Professor awarded grant to research impact of media messages on children

Posted September 24, 2010

As a mother of three, Dr. Jennifer Shewmaker has come to understand the impact sexualized media messages can have on children.

Dr. Jennifer Shewmaker“Media messages are prevalent and powerful in our society,” says Shewmaker, associate professor of psychology and director of school psychology training. “The increased sexualization in these messages influences children and adolescents in many ways, but they do not occur in a vacuum. They shape children within a context.”

Shewmaker’s three years of research on the effect of sexualized messages on children and adolescents recently earned a grant from the Christian Scholars Foundation, a family foundation whose goal is to encourage scholars to integrate Christian faith and academic endeavor. In partnership with the Emerging Scholars Network, the foundation offers the CSF-ESN Grant to Advance Christian Scholarship to nurture Christian faculty.

“It is my belief that increasing the voice of female Christian scholars in this field will demonstrate that our distinctive voice is an important one in the academic conversation,” says Shewmaker. “Receiving this honor also provides me with the opportunity to demonstrate to students how a Christian female scholar can be a strong advocate for change through her research, and how she can be active and respected in the professional community.”

In her research, Shewmaker identifies five key variables that affect the way children and adolescents engage with, interpret and adopt sexualized messages from media:

  • Celebrity culture
  • Family factors
  • Gender
  • Race/ethnicity
  • Religiosity

“Understanding these variables has the potential to dramatically change the way that those who work with children respond to sexualized media,” says Shewmaker. “These variables provide several avenues to lead children into becoming critical consumers of media, rather than victims to its sexualization.”

According to Shewmaker, the grant will allow her to expand the range of gathering interviews and surveys throughout Texas and neighboring states, instead of being confined to Abilene.

“I am passionate about learning how these messages impact our children, developing strategies to equip children to respond effectively to these messages and sharing that information with others,” says Shewmaker. “I don't believe that children and families have to be powerless in this situation. We can choose what we consume and how we respond to it, and I hope to share that message as broadly as possible.”