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TV and children

Posted By: Carol Makela de Rosales on October 1, 2004
I am a new member of this site and I originally began a search for topics on bilingual education. Once I came to the list of topics, I broused a bit, wondering if there would be any references to the effect of television and related media on pre- and schoolage children. Surprisingly (or not), I found no serious scholarly items related to this theme. I am currently attending a teacher certification program, am a mother of a 2 and 4 year old, this is my third career (so I'm not fresh out of the "clover patch"), and I have been researching the effects of televison and children for close to two years. There is ample evidence that regular (and in our culture this can mean up to 30 hours a week) viewing of televison is a serious detriment to education. (I am attaching as much as I can of a related report).

Can anyone out there please expain to me why this issue is not in the forefront of educational intercourse? Is there a sane person who can explain why my professors in the teaching program have not, as of yet, referred to the problem of television viewing as a key factor in the restlessness and lack of focus of today's young people?

I'm looking for someone to work with me on this issue. It's a big one, monumental; and until it is addressed, I fear that any changes to school policy, be they standards, constructivist methods, etc., will merely slide off the backs of our elected officials and affect those innocent ones who need the truest guidance.

Thanks, and here's a fraction of the research regarding the above issue.



Thief of time, unfaithful servant: television and the American child. (America's Childhood)

Daedalus; 1/1/1993; Condry, John

THE TIDE OF BIOLOGICAL EVOLUTION moves slowly, giving advantage to some mutations over a period of centuries and eons. Social evolution is another matter altogether. Driven by discovery and invention, it is often rapid and unpredictable. Some inventions cause little change, usually for the better, occasionally for the worse--gunpowder comes to mind. But some inventions change culture and society in profound and unpredictable ways, unknowable except in hindsight.
There is something wrong today with American children, in the way they are growing up. That is obvious. Many explanations are given; they generally relate to the rapid changes of recent years. Increased transportation has changed the fabric of cities, destroying old neighborhoods, disrupting their social infrastructure. Families appear to be in disarray; the schools are functioning badly, if at all. Standardized test scores have declined steadily for the last twenty years, and there is no improvement in sight.(1) Suicides and homicides are on the increase. Many children show signs of physical disorder, mental distress. Can television be said to be in any way responsible for these conditions?
To understand the role that television plays in the lives of American children, it is important to begin with a broad overview of children's needs. How do children become useful members of society? How is their immaturity used to prepare them for adulthood? How do they spend their time? Time is a useful measure because, unlike wealth and opportunity, it is the same commodity for all. If there are 24 hours in a day, if many are awake for 16, the total of their 112 conscious hours each week is a proper object of study. How are those 112 hours spent by America's children today, especially by those aged three to eleven?
Until about two hundred years ago, most children spent this time in the communities and villages in which they were born, observing adults in their everyday activities of work and play. Children learned the skills and attitudes necessary to fit into the familiar society that was near-at-hand. The skills and capacities they developed as children were useful when they became adults. What was learned in the family in one generation was practiced by families in the next. The child learned about work and living; he or she acquired knowledge of the world as it existed in the family and community.
Some of this began to change with the coming of the industrial revolution.(2) People, moving in increasing numbers from communities they had lived in for generations to cities, old and new, looked for novel economic and social opportunities. In the new urban industrial world, children observed life in quite new ways. Schools were invented to supplement the learning opportunities of everyday observation.(3)
The situation has changed even more dramatically in recent years. In an average week, American children are known to spend approximately 40 hours watching television and playing video games. When 40 hours in school, including the time spent traveling to and from school and doing homework are added, only 32 hours remain for interacting with peers and family. If we are to understand what children know about the world and themselves, a dose look at the environments created by family, school, peers, and especially television is called for. The role of television in creating an environment for the socialization of children merits study.
Children approach television and watch it with motives significantly different from what is common among adults. Most adults, by their own admission, watch television to be "entertained."(4) Most Children, while they find television entertaining, watch because they seek to understand the world. Many adults see television as trivial; they watch it with what is sometimes called a "suspension of disbelief" To be entertained, they accept departures from realistic portrayals, and, depending on the premises of the program, understand why someone is flying through the air, becoming invisible, performing superhuman acts. Fictional drama, by definition, need not be possible, real, or true.
