The Role of Media on our Nation’s Youth

Exploring the impact of technology and media on children

Children today are growing up in a world saturated with media and technology. With more than half of ten-year-olds using social media before ten-years-old, advertisements geared towards four-year-olds, and the growing number of preteens using cell phones, parents, caretakers and educators are becoming increasingly interested in what impact such media and technology are having on their health and well-being. Dr. Ellen Wartella, of Northwestern University, studies the role of media and technology in order to affect policies that will truly impact children and their families. In addition to rigorous research that asks questions that get at the heart of parent, educator, and caretaker’s concerns about their children’s health and wellness, Dr. Wartella is committed to organizing conferences that address youth and media in order to share research with the rest of the academic community and the media.

The combination of Dr. Wartella’s research and the organization of her conferences culminates in some of the most advanced understandings of children and the technology that they use. In fact, Dr. Wartella’s Center is one of the very few places in the US that has ongoing systematic research on children and media issues. In addition, her ongoing work at CMHD is actively training a generation of Ph.D. students to work in the academy and in industry on these issues. With two current postdocs along with half a dozen or so undergraduates working in her lab, Dr. Wartella is helping to educate highly qualified professionals that will aid in her incredible efforts. In short, the empirical evidence developed by Dr. Wartella and her team is providing relevant and effective tools for policymakers.

Current research includes:

  • Food Marketing and Health: Dr. Wartella is looking at whether food marketers who have pledged to market only healthier foods to children are indeed following their pledge. This NSF funded project has examined practices across 20 companies since the pledge went into effect in 2013 and will continue to assess the changes in the market.

  • Preschool and Technology: Dr. Wartella’s study on the shifting policies at the local, state, and national levels about the efficacy of using technology in preschool and early elementary school classrooms is helping the National Association for the Education of Young children as they set guidelines on using technology in preschool classrooms.

  • Improving STEM: Dr. Wartella and her team are working to improve STEM education for preschool and early elementary students. By engaging parents of young children to become involved in helping children increase their interest and learning about STEM.

  • Policy Conference: Every two years, Dr. Wartella organizes a conference on a media and youth topics. Past conferences have included Race and Ethnic Difference in Media Use among Children and Adolescents and Parenting in the Age of Technology and bring together about 150 to 200 media people, academics, and policymakers. In June 2015, she will hold a conference on the topic of Teens, Technology, and Health where she plans to release a report on a national survey of over 2000 13-18 year olds use of technology to find health information.


As a first year graduate student at the University of Minnesota, Dr. Wartella was asked to become a research assistant on one of the earliest studies of children’s consumer behavior. The work produced by Wartella and the rest of the team at the University of Minnesota became the book How Children Learn to Buy. Following her graduation, Dr. Wartella testified at hearings at the FTC which were examining whether to limit advertising to children too young to understand that advertising is trying to sell them something. It was clear to her from that moment on that policymakers, parents, caregivers, and educators are all concerned about the media’s influence on children. Since then, her research has documented how children are influenced by and use media and technology in order to help society and address the wider set of concerns about media’s influence on children.

In her free time, aside from research, Dr. Wartella enjoys reading mysteries with impressive speed and cooking for family and friends.



Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science

Fellow, International Communication Association and Distinguished Scholar, National Communication Association

Inaugural Fellow of the Fred Rogers Center (2009-2010)