In today’s world, children are born and raised in the digital world wherein both the home environment and other surrounding environments they are exposed to and immersed into a life consumed by an array of digital devices and concepts (Akyar and Sapsaglam, 2019). As the use of digital technologies and devices are exceedingly more common and are seen as an essential need in everyday life in homes and other environments (Arrnott, 2013), it is crucial to, therefore, consider and explore the impact and effect they may have on children and young people. From a professional perspective, I personally have seen an increase in the use of digital technologies and media within the school setting for both personal and educational use. There are also extensive amounts of resources made available online, in the format of video tutorials, media, interactive games and, chat rooms to help aid the learning and teaching of a variety of curricular areas for pupils. Online resources are being suggested and encouraged by teachers for pupils to use at home and during class time in many of the schools where I have been teaching. With the rise in technology and media use with children and young people, it is also essential to acknowledge and understand the dangers that they may face within the online world. Thus, by carefully examining and analysing the global effect that media, video games and toys have on the social and emotional development and wellbeing of children and young people, I will be able to develop a greater understanding of influence and impact they have and therefore be able to aid and guide children in their development throughout the digital world. To accomplish this, primarily, the concept of media and its exposure to children and young people must be defined and explored with evidence from appropriate and relevant literature. Moreover, the expansive definitions of games and toys will be reviewed with analyses of their importance within children and young people’s lives. Finally, research studying the effect media, games and toys have on the social and emotional development, and wellbeing of children and young people will be summarised and critically analysed while highlighting the key concepts and findings within the literature.
In the first years of a child’s life, their social and emotional capacities are vital areas for development (Landy, 2009). Having the social competence and skills to be able to interact socially with peers can contribute to emotional development for children and their perception of their self-worth (Tomlinson & Hyson, 2009). Being able to interact socially with peers and create friendships competently are essential contexts in which children can develop their interaction skills that are essential for school, adulthood and, are critical in children and young people wellbeing (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2000; Buysse et al., 2008). However, there are components within everyday life that may prohibit and affect the social and emotional development of children and young people, one of the main components being media. Media is a term that encompasses many forms of communication outlets or instruments used to collect and distribute information and data including; broadcasting (radio and television), advertising, print media, news media and social media (Lister et al., 2009; Bell and Dittmar, 2011). Global research across many different countries, including The United States and The Netherlands, show that consistently there is more time spent using media and that finding ways to balance media usage in everyday life has become a global concern (Deuze, 2011). Many studies describe today’s society as a mass congregation of experiences and expressions that have been reinforced and dominated by media (Silverstone, 2007; De Jong and Schuilenburg, 2006). Numerous media corporations are on the persistent search for new markets for the distributions of their products. They are increasingly recognising and targeting children and young people as a profitable group of consumers (Strasburger, Wilson and Jordan, 2014). This notion can be supported by recent research that expresses that children are these days immersed into a society where the exposure to more screens and thus more media viewing opportunities are inevitable, more so than they have been in recent years (Fitzpatrick et al., 2016). Moreover, it is estimated that eighty-three per cent of children from ages one to six are exposed to television every day (Fitzpatrick et al., 2016). Furthermore, children living in Britain are growing up with access to an average of five different types of screens (Jago and Sebire, 2011), and, in the United States, two out of three children have access to a mobile device that they can use to connect to the internet and access different forms of media and media platforms (Rideout, Foehr and Roberts 2010). Research studies have shown that from in the United States, ages of three to five months, the majority of children have already been exposed to and have started using media (Valkenburg and Piotrowski, 2017). Before the age of seven, it is estimated that children growing up in a developed country will spend an average of three years in front of screens exposed to the diverse world of media (Sigman, 2012). With the swift pace of children and young people’s use of media and technologies evolving there may be many implications to their wellbeing that follow their usage and exposures to certain types of media (Strasburger, Wilson and Jordan, 2014; Rideout, 2017).