Children, while enjoying the entertaining aspects of television, because of their limited understanding of the world, have greater difficulty in separating fact from fiction.(5) They are vulnerable in a way that adults are not. The primary influences on children-family, peers, school, and television--all function together. Children are not very expert in separating what they learn in these different contexts. Indeed, the utility of information obtained in one is partly dependent on what is learned in the others. Without family support, much of what occurs in school loses its importance. If schools were more effective, television would not be so powerful. Peers exert their influence and power to the extent that family and school do not.
The influence of television depends on two factors: exposure and content. The greater the exposure, the greater, in general, the influence. The nature of that influence will in some measure be determined by content. Still, exposure alone influences viewers, regardless of content. So let us look at some facts about exposure.
Television came into the United States in the 1950s. In the first year of that decade, approximately 10 percent of American homes boasted a television set; by 1960, that number had risen to 90 percent, and almost everyone who owned a television set watched it regularly. The introduction of television caused a large shift in how most Americans spent their time. While the invention of the automobile occasioned only a 6 percent increase in travel time, though longer distances were involved, the introduction of television occasioned a 58 percent increase in time spent with the media, by some calculations.(6)
The time the television set is turned on in the average household--currently more than 7 hours a day--has increased steadily since 1950, with the average person watching about 4 hours a day during the week, and slightly more on weekends. In the 1980s, when cable and VCRs became widely available, the audience share of the three major networks started dropping from approximately 90 percent of American homes to about 60 percent today. However, the amount of time spent watching has remained roughly the same, divided now among more program sources. These statistics are as relevant for children as for adults. The average American child watches approximately 4-5 hours of television a day during the week, and 7-9 hours a day on weekends, about 40 hours a week.(7) This includes videotaped movies rented and watched at home on a television set, video games, and cable television. Regardless of what they watch, children who are heavy viewers tend to read less, Play less, be more obese. These are the "indirect effects" of constant viewing.(8)
If obesity is a national problem for young people in the United States, does television play a significant role in creating the condition?(9) While it is not dear how strong a causal relationship exists, there are good reasons to suspect one. Watching television, a physically passive activity, is often accompanied by eating, and studies show a decrease in metabolic rate among television viewers, especially for children who are already obese.(10) The foods advertised on television may stimulate eating on the part of the viewer, and food is the most commonly advertised product.
Television is a thief of time. When children watch for hours on end, they are not doing any number of other things that in the long run may be vastly more important in terms of their development. But television is more than a thief of time; its content in programs and advertisements deeply influences children's attitudes, beliefs, and actions.
Children generally begin by watching cartoons around the age of two. By about six, most children, fully 90 percent, have developed a television habit.(11) As they move into middle childhood, six to eleven years, situation comedies (sitcoms) become more popular with children.
Cartoons are watched by young children because they are well marked--every action is highlighted with attention-getting features. This "marking" makes for attention and comprehension.(12) Because children's attention does wander, the sound effects of television help to draw them back to the set.(13)
For the most part, children's attention is not held because the material is broadly comprehensible. Children understand something of the content of individual programs, but not in the way that adults do. They cannot understand long sequences; they have less understanding of the motives and intentions of individual characters. They are not able to draw inferences from unseen action, implied but not Shown.(14)
Children see violence, for example, and in their own way may conclude that "might makes right." They are unlikely to understand, however, the more subtle messages conveyed, that certain actions are more justified than others. They do understand the proposition that if you want something and have greater power than another, you get what you want. That message figures prominently in the "action adventure" cartoons that have replaced the live shows originally shown on television for children.(15) It has been amply documented that the amount of violence on children's shows is substantially greater than on adult programs shown during prime time. A recent study, for example, found an average of twenty-five acts of violence per hour in children's programming compared with five acts of violence per hour during prime time. The action/adventure cartoons are "stories of power."(16)
Does watching such stories influence the behavior of children? Hundreds of studies, done since the early 1960s--experimental studies of small numbers of children and large field studies in different cultures, using a variety of techniques(17)--broadly agree that children of both sexes who are heavy viewers of television are more aggressive than children who are light Viewers.(18) Viewing violent television not only affects their behavior but also their attitudes, beliefs, and values. Youngsters who are heavy viewers of television, for example, are generally more fearful of violence in the real world.(19) Many are desensitized to violence, less moved by it, less responsive to it.(20)
The content of television directed toward children presents males and females in stereotypical roles; heavy viewers, in their sex role attitudes, show the influence of what they have seen on television.(21) In its portraits of the very young and the very old, in its portrayal of doctors and police, in its treatment of the mentally ill, television conventions seriously distort real life situations.(22)
As children grow older, they become more capable of grasping complex stories in part because they know more about the world, but also because they are more familiar with the forms and structure of television, having become television literate. They find situation comedies agreeable. Like cartoons, they are "marked" with a laugh track rather than with unusual sounds, but the effects on attention and comprehension are the same. Sitcoms, over the years, have become one of the most enduring and popular forms of television. They are not violent. Laugh tracks tell children that something important has happened; this, in turn, helps to introduce them to the manners and values of their culture, especially sexual manners.(23)
As children move into early adolescence, around nine to ten years, their tastes become more gender differentiated; they begin to resemble the tastes of adults. Many girls like soap operas, believing that it teaches them about life; many boys like action adventure, for many of the same reasons. The action adventure programs feature males in lead roles, usually triumphing over an evil villain. These messages are especially appealing to boys. Shows featuring male heroes also appeal to girls, though the reverse is not true; boys tend to avoid programs in which girls or women are in the lead roles. This is one reason why there are so few television programs for children with females in lead roles; they are simply not as profitable.
