An ACU psychology professor recently received a grant to study the effects of sexualized media on young children.
The Christian Scholars Foundation awarded Dr. Jennifer Shewmaker, associate professor of psychology and director of school psychology training, a grant to support her research.
“They are a small family foundation, and their goal is to increase Christian academic voices in the academy,” Shewmaker said. “One of those ways is to give Christian scholars more money for research.”
Shewmaker said she was inspired in her research three years ago when reading about children and sexualized media. This prompted her to ask more questions and subsequently conduct research.
Since then, she has discovered five factors that affect how children process media: family, race, gender, religiosity and involvement in celebrity culture.
“Why do some kids look at this and say ‘I don’t believe this is how I should be,’ while others don’t do that,” Shewmaker said. “They take in what the media says and go along with it.”
Shewmaker said she has conducted quantitative and qualitative research at high schools, speaking with students and gathering their input first-hand. She expects her research to last from five to 10 years, and is currently working on a paper she hopes to submit to a peer review board in the spring.
The mother of three daughters, Shewmaker said her goal is not to eliminate sexualized media messages, but rather to teach children and their families how to be more discerning.
“Something needs to be done, but first we need to learn about it,” Shewmaker said. “I hope to develop an understanding of how we can help children be critical consumers and share that information with families.”
Cherisse Flanagan, director of the ACU Psychology Clinic, said Shewmaker’s research will be important for both parents and children.
“The benefit is to parents, educators and children,” Flanagan said. “Ultimately she’s hoping to make a real difference in deciding what messages we allow our children to see, and how they interpret the messages they are going to see anyway. Having quality research that guides us in how to best educate. ”
Flanagan said Shewmaker’s work has an important message for young girls. She said the media tells girls they have to be beautiful, which often affects how they live.
“Part of what she is doing is going to the source. She is interviewing girls who are speaking to her frankly, and hopefully she can gather information from that,” Flanagan said. “She is looking at how to be beautiful as a child of God.”