This article was written by teen reporters from The Mash, a weekly publication distributed to Chicagoland high schools.
By Maridsa Choute, Niles West
Media has become ingrained in the daily lives of teens in so many ways, with so much access to violence and sex at younger and younger ages that serious questions are being raised—some by the teens themselves—about what effect overexposure to certains kinds of content might have on younger generations in the future.
Consider the website WorldStar Hip Hop, which features many amateur videos that showcase fights and scantily dressed women. It’s become something of a rage, but under that there is worry from parents, youth experts and even many teens.
In some ways the site has replaced the outcry that was once so loud over video games like “Grand Theft Auto.”
“I don’t like WorldStar Hip Hop because I don’t like the drama and the fights they put on there,” said Elijah Crumb, an 18-year-old Hyde Park junior. “Kids are too wild nowadays, and I think it’s because of sites like WorldStar that help escalate such behavior.”
Kyle Davis, a Daley College freshman, took a more measured view, saying: “WorldStar is OK, I just go on there to see the silly and crazy stuff people put on there. Some of it doesn’t even seem real but then again it does. Teens should be exposed to it if they are like that themselves.”
The Sex Factor
So what about the casual sex portrayed by younger actors in TV shows that are readily available, not just on TV but through applications on mobile devices? And what about other references to, or even blatant exhibits of, violence by and against a younger crop of characters on film, in video games and even, not so subtly, snuck into cartoons?
In “Gossip Girl,” a teen TV favorite that ended its six-year run last year, viewers could see simulated sex scenes featuring its young cast of characters. The 2008 premiere of “90210” drew criticism from Entertainment Weekly magazine for a scene that implied two teens were having oral sex in a school parking lot.
To even view one YouTube trailer of the “Silent Hill 2” video game, you have to enter your date of birth to verify you’re of age. Once the video loads, viewers see the monstrous Pyramid Head character simulate sexual assault of a mannequin.
“The violence in children’s games, movies and TV shows is getting a bit out of hand,” said Carlee Campbell, a sophomore at Bartlett. “As an older sister to a brother, I see the violent and graphic games that he plays on his Xbox and I am stunned by how vicious some of these games are.”
“I completely agree that the youth of our generation has been corrupted by cruel and rather violent media of our society,” she said.
Adding a voice of worry is Bartlett junior Holly Bachman. “I think that younger people are more prone to violence now. … It’s so easily accessible that people learn so much about weapons at an early age.
“My 7-year-old cousin plays ‘Call of Duty’ and uses the terms around the family,” she said. “I don’t think people are giving it any thought in letting their children (have such access). It’s not the video games, it’s on every common news channel that kids can, and do, easily access.”
Lincoln Park senior Omar Khawam, too, sees the violence in the media, and agrees that the overexposure to sex is reaching too young an audience. “I believe that the increase of violence in media could definitely impact teenagers who have low self-esteem and anger issues, and also who give into trends easily,” he said.
Your brain on media
From ads in magazines, to what is shown on cable TV, to song lyrics and YouTube videos, the media has a young and attentive audience. Though the effect of media consumption on teens is a hot topic for discussion, some think they’re above the influence.
According to studies found in the book “Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8 to 18 Year Olds,” children from age 8 to 18 spend about half an hour more on the Internet (daily) than teens from just five years ago, and time spent on social networking sites is roughly 26 minutes each day.
Psychiatrist Christian Thurstone, a child specialist based in Denver and advice columnist for The Mash, added that exposure to drug culture through media is just as dangerous. He also cited recent laws legalizing marijuana in some states—and the hype surrounding those new laws in advertisements and news stories—as promoting the drug’s new legal status but sometimes neglecting to mention pot’s growing potency.
Indeed, not everyone is swayed by news reports or images, as dangerous as they might seem. But people are highly impressionable during their teen years; that is known.
“The brain is still developing,” Thurstone said. “The prefrontal cortex, which helps in weighing consequences, inhibits bad behavior and controls intense emotions, is not fully developed until the age of 25.”
Other experts say that too much violence can influence certain behaviors in adolescents.
“When kids watch a violent thing, there’s an increase in aggressive behavior; it almost desensitizes them,” said Dr. Ari Brown of the American Academy of Pediatrics, who studies the connection between the media and obesity, sleep deprivation and aggression. “When kids see violent things in the video games and TV shows, it almost makes their reactions to violent events less shocking.”
Some teens have said they think what they see in the media does influence how they act.