Are children not doing what they have always done, observing, society in order to learn about their place in it? Does television not inform them of manners and mores, just as in an earlier age children acquired such information from observing those around them?
The simple answer: yes and no. Yes, children are doing what they have always done, with less help than ever from adults; no, television does not inform them about the world--it frequently misinforms them. Television is not designed to provide information about the real world to children. When used in this way, it does a very poor job. Modern television, particularly as utilized in the United States at this time, has only one purpose. That purpose is to sell things. Television is fundamentally a marketing device. Its values are the values of the marketplace; its structure and content mirror that purpose.
The task of those who program television is to capture the public's attention, and to hold it long enough to advertise a product. Given human psychology, this is not easy. Human beings are easily bored, easily desensitized. To gain our attention, television is constantly obliged to change. Its interests are only in the immediate present; it has no concern to dwell on problems that defy short-term solutions. The recent riots in Los Angeles, prime-time news for a week, are forgotten in a month, if television is taken to be a mirror of the public's memory.
Television drama has no reason to be concerned with reality. If distorting reality gains attention, distortion will occur. Winning audience attention is the primary concern of television; even that part said to be "educational." Although educational television is not, for the most part, concerned with selling products, it competes with commercial television for an audience.
Television lives in the present; it has no respect for the past, little interest in the future. Watching television encourages such attitudes; they can be disastrous for children. One of the prime functions of education, both at home and in school, is to connect the past with the future, to show how the present derives from what has gone before, how the future is related to both.
Television is ruled by the clock. Whatever drama or uncertainty is introduced must be resolved and satisfied by the end of the program. The products are there to be sold. Time dictates movement to another program, to other products. Television resembles schools in at least this respect. If a student becomes interested in a specific topic, if a revealing and exciting discussion begins just before the bell, there is no reprieve from the tyranny of the clock. The bell rings--it is time to change topics. Such attitudes trivialize interest and impede learning; they tell children not to become too involved in anything. Is it any wonder that teachers report that children's attention wanders, that they do not stick to anything for very long, even things they themselves choose?(24) Neither television nor schools promote interest in topics beyond what the dock allows; this trivializes the pursuit of knowledge.
Television shows no real curiosity, and it is not a common attribute among children addicted to its programs. Television, the ultimate "know it all," has no place for mystery. Real mystery takes time to understand; it presumes a fundamental base of knowledge, stimulated by real world situations.
There may be a 30-second news sound bite about a real mystery, but children have little interest in the news; they watch other things, sometimes television shows about mysteries. One, called "Unsolved Mysteries," is usually about trivia--a spaceship that landed somewhere in New Jersey or some other comparable make-believe event. This is not reality; it is not mystery.
If children today are cruel to each other, as some say, lack compassion, laugh at weakness, and have contempt for people whose need for help shows too plainly, are any of these attitudes attributable to what is shown on television? The poor and unfortunate, rarely represented on television, when shown, are typically held up to ridicule. Wealth is the key to a good life on television; the most admired are rich, live in mansions, and drive around in stretch limos.
The really absurd thing is that nobody on television is shown working for the wealth they display. There is no connection between hard work and the good life. Children, looking for the quick fix, seek the good fife as television defines it--having things--but they do not know how to get them. How could they? Showing working people is an anathema to television; a waste of time! It makes for boring television, and that is impermissible. On television, every moment has to be arousing, every event attention-getting. Under these circumstances, it is impossible to represent the causal relationship between work and wealth, or any others not easily depicted and visually presentable.
