Children and Television
Television may be an almost universal feature on the domestic scene, however it is not sued I the same way by everyone who has access to a set (Gunter 1). The television set has become an integral piece of the household furniture, and practically every house has at least one set, if not more, which means that children are born into a world in which television is present from the start (Gunter 4). According to reports by parents, their children begin viewing television between the ages of two and three, and Wilbur Schramm and his colleagues report that the medium age is 2.8 years when children begin viewing television (Gunter 4). Although television has its good side, by giving children a chance to see educational shows, learn about different cultures, and be entertained, many professionals and parents believe that television also has a bad side for children (Television).
According to the University of Michigan Health Systems, the television set is on for over seven hours each day in a typical American home, and the average child spends approximately twenty or more hours each week watching television, which is more time spent than on any other activity besides sleeping (Television).
By the time the average person reaches the age of seventy, he or she will have watched seven to ten years worth of television (Television). Critics complain that advertisers target children, and in fact, the average child views tens of thousands of television commercials each year, including up to 2,000 ads for alcohol (Television). Moreover, television tends to replace activities that most parents believe is important such as playing with friends, physical activity, fresh air, reading, homework, chores, spending quality time with the family (Television). Television is believed to affect brain development, as well as contribute to poor grades, sleep problems, behavior problems and obesity (Television).
Research reveals that programs designed for children are five to six times more violent than adult programming, and that during prime time viewing, there are three to five violent acts per hour, while Saturday morning programming depicts twenty to twenty-five violent acts per hour (Television). In fact, the average child will witness approximately 8,000 murders on television before he or she finishes grade school (Television). It is estimated that children view some 10,000 rapes, assaults and murders each year on television, and many experts believe that children imitate the violence they see, thus television violence may lead to more aggressive behavior (Television). It is believed that television violence has the greatest effect on preschool children, most likely because television tends to glamorize violence, and often promotes violent acts as a fund and effective way of getting “what you want” (Television). Furthermore, most violent acts on television go unpunished and are even at times accompanied by humor, and even when good guys beat up bad guys, this is sending the message that violence is normal and acceptable (Television). A 17-year long study revealed that teenaged boys who grew up watching more than an hour of television each day were four times more likely to commit acts of violence than those who watched less than an hour a day (Television). And another study that spanned 22 years, revealed that watching excessive amounts of violence on television at the age of eight was linked to more aggressive behavior at ages 19 and 30 years (Television). One researcher found that as these adults more often used violence to punish their children, and the children, in turn, more often preferred violent programming (Sons). Experts believe that repeated exposure to television violence tends to make children less sensitive toward its effects on victims, thus they may actually be unaware of the human suffering it causes (Television). According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American children watch an average of three to four hours of television each day and cautions that television can have a powerful influence on developing value systems and shaping behavior (Children). Hundreds of studies reveal that television violence can cause children to become “immune” to the horror of violence, to accept violence as a way to solve problems, and may identify with certain characters, victims and/or victimizers (Children).
According to a random survey of grade school children, 37% claimed that they had been frightened or upset by a television story during the previous year, and revealed symptoms such as “bad dreams, anxious feelings, being afraid of being alone, withdrawing from friends, and missing school” (Television). Moreover, scary images such as grotesque monsters were especially frightening to two to seven-year-old children, and explaining that the images were not real did not help because young children cannot always tell the difference between fantasy and reality (Television). In fact, many children revealed that they regretted having watched movies such as Poltergeist, Jaws, and Halloween, because of the intensity of their fright reactions (Television). Furthermore, 8- to 12-year-old children who view violence are often concerned that they may become a victim of violence or a natural disaster, such as a house fire or drowning (Television).
Because minorities are not depicted on television as much as whites, they tend to be stereotyped, thus children learn to accept the stereotypes represented on television (Television). One study revealed that white children who watched more violent television programs believed that African-American children were less competent and less obedient (Television). Moreover, women on television tend to be dominated by men, and research reveals that the gender biased and gender stereotyped behaviors and attitudes that children view on television do affect how they see male and female roles in society (Television). Studies reveal that programming often depicts child characters who engage in anti-social behaviors that often give positive results, and that minorities are under-represented on television (Television). Although boys and girls are usually equally represented, there are significant differences in the way in which they are portrayed (Television).
Research has found that children who spend more than ten hours per week watching television are more likely to be overweight, and more likely to be inactive and to snack while watching television (Television). Another contributing factor may be that up to two-thirds of the 20,000 television ads the average child sees each year on television are for foods that are high in sugar content (Television). Moreover, the metabolic rate seems to go lower while watching television than during rest, which means that fewer calories are being burned while watching television than when an individual is simply sitting, doing nothing (Television).
