Violence on television is one of contemporary parents’ greatest concerns.
Story by Holly Holmes, A&S Journalism Intern
Violence on television is one of contemporary parents’ greatest concerns. A new addition to the communication department shares their worry and has sound advice about ways to protect children and improve the quality of programming.
Nancy Jennings came to UC this year with impressive credentials on children and the media. She has done research for the National Television Violence Study and analyzed the content of children’s programming and advertising on both television and websites. She sees her research as an important way to link research to reality, “to really advocate for quality children’s programming, and act as a ‘go between’ for the research and parents.”
She is interested in giving parents strategies to cope with the bombardment of media messages children face. “After all, television is here to stay, so let’s find a way to make the best of it,” she says. In a recent discussion with parents, Jennings suggested that they take three steps to help navigate the media environment.
(1) Become media literate. Know what the TV ratings mean and where quality programs can be found. (2) Watch TV with children. Parents should talk with their children about different messages they see and hear. Research suggests that children stick longer with educational programs when parents watch with them. (3) When parents can’t be with children, they should be aware of what they are watching. Letting children view programs parents haven’t seen is, according to Jennings, “similar to letting children play with strangers.”
Jennings’ work also includes studies of gender in children’s advertising. For example, she has examined the impact of different media images on children’s perceptions of gender-appropriate play and found that young boys may be more influenced than girls about which toys boys and girls should play with. When shown ads that had girls rather than boys playing with toys such as Legos, boys were more likely to say that those toys were for both sexes rather than just for boys.
Born and raised in Springfield, Ill., Jennings has always been interested in the power of media communication. She did her undergraduate work at the University of Illinois, Champaign/Urbana, earned her MBA in marketing from DePaul University, and her PhD in radio, television, and film from the University of Texas, Austin. Her husband, William Jennings, also teaches in the communication department.
She was on maternity leave fall quarter and began teaching in the winter. She’s quick to note that she enjoys teaching and has found McMicken students interesting: “What I like the most is that the students are so diverse; everyone has individual experiences and can bring those to the table.”
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