World experts meeting at Flinders University in the New Year will try to generate a more informed understanding of, and response to, advertising ‘pester power’, violent computer games and the sexualisation of children in the media.
Professor Elizabeth Handsley of Flinders Law School says the often heated community debate about freedom of speech and protecting the rights of children is missing the point.
“The growing consensus of researchers who have worked in the field of children and media over many years is that children’s media use should be considered as a public health issue,” Professor Handsley said.
“As such, it would normally be seen as an exception to absolute freedom of expression,” she said.
“The debate could be better informed, as researchers and stakeholders in the field are sometimes at cross-purposes.”
The Harvard-Australia Symposium on Media Use and Children’s Wellbeing, to be held on 18 February by Flinders University and supported by the Harvard-Australian Studies Committee, will bring together leading academics and professionals with the aim of turning that situation around.
Professor Handsley hopes the symposium will make a valuable contribution to enhancing overall understanding of a vexed and complex issue.
“When it comes to dealing with the media environment, parents are effectively left to their own devices,” said Professor Handsley, who is Vice-President of the Australian Council on Children and the Media and co-convenor of the Symposium.
“They are given lots of important, evidence-based advice about vaccinations, balanced diets and physical activity to help them raise healthy children. No one expects parents to develop their own polio vaccine but some people do expect them to know how to immunise their children from the influence of a complex and pervasive media environment that includes mobile phones, the Internet, targeted advertising campaigns and ‘raunch’ culture,” she said.
Paediatrician Dr Michael Rich and his colleagues Dr David Bickham and Professor Dafna Lemish from Harvard University’s Centre on Media and Child Health will share the findings of their research based on the American experience of the impact of media.
There is mounting evidence that the health and wellbeing of children and young people are adversely affected by portrayals of violence, by alcohol, smoking and drug abuse, by exposure to highly sexualised depictions and by advertising and marketing.
“The main aim of the Symposium is to bring together people from different walks of life who are engaged with children’s media and to develop a mutually acceptable way of gathering research and communicating it to parents and decision-makers,” Professor Handsley said.
“We want to raise awareness of the important and challenging issues in this field. And we’re confident the Symposium will herald a new era for policy and regulation on children’s well-being and media use.”