Children and Television

Questions to Ponder:
1.  What do you like to watch on TV?
2.  How many hours a week do you think preschool kids watch TV?  School age kids?  Adolescents?
        (Answers, 30 hours, 26 hours, 27 hours)
3.  What are some ways that television influences children?  Positive?  Negative?

The Statistics
1.  The average child is likely to have watched 8,000 TV murders and more than 100,000 acts
    of violence on TV by the end of sixth grade.

2.  The most violent period of daily TV programming is 6:00 to 9:00 a.m.
    Next most violent time is 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

3.  Cartoons contain about 25 acts of violence per hour.

4.  The average TV viewing child sees 30,000 commercials each year.

5.  Up to 80% of prime time shows have violent episodes.

6.  At the end of your life you will have spent about 10 years watching television.

Note - Television exists primarily to sell us products.
The first television ad was shown at the end of the 1940s and cost $9.00.
Last yearís Superbowl ads cost $1.5 million for 30 seconds.

Negative Influence of Television on Children

    Decades of research from sources such as the Surgeon General, National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, National Institute of Mental Health, American Medical Association, U. S. Centers for Disease Control, American
Psychological Association, among others, have found links between screen violence and violent behavior.

    We have to keep in mind that children are taking in information all the time.  The child who is exposed to violence is more likely to behave in an aggressive way.  While television alone cannot be said to be the cause of violent behavior, but children who may be exposed to violence in the home, live in an area where violence occurs, watches violence on television and in the movies is a child who is at much greater risk for behaving violently than children who do not experience these things.

    We also have to keep in mind that because children spend so much time watching TV, it is a big influence on their attitudes and beliefs.  Children who watch violent programs have been found to behave and play more aggressively with siblings, friends, classmates.  Children see on television that it is all right to use violence if you are a police officer or super hero or power ranger.  And that it is all right to break moral codes if you are fighting against evildoers.  On television children see that it takes only 30 or 60 minutes to sort through a problem and solve it.

    Advertising that encourages heavily sugared foods has an adverse effect on childrenís nutritional beliefs and diets.  Young children do not understand that sugary foods are detrimental to health; they also do not understand disclaimers in ads (i.e., that you should eat this food as part of a balanced breakfast - they donít know what ďbalanced breakfastĒ means).  Young children canít tell the difference between the program and the commercial.

     Children who watch a lot of television donít read as much as other children and donít spend as much time on homework.  Television is partially blamed for lower scores on national achievement tests and the fact that kids donít do as well in math or reading as they did in years past.  Children who sit in front of the television usually eat while they do this; generally snacks that are high in sugar and are empty calories.  While watching television the child is passive, not getting any exercise of burning off energy.

Note - Before people in the Fiji Islands got TV (fairly recently), the girls had rounded bodies and were happy with their bodies; since TV, Fiji Islanders are seeing many incidences of eating disorders, dissatisfaction with their bodies among its younger women and girls.

Note - There was a documentary on TV in the 1970s about the last town in North America to get television.  Before TV, people spent time out on their porches at night, talking and interacting with the neighbors, lots of community interaction, kids did well in school.  After TV introduced, people stayed in their homes at night, much less interaction with neighbors, more isolation, childrenís grades started falling.

The portrayal of families, minorities, and women on TV is sometimes very unrealistic.  There is less dignity shown to minorities; women in music videos are frequently shown as sexual objects or as victims or with the threat of violence menacing them.  We have to realize that children are developing beliefs partly from what they see on TV.

Positive Influence of Television on Children

     Most successful educational program for children is Sesame Street.  Began in 1969, its goal was to promote the intellectual growth of preschoolers, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.  Sesame Street is viewed regularly by about 60% of children between 2 and 3 years of age.  Regular viewing of SS increases childrenís learning of numbers, letters and cognitive skills such as sorting and classification.  These effects are seen across all ethnic, gender and racial lines.

    Research has also shown that viewing SS between 3 and 5 years of age leads to improved vocabulary.  Children learn the most from segments that give them time to respond, clap, or sing along; from segments that are repeated in a show and throughout the season; and from those skits that the find entertaining.

    Watching programs such as SS, Barney, Mr. Rogers Neighborhood has been shown to increase impulse control and concentration among preschoolers. When children view prosocial behaviors on television, they are likely to repeat those behaviors among their friends, classmates, siblings.

The Role of Parents in Helping Children Use Television Wisely

1.  Set limits
2.  Eliminate some television viewing
3.  Plan
4.  Participate
5.  Choose programming wisely
6.  Analyze commercials
7.  Express your views

Coping with Violence on TV

1.  Watch at least one episode of the program the child watches to know how violent it is.
 2.  When viewing TV together, discuss the violence with the child.
    Talk about why the violence happened and how painful it is.  Ask the child how conflict can be resolved without violence.
3.  Explain to the child how violence on TV shows is faked.
4.  Encourage children to watch programs with characters who cooperate, help and care for each other.
    These programs have been shown to influence children in a positive way.

Applying TV to Real Life

1.  Ask children to compare what they see on the screen with people, places and events they know firsthand,
    have read about or have studied in school.
2.  Encourage children to read newspapers, listen to the radio, talk to adults about their work, or meet people form
    different ethnic or social backgrounds.
3.  Tell children what is real and what is make believe on TV.  Explain how TV uses stunt people, camera zooms,
        dream sequences and animation to create fantasy.
4.  Explain to the child your familyís values with regard to sex, alcohol and drugs.

-Susan D. Witt, Ph.D.