One of the most common forms of media that are used nearly every day by the majority of children and young people that has infiltrated its way into the lifestyles and informal interactions of everyday life is social media (Siddiqui and Singh, 2016; Dijck and Poell, 2013). Social media is regarded as a platform in which individuals can create an online presence where they can communicate, upload content, blog or visit social gaming worlds (Lois, 2016). The social media platforms available online are designed to create spaces in which many children and young people can stay connected to their friends, family and also support any ongoing learning within the school (Swist, Collin and McCormick, 2015). Digital communication, through many social media platforms, has been perceived through research studies, such as Valkenburg and Peter (2009), as an irreplaceable factor for enriching and sustaining long-term friendships. However, there are concerns that as a result of the increase in communicating through digital platforms that children and young people are not as connected to society and the people around them (Small and Vorgan, 2008). It is also a concern that by having social media as one of the primary forms of communicating that many children’s socioemotional and empathic growth and development may be prohibited due to lack of in-person interactions (Turkle, 2012). Social development is one of the key milestones within a child’s life that aids them in becoming socially aware, understanding positive and negative behaviours, attitudes and social ideas (Bronson, 2000; Davies, 2004; Westwood, 2007). The early childhood period in life is defined by many research studies as being the time when the brain is at its peak for being responsive to learning (Shonkoff and Phillips, 2000). It is also considered that early experiences are what shape the minds of children and guide them into achieving their full potential in later life (McCain et al., 2007). Children begin to form their social awareness and understandings through interactions with their peers and by experiencing different environments outside of the home environment (Bronson, 2000). Without the development of social characteristics, children may be subjected to estrangement by many of their peers and may also exhibit anti-social and disruptive behaviours (Malecki & Elliot 2002; Miles & Stipek, 2006; Wang et al., 2011). A recent study conducted by Sherman, Michikyan and Greenfield (2013) reported that as there has been a drastic loss in the ability and knowledge of social cues and skills being developed due to the significant increase in children and young people’s usage and exposure to media and different technologies. With the rise in the use of media, there is reported a considerable lack of social and bonding skills being developed within children and young people as they are not experiencing the in-person interactions needed to acquire and cultivate their skills that are required in order to adapt and survive in everyday life (Uhls, Zgourou and Greenfield, 2014).
Another aspect of the use of social media that raises concern for the effect it may have on the social and emotional development and wellbeing of children and young people is cyberbullying. The overall welfare of children and young people is threatened in today’s world, mainly by cyberbullying (D’ Antona, Kevorkian and Russom, 2010). Research has presented that over that last ten years the threat and effect that cyberbullying has on children and young people has increased and has been acknowledged as a severe concern in today’s world and is predominant in many school’s (Ybarra and Mitchell, 2004; Li 2006; Luan, Siew and Atan, 2008). Another aspect of the use of social media that raises concern for the effect it may have on the social and emotional development and wellbeing of children and young people is cyberbullying. The global wellbeing of children and young people is threatened in today’s world, mainly by cyberbullying (D’ Antona, Kevorkian and Russom, 2010). Research has presented that over that last ten years the threat and effect that cyberbullying has on children and young people has increased and has been acknowledged as a severe concern in today’s world and is predominant in many school’s (Ybarra and Mitchell, 2004; Li 2006; Luan, Siew and Atan, 2008). The safety and development of children and young people can be compromised through the aggression and victimisation seen through bullying and cyberbullying (Snyder et al., 2003). Bullying, in both the offender and the victim, is a sign of potential psychiatric disorders and in some cases, lead to the deterioration of mental health (Turkel, 2007).
