“Parental mediation” refers to the interactions that parents have with children about their media use. The majority of the research has focused on interactions involving children’s television viewing. Most scholars believe that parental mediation is comprised of three dimensions.
The first dimension refers to parent–child communication about television. This dimension has been given numerous labels, including active mediation, instructive mediation, and evaluative guidance. There can be great variation in the content of parent–child communication about television. Parents might express negative attitudes about programs and content (e.g., “I don’t like this program”), encourage children to view the material more critically (e.g., “do you think this would happen in real life?”), provide supplemental information (e.g., “this show is filmed in Los Angeles, California”), or endorse the material or the characters’ behaviors (e.g., “she is my favorite character”).
The second dimension refers to the rules and regulations that parents impose on their children’s television viewing. Most researchers call this type of interaction “restrictive mediation,” although some use the term “restrictive guidance.” Parents may create daily rules about the number or type of programs that are acceptable, what time of day television may be viewed, or the location where viewing can occur. Parents may vary in whether and how they negotiate viewing rules with their children and how strict they are in enforcing those rules.
The third dimension is called “co-viewing,” or “social co-viewing,” and is defined as parents and children viewing television together. Parents might co-view because they wish to protect their children from harmful content or help them benefit from educational or positive content. In this case, parents are said to engage in “intentional co-viewing.” Other times, however, parents simply wish to view the same programs as their children because of shared interests or as a function of them being in the same place at the same time. The latter type of co-viewing can be thought of as “passive co-viewing” (Bybee et al. 1982; Nathanson 2001; Valkenburg et al. 1999).
Of the three types of parental mediation, co-viewing occurs most frequently and parent–child communication occurs least commonly. Parents who co-view usually have positive attitudes toward television and enjoy watching programs. Parent–child communication and restrictive mediation are more likely to occur among parents who have more negative attitudes toward television, especially regarding their children’s viewing. Mothers are most likely to engage in all types of parental mediation.
Each of the three types of parental mediation has been linked with a variety of effects among children. Most research has been conducted on parent–child communication. This work shows that parent–child discussion about television is related to less aggression, better television plot comprehension, and more critical viewing among children (Austin 1993; Desmond et al. 1985; Nathanson 1999). When experiments are conducted in which researchers instead of parents deliver mediation message to children while they view television in a laboratory, the results suggest that active mediation also can reduce sex-role stereotypes, enhance learning from educational material, and diminish fright responses to scary content (Cantor 1994; Corder-Bolz 1980). The effects of parent–child communication about television may be strongest for younger children, such as those who are still in elementary school. Studies of adolescents sometimes fail to find effects or observe unintended outcomes. In some cases, for instance, parent–adolescent communication is linked with problematic outcomes among adolescents (Nathanson & Botta 2003). It is likely that parents need to adapt their communication to find a style that is persuasive to this age group.
Restrictive mediation is associated with positive outcomes, such as less aggression and better comprehension of television plots. However, restrictive mediation also is prone to backfiring effects, especially among adolescents. Research has found that parents who are very strict have children who are more aggressive (Nathanson 1999). In addition, rules may lead adolescents to search for the forbidden content elsewhere, such as at their friends’ houses. On the other hand, children who receive both restrictive and active mediation are less likely to experience this kind of outcome (Nathanson 2002).
Co-viewing seems to enhance the effects of the co-viewed material (Salomon 1977). In the case of educational material, this effect is desirable. That is, children whose parents co-view educational content learn more from the material than do children whose parents do not co-view. However, the same type of effect has been observed when parents co-view antisocial content. For example, parental co-viewing also has been associated with increased aggression and more sex-role stereotypes among children (Nathanson 2001; Rothschild & Morgan 1987). Researchers speculate that the presence of parents leads children to pay greater attention to the co-viewed content and attach more importance to it, thereby making media effects more likely.
- Austin, E. W. (1993). Exploring the effects of active parental mediation of television content. Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, 37, 147 –158.
- Bybee, C., Robinson, D., & Turow, J. (1982). Determinants of parental guidance of children’s television viewing for a special subgroup: Mass media scholars. Journal of Broadcasting, 26, 697 – 710.
- Cantor, J. (1994). Fright reactions to mass media. In J. Bryant & D. Zillmann (eds.), Media effects: Advances in theory and research. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, pp. 213 – 245.
- Corder-Bolz, C. R. (1980). Mediation: The role of significant others. Journal of Communication, 30, 106 –118.
- Desmond, R. J., Singer, J. L., Singer, D. G., Calam, R., & Colimore, K. (1985). Family mediation patterns and television viewing: Young children’s use and grasp of the medium. Human Communication Research, 11, 461– 480.
- Nathanson, A. I. (1999). Identifying and explaining the relationship between parental mediation and children’s aggression. Communication Research, 26, 124 –143.
- Nathanson, A. I. (2001). Mediation of children’s television viewing: Working toward conceptual clarity and common understanding. In W. B. Gudykunst (ed.), Communication yearbook 25. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, pp. 115 –151.
- Nathanson, A. I. (2002). The unintended effects of parental mediation on adolescents. Media Psychology, 4, 207 – 230.
- Nathanson, A. I., & Botta, R. A. (2003). Shaping the effects of television on adolescents’ body image disturbance: The role of parental mediation. Communication Research, 30, 304 –331.
- Nathanson, A. I., & Yang, M. S. (2003). The effects of mediation content and form on children’s responses to violent television. Human Communication Research, 29, 111–134.
- Rothschild, N., & Morgan, M. (1987). Cohesion and control: Adolescents’ relationships with parents as mediators of television. Journal of Early Adolescence, 7, 299 – 314.
- Salomon, G. (1977). Effects of encouraging Israeli mothers to co-observe “Sesame Street” with their five-year-olds. Child Development, 48, 1146 –1151.
- Valkenburg, P. M., Krcmar, M., Peeters, A. L., & Marseille, N. M. (1999). Developing a scale to assess three styles of television mediation: “Instructive mediation,” “restrictive mediation,” and “social coviewing.” Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, 43, 52 – 66.
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