Full text of Norwegian journalist Oda Faremo Lindholm’s talk: How the media affects youth at TEDxOslo conference. In this talk, she points to how continued, and growing use of sexualization and prejudice gender roles in media affects a generation of youth that’s consuming record high levels of media, from a record low age.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here:
Oda Faremo Lindholm – Norwegian journalist
Hi. As a kid I grew up with a mom who was Minister of Justice and therefore our little family was early introduced to all things new: cell phones, and cars, and briefcases, computers, the internet.
Growing up, I became more and more interested in how media, pop culture and internet affected each other and how these elements intertwine.
And, among other things, it definitely led to the fact that my generation and especially kids growing up today are growing up in what has become an overtly extreme media culture.
Norwegian kids and teens are taking in massive amounts of media every day. This is linked to the fact that we are both a very rich and a very liberal country. Kids get smartphones and laptops while they are still in primary school and they also get a lot of control over these technical devices and, as a result, kids get hooked on media pretty fast.
In a large survey, Norwegian teens were asked how much time they spend on the internet every day and they estimated a bit over three and a half hours. If you add the time they spend watching TV and movies, reading magazines and newspapers, and listening to music, you get an almost constant stream of media consumption which I am not the only one believing has a huge and most importantly negative effect on the way they see themselves and our perceptions of reality.
Reality is a difficult term. What is real and who shapes forms and controls it? What is the perfect body? What is an ideal man or woman? What should we do with our life and what role in society do we have based on our gender?
These are ideals that change over time; they are not constant. But the media often portrays them as timeless facts. And when we spend up to 10 hours a day consuming different media, it’s obvious that most of us, if not all, are going to be affected by the representation and ideals in the media culture we belong to.
So what does that mean for us?
Well, Western media is very limiting, especially for girls. Take a look at magazine shelves, commercials, toy stores, different women and men TV channels, blogs and so on; and you’ll see that kids growing up today are actually growing up in a society that’s moving towards more prejudiced gender roles than we have been doing in a long time; we are actually moving the wrong way.
If we look at this from a female perspective, the media is for instance, far away from reflecting reality when it comes to quantity: women make up 49% of humanity and only 32% of the main characters in children’s TV are female. This is shown in the survey of 24 countries, including Norway, done by the Central Institute for Youth and Educational Television.
Children’s TV also conformed to stereotype images of women. The same study identified a number of sexual stereotypes found in children’s media around the world.
And in general, girls and women are motivated by love and romance; they appear less independent than boys and they are stereotyped according to their hair color. They are nearly always conventionally attractive, thinner than average women in real life and most importantly heavily sexualized.
This problem continues in media for grown-ups. Women are under-represented in movies, TV and news. Most press — mainstream press coverage also continue to rely on men as experts in the fields of business, politics and economics.
Magazines are the only medium where women are over-represented; however their content is overwhelmingly focused on topics such as dating, appearance and fashion.
Research indicates that these mixed messages from media are making it really difficult for young girls to negotiate the transition to adulthood. Girls’ confidence frequently drops in the pre-teen years and, instead of focusing on the worth of their knowledge, capabilities and skills, they begin to base their feelings of self-worth more and more on appearance and weight.
Partly because of this, there is a huge difference in how Norwegian teens value themselves: from the age of 13, boys’ senses of self-worth increase while girls’ decrease.
The Annual Survey Ungdata show that in 2013, a whopping 25% of girls between the ages of 13 and 16 in Norway reported symptoms of depression, like stress, anxiety, and feelings of emptiness. This is a marked increase and the levels where boys the same age are both significantly lower and also not on the rise.
And while teenage depression historically has been linked to problem behavior, the same generation is one of the most well adapted teenage generations we’ve had for a long time.
In the same survey, they reported some of the record low levels for underage drinking, drug abuse, skipping schools and problems at home.
What they instead said is their main source of anxiety are the extreme demands of perfection that surrounds them. So this is a new problem and one that we don’t really know how to meet yet.
Girls feel they have to be perfect in almost all areas of life whether it’s beauty, body, fashion or the relationship to their friends and family.
And why shouldn’t they? Girls who consume media are going to be influenced by stereotypical images of uniformly beautiful, obsessively thin objects of male desire. Professional women are far less visible than their male counterparts and the biggest social media apps in Norway among teenage girls are Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat — apps which people mostly used to brag about their looks and their accomplishments.
Norwegian teenagers are in the world top when it comes to internet usage. This means that for multiple hours a day they are bombarded with other peoples’ external perfection. This is the reality they see and several international studies now show that girls who are frequent users of media also have the most negative opinion about their gender.
This means that Norwegian girls may be far less free than what we might think they are, because they are growing up in a media reality that depresses them, restrains them and potentially makes them sick.
At least me and my friends got to finish Junior High before Internet became such an integral part of our life as it is for kids growing up today.
And you might question if what I’m talking about actually has such a huge impact on teens today, but in my work I spend a considerable amount traveling around to school talking to youth about these issues and every single visit they confirm that the media images’ ideals are something that they struggle with. It’s overwhelming and it affects their self-image.
A lot of the time, they say they also feel like grown-ups expect them to be media professionals, that they somehow instinctively know that photos are being retouched and that ideals are often constructed to make us feel bad. So we spend money on time and stuff we don’t need.
And because we have taken this for granted while at the same time giving kids enormous access to media, we are now seeing the negative effect it’s having especially on young girls.
Instead of rioting against authorities, many have now internalized their youth rebellion and are rioting against themselves. We need to establish a stronger focus on this in our society and most importantly in the school system.
We need to talk to kids from very early on about how media’s depictions of reality are not always accurate. We need to teach youth to be critical of what they read and see, especially on the internet.