A New Take on Children and Media

Rutgers welcomes acclaimed research scholar Amy Jordan to JMS

For three decades, Amy Jordan has been studying families and their relationship with the media. Now, Jordan has brought her knowledge about media and childhood development to JMS students at Rutgers.

Jordan’s interest in media started at an early age. “I always loved media. I always loved television and magazines,” said Jordan.

Jordan went to high school during the 70s and it was then that Jordan decided to take an advertising course as one of her electives. It was a transitional period, when TV was dominating all other media. It was also the era when marketers started aggressively targeting specific markets. The target-audience approach spread from TV to radio and magazines. Jordan’s fascination with media grew.

After graduating high school, Jordan chose to spend the next four years as an undergrad at Muhlenberg College, a small liberal arts college in Allentown, PA. that offered communications. “I was very interested in media studies, and there were very few colleges and universities that offered it,” she said.

During her time as an undergrad, Jordan took a course that would shape the rest of her career: Media Effects. One of the assignments for the class was to analyze a television show. Jordan settled on cartoons as her focus for the assignment. “This was back in the day where you had to get up in the morning and actually watch them as they were airing,” Jordan said, smiling. “I was watching the Smurfs, and as I watched it, I became angrier and angrier because I thought, what are children learning from this cartoon, full of male characters and one female character and of course, she is a ‘Smurfette.’” Jordan worried about what children would learn from a cartoon full of dominate male characters and one single female character named ‘Smurfette.’ The stereotyping Jordan saw in the cartoon led her to focus the rest of her studies on the role of media in children’s lives and their development and the opportunity for media to have good impacts. “Ever since then I’ve been really interested in studying youth responses to media but also within the context of the family,” she said.

Jordan graduated from Muhlenberg College in 1983 with a bachelor in Communications and began her media career with various brief stints as a radio newscaster and at a fashion magazine until her return back to school to get a master’s degree and PhD from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.

Jordan and her colleges partnered with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health to find ways to address the growing obesity problem in the city. In the early 2010’s, about 40 percent of children in Philadelphia were overweight or obese, according to the Center for Disease Control. Together with the Philadelphia Health Department and funding from the CDC, Jordan and her colleagues developed a campaign for parents highlighting the detrimental effects of sugary beverages and showing alternatives. The team tracked the impact the campaign had on parents and saw parents change their belief. People exposed to the campaign messages were more likely to believe that if they replaced sugary drinks with healthy ones, such as water, they would think they would be doing something good for the family. Jordan sees the project as a notable achievement, given that Philadelphia now has a soda tax. She believes her campaign, although not directly responsible for the tax, did have positive implications for policies about nutrition and food. Jordan plans to continue studying media and childhood development and its relationship with health, nutrition and policy making.

When asked why she chose Rutgers, she said, “Here, there’s a whole community of scholars that care about children and adolescents and families and I think that it’s a valuable group to study about,” she said. “I feel like of course this is where I should be, this is where everybody is!”

Jordan is currently teaching Children and Media, a Masters course. Starting Fall 2018, Jordan will begin teaching an undergraduate version of the class as well as a class called Teens and Screens. “I feel lucky to be invited into students’ lives and I feel lucky to have that potential impact on student lives,” she said. “I have this chance to see the world the way they see the world and I learn as much as the students.”