As Nicholas Johnson, a former commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, once said, "All television is educational: The question is, what does it teach?" Let us consider a few specific cases. For about the last ten years, the country has been engaged in what is euphemistically called a "War on Drugs." Almost everyone agrees that a central feature of this "war" is the educational component. As part of the effort, several organizations like the Partnership for a Drug Free America have sponsored brief 30-second Public Service Announcements (PSAs) on television, urging the public, especially the young, to avoid drug use. The influence of these brief messages is unknown, but the scant evidence available suggests that they are not especially effective.(25) Why not?
One reason, perhaps, is that while television will occasionally urge people to avoid drugs, the more common message suggests that television approves of the use of drugs. To test the proposition, Cynthia Scheibe, Tim Christensen, and I did a study of prodrug and antidrug messages on television. A representative sample of 1989 television content (programs and ads) were coded; every message pertaining to drugs--either prodrug (where someone taking a drug was shown in a positive light), or antidrug (where someone taking a drug was shown in a negative light)--was interpreted.(26) We limited our analysis to messages concerning alcoholic beverages, smoking tobacco, or drugs taken orally, inhaled, or smoked. If someone was shown drinking or smoking cigarettes, enjoying themselves without negative consequences, we called this a "prodrug message." If someone, doing these things, came to harm in some way, we considered this an "antidrug message."
During the 36 hours of television sampled, from two typical days, there were 149 drug-related messages. Of these, 121 were prodrug (81.2 percent), twenty-two were antidrug (14.8 percent), and six were ambiguous. For every antidrug message, six were prodrug. For certain drugs, the ratio was even larger; for alcohol alone, for example, there were ten prodrug messages for every antidrug message.
Many of the "prodrug" messages occur in product advertisements for over-the-counter medicines, beer, or wine. They are also represented in role portrayals where characters happily use legal drugs--cigarettes and alcohol--to make themselves feel better, celebrate success, pick themselves up after a defeat, relax after a hard day.
For every message on television that says, "Just say no," there are six that say, "If you don't like the state you are in, take a drug to change it." Can't sleep? Take a drug. Can't stay awake? Take a drug. Want to lose weight? Take a drug. Feeling a little down? Take a drug, or have a beer or a glass of wine. Thus, while public service campaigns may be working to influence attitudes on the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse, the majority of messages on television portray a world in which drug and alcohol use is alarmingly common. What does this teach the young about the use and abuse of substances? Does it not really say that drugs are legitimate, part of the common culture, except for the few, of course, that are not on the approved list?(27)
The portrayal of sex on television is not very different. Many preadolescent and adolescent children watch television, seeing it as a source of information about sexual behavior. Such information, not otherwise widely available, with many parents having difficulty talking to their children about sex, is crucial for many. In a 1969 survey, parents and peers were mentioned as principal sources of information about sexuality; television did not figure. In a survey conducted in 1987, two-thirds of the adult respondents believed that television encouraged sexual activity in teenagers, and did not portray sexuality in a manner that could be described as realistic.(28)
A 1986 study asked 1,100 adolescent children, aged ten to fourteen, what television programs they watched. A content analysis of the sexual portrayals in these programs followed.(29) Most references to sex were verbal, not visual. Sexual intercourse was generally between unmarried couples. Sex was most commonly portrayed in the afternoon soap operas. In the evening shows, sexual behavior was commonly rendered in a humorous vein, with serious portrayals confined to the late evening programs such as Dallas. Homosexuality, seldom mentioned, figured frequently as a humorous theme. It was uncommon for the ordinary range of loving, sexual behavior to be represented in such shows.
The average adolescent viewer was exposed to some 2,500 references to sex a year on television.(30) One researcher wrote:
Sex is treated as a prelude to, or context for, violence or is viewed as an
aspect of life to be treated with nervous laughter. On situation comedies
and variety shows, characters touch, kiss, embrace, and through seductive
innuendo and flirtation suggest sexual intimacy; these suggestive messages
are usually accompanied by canned laughter.(31)
Is it any wonder that children today have difficulty with intimacy? Sexual behavior cannot be learned from television for two reasons: first, the portrayals are generally false and distorted; second, we are told nothing about what we might value or prefer from the range of possibilities that exist.