When growing up the relationship’s children develop with their peers are essential to their overall social and emotional development and indicate their capabilities of maintaining healthy, thriving relationships in later life (McElhaney, Antonishak and Allen, 2008). A component of a flourishing emotional development within children is being able to feel safe and confident in oneself, and surrounding environment and being able to choose and conserve genuine friendships is a big part of this (D’ Antona, Kevorkian and Russom, 2010). However, bullying can negatively impact children’s ability to establish wholesome peer relationships and sustain a healthy lifestyle (Dake, Price and Telljohann 2003; McElhaney, Antonishak and Allen, 2008). Studies have shown that due to digital communication on social media sites and the anonymity of online chat rooms children are not getting the chance to read visual and social cues and therefore children do not fully understand the impact or the consequences of their words and actions through a screen (Cassidy, Jackson and Brown, 2009; D’ Antona, Kevorkian and Russom, 2010). Cyberbullying can affect children’s relationships with their peers and can lead to estrangement from their social activities as well as negatively impacting their views on their self-worth (Sumalatha and Ramakrishnaiah, 2004). Often, children that are the victims of cyberbullying experienced feelings like anxiety, depression and difficulty concentrating and focusing on tasks within the school environment which are not aspects to be associated with a healthy social and emotional development or wellbeing (Ybarra and Mitchell, 2007).
With children’s exposures to media and technologies increasing, where the content that is featured on many of these technologies is increasingly realistic and graphic and may encourage aggressive or harmful behaviours (Strasburger, Wilson and Jordan, 2014), the monitoring of children’s access to the media is recommended. By monitoring online interactions and teaching children how to be safe online, the safety of their wellbeing is ensured, and the ability to protect them from any dangers online is made possible (Mishna et al., 2009). With children’s access to and their tendencies on online sites and media being monitored the likelihood of cyberbullying decreases positive online behaviours encouraged and presented by positive parental behaviours protects children and young people from both bullying and being bullied (Wang, Iannotti and Nansel, 2009). Monitoring and understanding children’s online presence also supports the notion that if teachers are aware of the effect and dangers that media has and presents to children and young people, then they will be more able to aid any children who have suffered from online torment and prevent future harassment by teaching online safety in class. Studies also discuss that when the primary caregiver does not monitor children’s online use, cyberbullying is twice as likely to occur (Ybarra and Mitchell, 2004). However, a recent study by Rideout, Foehr and Roberts (2010) disclosed that typically parents do not monitor or supervise their children’s media experiences and therefore are not aware of the content their children may be exposed. However, the study was relying on the answers of the children that were participating in the study which some may argue to be unreliable as children’s perceptions of situations may differ from reality itself as they are still developing—thus limiting the credibility of the study. Contrasting to the study by Rideout, Foehr and Roberts (2010) another recent study that questioned the parents of the children who were participating in the study found that the children’s media exposure was supervised and controlled to an extent (Gentile and Bushman, 2012). Although there are contrasting findings from the two different research studies, they did both raise the valid concern that parents do not always ensure that what their children are doing, saying or seeing online is altogether safe and suitable for their age. Therefore, most children are exposed to the threat of being cyberbullied and becoming a cyberbully online. It is clear that being exposed to and immersed into a world of social media affects the development of both social and emotional maturation of children and young people. In consensus, it is suggested that children need to be shown how to and directed into making conscientious decisions online where they should show accountability, respect, personal safety and have a crystalline understanding of the consequences their actions and words may have online (D’ Antona, Kevorkian and Russom, 2010).
A well as cyberbullying, media can also affect the social and emotional development of children and young people through negative body image or dissatisfaction with one’s appearance, which is a growing concern amongst young females within the United Kingdom, United States and Australia (Eisenberg, Neumark-Sztainer and, Paxton, 2006; Ricciardelli and McCabe 2003; Furnham, Badmin and Sneade, 2002). According to sociocultural theory, negative body image emerges as a result of perceived environmental pressure to conform to a culturally-defined body and beauty ideal (Thompson et al. 2004a; Shroff and Thompson 2006). The mass media may be seen as the single biggest purveyor of this ideal, promoting an unrealistic and artificial image of female beauty that is impossible for the majority of females to achieve (Levine and Murnen 2009). Meta-analyses of research, predominantly conducted in the UK, USA and Australia, provide substantive and consistent evidence that exposure to thin ‘body perfect’ ideals in the media is strongly related to negative body image in girls and women (Grabe et al. 2008; Groesz et al. 2002; Want 2009), with adolescent girls’ seemingly most vulnerable to its negative influence.