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Adolescent Media Use: Room Culture

Submitted by Anna Pancham

Anna Pancham ( is a Junior Consultant at The Health Communication Unit. Her area of interest is Adolescent Health and the Media.

A. Introduction

I recently attended a workshop entitled "Adolescents' Media Practice", hosted by The Health Communication Unit at the Centre for Health Promotion, University of Toronto. The facilitators of this workshop, Jane Brown and Jeanne Steele, are very well versed in adolescent use of the media. Jeanne and Jane have spent the past 10 years interviewing adolescents in their bedrooms and have produced several fascinating studies on "Room Culture". I would like to share a very brief summary of the key points of their presentation and publications.

B. The Prevalence of Mass Media in Adolescents' Lives

The role of the media in our lives is immense. This is particularly true of adolescent lives. Adolescents spend more than 40% of their time in leisure activities that include watching television (20+ hours/week), listening to music (22 hours/week) and reading magazines. They encounter the media throughout the day as they listen to the radio, flip through magazines and chat about last night's episode of their favorite show. The amount of portable and teen targeted media is increasing, as is the amount of advertising directed specifically towards the teen market.

C. Mass Media and Health

Monitoring the influence of the media on adolescents is complex because the media is intertwined with the events of everyday life; however, the negative influence of the media on adolescent health has been documented. The four issues studied most extensively are:

1) violence and aggression

2) sex and sexuality

3) obesity, nutrition and eating disorders

4) alcohol and tobacco use.

D. Room Culture

Creating and expressing personal identity is the core of adolescence. Teens' rooms play an important role in the process of self-definition. Teens consider their rooms to be a safe place where they can be themselves or try on different "selves" without fear of judgment. Room Culture studies involve assessing the material artifacts as well as the activities conducted in the rooms. The items found in the room reveal past, present and possible identities the teens have created, as well as their priorities and interests. The mass media plays a role in self- development: teens' encounters with media shape their sense of themselves in relation to the larger society. Researchers often find a plethora of media-related images in adolescent rooms including music, posters, advertisements, magazines, collages, sports memorabilia, etc. These items reveal which media the individual attends to and how it is assessed and incorporated as part of their developing self.

E. Application to Health Promotion

Room culture studies provide insight into the lives of adolescents which are relevant to the practice of health professionals. For example:

1) The media artifacts in the rooms can reveal which media outlets adolescents attend. This can be useful when choosing mediums for health messages targeted towards youth.

2) Artifacts can also identify possible health risks associated with their lifestyles.

3) Data from room culture studies can provide the framework for Media Literacy initiatives.

4) Steele and Brown also noted that the interviews conducted in the teens' rooms provided better data on media use and personal health information than did interviews conducted in other settings.

Attending this workshop was a wonderful experience. Examining the role of the Mass Media in Adolescents' Lives is a very complicated, yet essential study. Jane and Jeanne have managed to make a brilliant contribution to an incredibly convoluted field. It was a pleasure to learn with them.

F. References

Brown, J., Reese Dykers, C., et al, (1994). "Teenage room culture: Where media and identities intersect", Communication Research, 21:6, December, 813-827.

Brown, J., Witherspoon, E., (1998). The Mass Media and American Adolescents' Health, Presented at the "Health Futures of Youth II: Pathways to Adolescent Health" Conference in Annapolis, MD, Sept 14-16.

Csikszentmihayi, M., Larson, R., (1984). Being Adolescent: Conflict and Growth in Teenage Years. New York: Basic Books.

Friedrich-Cofer, L., Huston, A.C., (1986). "Television violence and aggression: The debate continues." Psychological Bulletin, 100:3, 364-371.

Steele, J., Brown J., (1995). "Adolescent room culture: Studying media in the context of everyday life", Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 24:5, 551-576.