According to the Kaiser Foundation, the family hour programming contains more than eight sexual incidents per hour, yet most of these do not address issues such as birth control, protection, or safer sex, nor do they discuss the risks and consequences of having sex, such as STDs and pregnancy (Television). One survey revealed that 76% of teenagers indicated that one reason why young people have sex is due to television programming and movies that depict it as being normal for their age group (Television).
According to studies, children tend to choose programs that entertain rather than educate, and their favorite programs are cartoons, westerns, animal and crime dramas, family situation comedies, and commercials, especially among preschoolers (Pitzer). Also revealed, children spend much of their viewing time watching programs that are intended primarily for adults: ranging from 40% of six-year-olds to 80% of 12-year-olds (Pitzer). Television ranks with family, school, and church as one of the powerful forces that shape a child’s hopes, fears, tastes, and ambitions (Pitzer). Although television appears to enlarge the vocabulary of preschool children, the vocabulary derived from television soon disappears under the impact of school training, thus language learning does not constitute a long-range advantage, and moreover, the vocabulary a child learns from television tends to be commercial product names and street slang (Pitzer).
In Congressional testimony in September 2004, Dr. Dale Kunkel,
University of Arizona Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet Committee on House Energy and Commerce, stated that after reviewing the totality of empirical evidence regarding the impact of media violence, “exposure to violent portrayals poses a risk of harmful effects on children” has been reached by the U.S. Surgeon General, the National Institutes of Mental Health, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and a number of other scientific and public health agencies and organizations (Kunkel). It has been established by a compelling body of scientific evidence that television violence poses a risk of harmful effects for children, including, learning aggressive attitudes and behaviors, desensitization, or an increased callousness towards victims of violence, and an increased or exaggerated fear of being victimized by violence (Kunkel). Although exposure to media violence is not necessarily the most potent factor contributing to real world violence and aggression, it is “certainly the most pervasive” (Kunkel).
One interesting study by L. Rowell Huesmann of the University of Illinois at Chicago looked at two types of Israeli child-rearing societies (Bower). On the kibbutz, children attended school in the morning, worked with peers in the afternoon, ate dinner with their families and returned to communal barracks where they slept and watched television, while the city children, like those in the United States, attended school, and then spend more time watching television, either alone or with others (Bower). Huesmann stresses that all of the data supports the notion that “social norms mediate the effects of television violence” (Bower). Aggressive behavior was more acceptable in the city, thus a child’s popularity rating among classmates was not hampered by his or her aggression, however on the kibbutz, popularity with peers sank among the more aggressive children (Bower).
Young children have difficulty with certain tasks involved in understanding television programs, such as “separating central from peripheral content, comprehending the sequence of events, recalling events and segments, and understanding causation’ (Alexander). Moreover, they find it difficult to understand “intersections of motivation, action, and consequence, or evaluating the reality of programs and characters” (Alexander). The comprehension of forms and conventions, or formal features, is similarly grounded in developmental stages, “with surprisingly early recognition of the time and space ellipses of cuts or the part whole relationship of zooms” (Alexander). Research reveals that the amount of time a child spends on homework is significantly related to academic achievement, therefore since television viewing can interfere with the completion of homework assignments and reduce the amount of sleep a child may get, then parents should be alert to the fact that excessive television viewing may affect a child’s grades and alertness in school (What).
Television is a fact of life, and any child who grows up without a television set in the home will have serious social issues in school and later in life. A child who does not watch a certain program or see a certain movie is going to feel left out of the mainstream. Television has become a part of American culture, and it can be a tool for parents to connect to their children. Television can be a learning experience for children however, it is important for parents to monitor their children’s viewing in terms of time and content. Television should not take the place of family activities such as board games, story time, sports, and other recreational activities, nor should it interfere with a child’s play time with his or her peers.
Alexander, Allison. “Children and Television.” Retrieved November 04, 2005 from The Museum of Broadcast Communication Web site:
Bower, Bruce. “Social channels tune in TV’s effects.” Science News. September 14, 1985. Retrieved November 04, 2005 from HighBeam Research Library Web site.
“Children and TV Violence.” Retrieved November 04, 2005 from the American
Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Web site:
Gunter, Barrier; McAleer, Jill L. Children and Television. Routledge. 1997; pp.1,4.
Kunkel, Dale. “Effect of Television Violence on Children.” Congressional
Testimony. September 13, 2004. Retrieved November 04, 2005 from HighBeam Research Library Web site.
Pitzer, Ronald. “Television and Children.” 1989. Retrieved November 04, 2005
“Sons of violence.” Psychology Today. July 01, 1992. Retrieved November 04, 2005 from HighBeam Research Library Web site.
“Television.” Retrieved November 04, 2005 from University of Michigan Health
Systems Web site: www.med.umich.edu/1libr/yourchild/tv.htm
“What do Parents Need to Know about Children’s Television Viewing?” Retrieved
November 04, 2005 from KidsSource Online Web site:
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