“I think that it can influence certain behaviors,” said Ridgewood junior Ryan Schmidt. “Like watching WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) on USA can influence aggression or reckless behavior can be caused by TV shows like MTV’s ‘Jersey Shore’ or ‘Buckwild.’ ”
It likely comes as no surprise, but Evanston child therapist Jeannie Gutierrez said that good old-fashioned parental supervision is the key to protecting young people from being overexposed to sex and violence—parents just have to be more diligent in this digital age.
“I think there is more access (to violence and sexual content) as kids are often left without much supervision to handle electronics and all other types of screens,” Gutierrez said. “… Preview of content is critical to not unintentionally exposing children to content and video that can be overwhelming and overstimulating.”
Vinessa Russell, a Bogan graduate and Columbia College Chicago student, and The Chicago Bureau contributed to this report. Russell is a reporter for True Star, which is an urban teen media program in Chicago.
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Handwrite It On Paper
Instead of typing out your notes, write them down on paper for better retention. <a href="http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=177291" target="_blank">Research has found</a> that the act of holding a pen and creating shapes on paper sends feedback signals to the brain, leaving a "motor memory" which makes it easier to later recall the information. Typing or digitally recording did not have the same cognitive effect. So although it may take you longer, hand-writing notes could pay off in the long run.
Switch It Up
Moving locations can help refresh your studying when your mind starts to lag. If you've been studying in your room, try moving to the kitchen table or going to the library when you start to lose motivation. It can help bring a wandering mind back to the task at hand, and also potentially improve your memory of the material. "When the outside context is varied, the information is enriched, and this slows down forgetting,” <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/07/health/views/07mind.html?bl" target="_blank">psychologist Dr. Robert Bjork told the New York Times</a>.
Meditation has been shown to boost focus and improve test scores. A recent <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/27/mindfulness-testing-focus-reading-comprehension_n_2957146.html" target="_blank">University of California at Santa Barbara study </a>found that mindfulness meditation improved college students' testing ability, and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/20/meditation-better-grades_n_3053719.html" target="_blank">another study</a> found that students who meditated before a lecture got better scores on a post-lecture quiz than students who didn't meditate. In the weeks leading up to your big exam, try sitting quietly and focusing on the breath for just five minutes twice a day, in the morning and evening, to improve focus and mental clarity.
Take A Breather
Studying for longer isn't always better: Studies have found that taking a <a href="http://www.csulb.edu/~thayer/SugarSnackVsWalk.pdf" target="_blank">10-minute walking break</a> can help improve your focus for up to two hours afterwards.
Giving yourself a practice test can be an effective way to ease pre-exam jitters and identify gaps in your knowledge. <a href="http://lifehacker.com/5975203/improve-your-learning-with-practice-tests-and-skip-less-effective-techniques-like-highlighting" target="_blank">Research has found</a> that active study methods, like taking practice tests, are more effective than other strategies, like highlighting or summarizing. With enough practice, you'll feel like an old pro by the time you sit down for your ACT or calc final.
Drink Lots Of Water
This is especially true if you've been relying on coffee or energy drinks, which can have a dehydrating effect, to get you through long study sessions. Even mild dehydration can <a href="http://www.nature.com/ejcn/journal/v57/n2s/full/1601898a.html" target="_blank">impair cognitive functioning and mental performance</a> -- so make sure to keep a bottle of water next to you at all times when you're studying.
Cramming may seem like the best way to make sure you've got everything covered right before the exam, but it's actually counterproductive. Not only will you be exhausted the morning of exam, but your fatigued brain won't be able to recall information as well as if you were well-rested. Trust us: There's no quick fix. Start studying around a month before your exams, pace yourself, and get some sleep the night before.
Make It A Group Effort
Studying in a group can be helpful, if you choose the right group and stay focused on the material so that your studying doesn't veer off-course. Try limiting your group to three or four members (all of whom are serious about getting work done), appoint a group leader, and make an agenda of everything you need to get through and how much time each item will take.
Divide And Conquer
Not all exams are created equal, so don't feel the need to divide your studying equally between different subjects. Assess each exam in terms of difficulty and your own level of knowledge, and spend more time on the sections that you know will be more challenging for you.
Listen To Relaxing Music
Listening to soothing classical or instrumental music can help a wandering mind stay focused. <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/12/jobs/how-music-can-improve-worker-productivity-workstation.html?_r=0" target="_blank">Research has found</a> that workers who listened to music completed their tasks more efficiently and came up with better ideas than those who didn't.