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Leveraging TV News as a Vehicle for STEM Learning Among Latinx Parents

Monica Arkin and Isai Garcia-Baza, both senior research assistants at Child Trends, co-wrote this blog.

Individuals with higher levels of formal education are likely to be more knowledgeable about science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). They are also more likely to hold favorable attitudes toward STEM research, such as believing that it benefits society and having confidence in the scientific community. Yet only about 46 percent of the U.S. population earns an associate’s degree or higher, and many have limited access to STEM research findings that are relevant to everyday life. In particular, many parents could use high-quality information from child development research to make more informed caregiving decisions; however, they lack convenient, relatable means to access this information. How can we broaden access to STEM research to address the gap between actionable research findings and those who can benefit from them?

Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Child Trends News Service (CTNS) aims to bridge this knowledge gap by partnering with a professional TV news syndication company, Ivanhoe Broadcast News (NSF award no. 1811007). Each month, CTNS and Ivanhoe produce and broadcast eight news reports, in both English and Spanish, that feature actionable child development research. The news feed is syndicated to TV stations throughout the country under the name Positive Parenting. Although these news reports are relevant to most caregivers, the project places special emphasis on reaching Latinx parents so that they can make research-informed parenting decisions and contribute to a more equitable future for their children.

Why focus on Latinxs? 

Latinxs are the largest and fastest growing racial/ethnic minority group of children in the country. One in four children in the United States today is Latinx; by 2050, that proportion is projected to be one in three, nearly equal to the proportion of non-Hispanic white children. Latinx children also face unique challenges: About one-quarter of Hispanic infants and toddlers live in poverty, according to the latest Census data (from 2017).Childhood poverty is associated with negative impacts on physical, socio-emotional, cognitive, and linguistic development. In addition, Latinx children disproportionately live in neighborhoods with concentrated poverty, which is linked to poor housing, poor schools, and crime. Social scientists have identified an array of research-informed strategies that parents can use to improve outcomes for children growing up in these environments, but the findings are useful only if they are communicated effectively.

Why local TV?

Despite declining viewership of local TV news, this medium remains the primary source of information for most U.S. adults. The demographics of local TV news viewers reveal a cross-section of underserved parents. Specifically, 47 percent of adults who have no more than a high school degree and 46 percent of U.S. adults who make less than $30,000 a year regularly watch local TV news. Local TV news is also the most relied upon news source for Hispanics in the United States.

Now in its second year of production, Positive Parenting has secured 132 subscribing stations in nearly half of the 210 Nielsen designated market areas (representing all U.S. TV markets). Among subscribing stations, representation includes 16 of the top 25 Latinx-serving TV markets. On average, each news broadcast receives more than 3 million views, according to Nielsen research tracking data.

What we have learned?

To promote parents’ engagement with scientific research that benefits them and their children, science communicators must ensure that parents trust and value STEM research, and that the information is communicated effectively. During our proof-of-concept phase, the CTNS project conducted focus groups with low-income Latinx parents and then produced a research brief of preliminary findings about effective strategies for communicating child development research to these parents. The findings substantiate the value of the news media as a source of information about social science research and the need to broaden access to child development research. The brief, Expanding Latino Parents’ Access to Child Development Research Through the News Media, also provides six research-based best practices for communicating and engaging with Latinx parents:

  1. Continue to communicate and reinforce well-known, research-informed parenting behaviors, even when you know that these behaviors have already received widespread public attention.
  2. Be cautious when relaying information that may elicit emotional reactions. Emotions can get in the way of a person’s ability to absorb the importance of recommended behaviors and to consider whether to adopt them. Repetition helps to communicate messages associated with difficult issues. Reinforce key points across a variety of local community settings, including community-based media outlets, service providers, and other venues that serve parents.
  3. Take time to understand your audiences’ needs and interests, and consider how you can relate your messages to these interests. Research suggests that messages which present novel information of interest to parents can trigger the stages of learning that lead to behavioral changes: building their knowledge about the research, developing attitudes about the value of that research, and ultimately informing their parenting behaviors.
  4. Use visuals to emphasize the information you want to communicate and to depict relatable situations, activities, and outcomes. Visuals can support the successful communication of key messages and behaviors.
  5. Ensure that your audience can relate to both the content and presentation of information.
    • Include the voices of parents and children, in addition to the voice of the researcher; show parents or children using the behaviors described.
    • Provide concrete examples of actionable behaviors.
    • Depict people and places that reflect parents’ own communities.
    • Consider possible language and/or literacy barriers to adopting recommended behaviors.
    • Be sensitive to parents’ financial barriers and provide low-cost options.
    • Provide access to additional resources at the community level that help parents adopt some of the research-informed parenting practices.
  6. Carefully consider whether and how to present information related to the achievement gaps between ethnic/racial groups. Provide context and a rationale for the gap, including possible factors associated with low income and poverty conditions.

These recommendations are also highlighted in the video above.

Next Steps

The CTNS project team is preparing to investigate how audiences interact with the research findings presented in TV news reports—specifically, how the findings influence awareness, knowledge, and intent to adopt parenting behaviors. We will conduct a quantitative impact study using random assignment to understand the impact of the CTNS on parents’ knowledge, perceptions, and behaviors. Also, in 2019, we will pilot the use of project news videos within a community-based Latinx parenting program. This effort stems from our formative research findings, which indicated that parents would like to see similar informative videos in community settings such as parent education programs and doctor’s offices. Together, these research efforts will contribute to the growing body of literature in informal STEM learning and communication science.

Posted by Alicia Torres