identity of adolescents project, in which 1,220 adolescents (14-18 years) were studied, drawn from the Basque city of Donostia-San Sebastián (125 students), Macorís (Dominican Republic), Zaragoza (Spain), Guadalajara (Mexico), Oruro (Bolivia), Malaga (Spain), Rancagua (Chile) and Dublin (Ireland).

2.45 hours of television daily

Some of the results thrown up by this research are particularly striking. For example, the following, underlined by Ms Medrano: “We are finding out that in Donostia-San Sebastián they do not match as many hours of TV as we had thought (2.45 and 2.87 hours a day on weekdays and at weekends, respectively). In Dublin the figures are 4.58 and 4.65 hours”. In general the hours in front of the set do not take up too much time and more hours are given over to being with the family and with friends or using the mobile phone.

Young people “are concerned” about their favourite television personalities, which shows they tend to identify with them. In fact, according to Ms Medrano, a good indicator of values perceived with television is the set of characteristics that adolescents most like about these personalities. “We observe that they choose their favourites, first for their friendliness and humour; then for their personality, their work, for having a non-conformist and rebellious attitude, and for their intelligence; and finally, for their physical attractiveness. It is interesting that physical attractiveness is valued last”, she stated. Moreover, she stresses that they tend to perceive values that are more collectivist than individualist in these personalities. One has to be prudent on interpreting these kinds of responses, “because they may indicate to us that they have answered just to be deemed good or, having answered honestly, they do not always identify with personalities that transmit countervalues”.

Also, adolescents with less life experience appear to take television more seriously, according to Ms Medrano: “These perceive television in a more realist way when they have less experience of life. In a way, it affects them more”. For example, an adolescent that does not go out much and sees young people in a series drinking alcohol every weekend will understand this as being normal amongst adolescents. The greater the realism perceived the greater identification with what is happening in the medium.

Guidelines for teaching how to use the media

In conclusion, the results show that adolescents identify with certain television personalities, which reinforces the premise defended by the members of the Cathedra about working on television content in the schools. As Ms Medrano explains, “our hypothesis is as follows: we work with the content that the television transmits and we decode this content. What is happening here? Is it normal for there to be sexual relations between teachers and students? Is the use of the language they employ normal? Why is it good? Why is it bad? That is, working with the television narrative that they like most, in order to show how to watch television and develop the corresponding media skills. They have to work with the teachers in order to know how to read the values in the various narrations”.

Members of the Cathedra aim to continue working in this vein. As with television, they are about to start looking more deeply into the values transmitted by other media (such as Internet and videogames), not losing sight of the aim of taking the theme to the classrooms. “We have been planning guideline for parents, teachers and students, in order to develop skills and teach how one can intervene both in television as well as in Internet and other media. In order to learn how to use them, not to give up using them”, concluded Ms Medrano.

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