It is not just the informational structure of television that ought to concern us; its value structure is equally flawed. Analyzing the values expressed in commercials in 1983, using a well-recognized scale that divides values into traits that are a means to a end, instrumental values, and those that are ends in themselves, terminal values, we learn a great deal. A person may value hard work, for example, because it leads to financial security; by this definition, "hard work" is an instrumental value; "financial security" is a terminal value. When this scale is offered, the most important instrumental values reported are being honest, helpful, responsible, and broad-minded. Typical terminal values include: equality, peace, and a world of beauty.(32) By coding the values expressed in a random sample of all television commercials, a profile emerges of what the ads tell us we ought to be.(33)
The most frequently mentioned instrumental values in commercials were "capable," "helpful," and "smart"; the least frequently mentioned were "courageous" and "forgiving." Of the values relating to personal appearance, the most frequently stressed were "beautiful" and "youthful." "Sexy" appeared relatively infrequently, in about 6 percent of the commercials analyzed.
In contrast to these instrumental values, one terminal value dominated all the rest: "happiness." The value of happiness was emphasized in nearly 60 percent of all commercials, mentioned more than twice as often as any other value. "Social recognition" was the second most frequently mentioned terminal value. Self-serving or self-oriented terminal values (for example, personal happiness, an exciting fife, social recognition) registered much more frequently than certain more altruistic values, such as "equality" and "friendship."
The value profile was different for different program types; values on children's programs, for example, were different from the overall sample. Commercials designed especially for children had lower frequencies than the overall sample for nearly all so-called altruistic values. They tended, instead, to stress playing hard, having fun, being happy. Commercials on programs designed for children rarely stressed being helpful or obedient; the value of good health rarely figured. The values stressed by commercials extolling selfish and self-serving values over altruistic values ought to give us pause.
The values conveyed by specific programs are more difficult to study; the programs are longer, and the values expressed are less obvious in an overall story line than a few words spoken in a 30-second commercial. Still, there is the same distortion of facts about the real world. Most people believe, for example, that criminals get away with crimes because the courts are too lenient, prison sentences are too short. The facts are in fact precisely the opposite. In most American cities, only 15-18 percent of all reported felonies ever result in arrests. Of that number, most are convicted, sent away for long periods of time. There are three times as many people in prison today as there were ten or twelve years ago; we have the longest prison sentences of any industrialized nation in the Western world.(34)
Where, then, do we get our ideas about crime and punishment if the facts are at such variance with common opinion? The answer may be that television shows, generally as a dramatic device, portray just such a situation. On television, criminals are usually caught by the police, but they often escape punishment because of lenient and permissive judges. Police, seldom if ever, make mistakes on television; they know the guilty person before they catch him. Seeing such shows every night, week in and week out, beliefs about the police and justice--the very shape and form of the American democracy--are instilled. It is impossible to believe that repeated exposure to stories of this sort does not play a role in the political decisions reached by legislators and the votes of the electorate.
The moral value structure of television is completely interwoven with the portrayal of character. In research on this topic, individuals, watching a television show, were asked to rate the morality of various actions on a scale from good to bad. Participants in the research were required to express their liking for each character. We learned that the morality of a specific action depended on who did it.(35) Moral behavior, presented on television, depends for its rightness or wrongness on whether the act is done by a character who is admired and liked, or by one who is distrusted and disliked. Many behaviors that would ordinarily be considered "immoral" (blackmail, murder, robbery, and the like) are acceptable if they are done by someone who enjoys the good opinion of the audience.
There appear to be different moral structures available to those who view a program depending on their familiarity with the characters.(36) The moral judgments of people unfamiliar with the characters seem to be made on a scale of ideal morality, without factoring in the likability of the characters. But the moral judgments of people familiar with the characters, those who "know" and have feelings for or against the characters, are quite different. What is wrong for people we do not like is right for those we care for.
This is the moral structure of most programs studied, including programs for both adults and children. Whether something is right or wrong, then, at least on television, depends on who does it, not what is done. The values of television are focused on the characters. There are good people and bad people; the good people can do no wrong; the bad people can do no right. If this sounds familiar, it is; this is the moral outlook of a five year old.
All of these examples suggest that television cannot be a useful source of information for children. Indeed, it may be a dangerous source of information. It offers ideas that are false, unreal; it has no coherent value system, other than consumerism; it provides little useful information about the self. All of this makes television a terrible instrument for socialization. Since it was never meant to be a tool for the socialization of the young, children who use it in this manner face the possibility of growing up absurd.
We must stop kidding ourselves about television; we must start acting on what we now know. Some parents may be expected to restrict the amount of time children are allowed to watch television, using as an excuse the one that would be employed if the child wanted to eat nothing but Frosted Flakes; such a diet is deleterious to health. Personal, communal, physical, and mental damage is inflicted. Not all parents will say this; not all believe it.
