There could be no argument to the rapidly surmounting invasion of the media and technology over our lives today. We all are being bombarded with thousands of messages from morning to night, be it through television, billboards or social networking platforms. In the light of this growing technological invasion, the Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, recently conducted a survey to study the effect of the media on the attitudes, beliefs and lifestyles of 1,350 school-going adolescents from Delhi-NCR, the findings of which throw considerable light on the grim reality, along with helping us recognize the need and role of media literacy.

Media as a Source of Information

Rather than getting information regarding events from traditional sources such as newspapers and encyclopaedias, the trend has now shifted to getting information from social media. However, the concern is the multitude of unreliable sources that can exist on social media and lead to students gathering false information and forming faulty opinions. This concern is reiterated by the finding that 74% students considered social media to be the best platform to get factually correct information about events. Further, 77% students reported that their opinions are largely based on what they watch on the television. Even in terms of making decisions, 65% students believed that celebrity endorsed products are more reliable than others. Therefore, adolescents’ skill to distinguish between fact and fiction plays a significant role in recognizing reliable sources of information.

Media Influence on Lifestyle

The far-reaching impact of the media can be evidenced in today’s lifestyle choices, as 72% adolescents reported that the products they purchase are influenced by advertisements. Society now focuses on the ‘have nots’ rather than the ‘haves’ – people value themselves and others based on the brands they wear and the model of mobile phones they carry. This can be clearly reflected in the finding that 62% students reported that they felt compelled to follow the latest fashion trends. Another significant finding suggests that 82% of the students believed that children learn to use offensive language by their exposure to the media.

Media and Self-Image

It is saddening to note the extent to which the media plays a role in shaping an individual’s self-perceptions and body image, as reflected by the finding that 65% of the students reported feeling bad about their looks when they compared themselves to a celebrity figure. As teenagers who tend to get attracted to glamour, it could have potentially harmful consequences on their self-esteem and body-image, which could increase the susceptibility to more serious mental disorders like depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.

Social Media and Interpersonal Relationships

Social media has a major role in changing the face of interpersonal relationships, as 34% adolescents reported that they have either been bullied or have bullied someone on the social media. Children and adolescents can also fall prey to peer pressure, especially in the use of various platforms of the social media, as is reflected by the finding that 85% of the students feel pressured to be on social media because their friends are on such a platform. Such pressures can hamper the child’s social development as it could impact the self-esteem and interpersonal well-being. Further, there is a need to encourage assertiveness training and social skills training and support for the youth.

Impact of Reality Television

In addition to the role of the media in shaping our perceptions, as reality television has been gaining popularity in our country. 64% of students feel bad when their favourite contestant gets voted out of a reality show. The youth are vulnerable to such influences, and therefore they need to be able to recognize that media need not be a true representation of reality.

The Need for Media Literacy

Despite its potentially harmful consequences, there is no doubt that the media can be extremely beneficial in creating empowerment and encouraging the growth of a democratic society. There are innumerable possibilities opened up by the media, but only if it is used with complete awareness and responsibility. Recognizing the far-reaching impact of the media on the children and adolescents, as many as 92% of the students believed that celebrities need to become more responsible in their actions in media. Further, 97% of the participants agreed that media literacy would help students understand the social world better.

Therefore, the need of the hour is to educate ourselves about the source, purpose as well as messages provided via the media. This is especially important for the youth to be educated with the ability to critically understand the messages shown by the media, in order to be able to guide them towards right decisions effectively.