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Is Popular Media a Negative Influence on Students?

Updated: Mar 20

Finger on a smart phone
In today's society most everyone is acquainted with social media.

Dave Rojeck, PhD

Catholic School Leadership/Policy Studies

Some years ago, I conducted research on affective growth of students in grades 7-12 in Catholic schools in the Diocese of Cleveland. Non-academic studies are few in number when contrasted with research on academic growth and achievement.

Dependent variables included: self-confidence, interest in learning, relating with others, commitment to community, understanding social order, optimism for the future, physical nonviolence, psychological nonviolence, helping/empathy, wisdom, self-denial, belonging, student engagement, morality, relationships with others.

Independent predictor variables included binary variables (gender, number of parents at home), objective multi-response variables (mother's education, father's education, frequency of parental homework monitoring, religious denomination, frequency of attending religious services, number of extra-curricular activity days). Other predictor variables included students' self-perception of the importance of -- family, friends and peers, religion, school, extra-curricular activities, self, friends' perception of the importance of school, and popular media (internet, movies, music, television) -- on their attitudes, values, and beliefs.

The focus of this article was the question: How important are the following areas on your attitudes, values, and beliefs? (Very Important, Important, Somewhat Important, Not Very Important)

  • Family

  • Friends and Peers

  • Religion

  • School

  • Extra-curricular activities

  • Myself

  • Friends perception of school

  • Internet, Movies, Music, Television


The table below shows the results of the correlations between the predictor (independent) and variables of affect (dependent variables).

The One Negative Influence

The importance of friends and also of their perception of school, family, religion, and school and extra-curricular activities, and self are found to positively correlate with most all aspects of student affect. However, within the scope of the overwhelmingly positive correlations between predictor and dependent variables, not one aspect of virtue correlated positively with the influence of the popular media (internet, movies, music, television). It is astonishing to see the single and absolute negative influence of the popular media when compared with the positive influences of every other predictor variable.

Though no family is perfect, it can generally be said that mothers and fathers hope and want their children to grow up as good human beings. Similarly, an objective of schools is to assist in the development of students as good citizens. Coaches of athletic teams hope to develop the character and commitment of their athletes. Overall, families, schools, churches, athletics and other extra-curricular activities have a sincere interest in the social and emotional development of children. Students in this study responded affirmatively to these positive spheres of influence. In contrast, the relative importance of the popular media was not seen as a positive influence by the student survey respondents via both correlational and regression analyses.

The multiple regression analyses of predictor variables on each aspect of student virtue from the four valid and reliable scales -- Social Outcomes Survey, Teenage Nonviolence Test, PISA Measure of Student Engagement, and two affective scales of the Assessment of Catechesis/Religious Instruction -- was performed.

In the Social Outcomes Survey, the influence of the popular media was significantly negative to self-confidence, interest in learning, relating to others, and understanding social order.

In the Teenage Nonviolence Test, the influence of the popular media was significantly negative for physical nonviolence, psychological nonviolence, and wisdom. In the Assessment of Catechesis-Religious Education, popular media import was significantly negatively associated to morality and relationships with others.

Nine of the 18 aspects of virtue within the scope of the multiple regressions for the popular media were found to have a negative influence on students, meaning that students with high levels of virtue were found to have less regard for the popular media and students with lower levels of virtue were found to have a greater regard for the popular media. Therefore, as a sphere of influence it would seem that the popular media conflict with the efforts of family, school, religion, and extra-curricular activities. Regarding friends, while a positive school perception has a beneficial impact on students’ attitudes, values, and beliefs, the importance of friends/peers in general does not significantly predict student outcomes, and one wonders whether this may be related to the influence of the popular media on friends and peers.

The results show an indictment against any type of positive influence of the popular media on the development of virtue. A greater commitment to the practice of student virtue was predicted rather by the lack of influence placed on popular media. Stated another way, those placing great importance on the media seemed to be less concerned with striving for a life of virtue, such as a diminished commitment to non-violence. It seems that leaving children to be entertained by this form of mass media may not encourage the advancement of virtue, especially more so if the combined spheres of influence of family, school, and religion are found to be weak. In other words, when there is less importance placed on family, school, religion, and extra-curricular activities, the popular media will most certainly be there to fill up the vacuum, and not always in a beneficial manner.

Dr. Dave has worked in schools for over 30 years at home and abroad serving urban, suburban, and rural populations with affluent, middle class, and disadvantaged students in public, private, and religious contexts. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on affective outcomes of students. There is way more to Education than academics. Join his Facebook group Fresh Eyes on Teaching for more insightful and innovative ideas on Education.

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