Those parents who do, should talk about the television they watch with their children, commenting on the parts that seem particularly false deceptive. This may help, but it must be noted that most research on parent-child viewing patterns shows that there is relatively little coviewing, except in the evening in certain homes where parents control the program content.(37) Wise parents will talk with their children about the programs they watch in the early afternoon, on Saturday and Sunday morning, when adults are not present. This may make children more critical about using television as the principal source of information about the world.
If we accept that children will watch some television, we must do what we can to improve what is available to them. It is essential that good educational programs are adequately funded, many more than now exist. Programs, useful to children, must be produced in greater number. There is no reason why these programs cannot be entertaining. They will necessarily compete with commercially-produced programs, and the battle will not be easily won. To fight strenuously for the health and happiness of children is not an easy matter.
Children need to be taught about television in school, both about the programs and the ads. We need to instruct children in what use can be made of television, and where it is not useful. If children learn that the acquisition of goods is not the supreme purpose of life, and that many of the values taught in the television programs and ads contradict what is taught in school, that will be a pure gain. Instead of ignoring television, schools ought to encourage children to discuss programs, the ideas, good and bad, that are communicated. Schools should develop instructional programs to teach children to be critical viewers of television, doing so at a very, early age. Allow them to use video equipment to make small shows and commercials; let them understand for themselves how easy it is for the camera to distort reality.
Many American children are troubled today; one of the reasons is that they spend too much of their childhood watching television. Television viewing is a thief of time; it robs children of critical hours required for learning about the world, about one's place in it. That is bad enough, but television is more than a thief; it is a liar. When they watch television, children see it as a reasonable source of information about the world. It is not, but there is no way for them to know this. For the little truth television communicates, there is much that is false and distorted, about values as well as facts.
The dramatic program content of television is exceptionally violent compared to the everyday life it pretends to present. "Action cartoons," watched by millions of children, contain some of the most violent scenes now visible on television. Children respond to what they see by themselves acting more violently, showing insensitivity to violence, acquiring beliefs and values that tell them that the world is a "mean and dangerous" place where violent action is to be expected and admired.
While television viewing affects the actions, values, and beliefs of those who watch it, it does not affect everyone equally. It depends on how much time is spent watching the screen and the content of the programs viewed. The knowledge of the viewer and his or her social surroundings--particularly the social (family) context of the viewing--are critical factors in mediating the influence of television. Because so few families do much "mediating" of television, and because schools are equally uninvolved, children are left alone to make what sense they can of the medium and its offerings.
Television exerts a powerful influence on the young precisely because other institutions that touch American children, at the moment, are functioning so poorly. At another time and place, television might not have had the influence it enjoys today. Is it romantic to believe that some part of childhood in other centuries was given over to the telling of stories and tales, and, in more recent times, to reading to the very young, encouraging it in older children? For many young children, television has replaced family folktales with modern, homogeneous, and less coherent stories. Time spent in watching television takes the child away from reading; reading skills are poorly developed and the value of reading is unappreciated. Children are given over to an unfaithful servant who exposes them to "casual tales told by casual people."(38)
In many ways, the problems of the schools are mirrored in television. Excellence is a lost art in the schools, and is hardly ever recognized on television. Curiosity is diminished, and involvement is not required--the schools and the producers of television are agreed at least on this point. The term educate is replaced with the term "trained." Who teaches values? The schools? The churches? The family? Television certainly does. But are the values of television the only ones we would have our children adopt?
Most of us who watch television as a steady habit are influenced by its content, distorted in more ways than its emphasis on violence. Whose fault is it that children watch too much television, that television is harmful to the developing child? Who is to blame?
Television itself bears a considerable share of the responsibility. Television is a greedy American institution; it serves the interests of its corporate sponsors far more than it does the interest of the public.(39) Since its inception, television has used excessive, gratuitous violence as an attention-getting device; in the face of widespread public condemnation, it has continued to do so. The commercialization of the medium pervades everything that it does. Television, while responsible for its content, cannot be blamed for the manner in which people use it.
Are children, then, to blame? Is it their fault that the information conveyed on television is so distorted? Or, is it the fault of the schools, entrusted with the job of teaching about our culture, who have failed so conspicuously to teach about television?
Television is not going to disappear, and it is unlikely ever to change sufficiently to make it a reasonable environment for the socialization of children. This fact must be accepted. We may tinker with content, make certain that better programs are made available to children, but the more important need is to discourage children from using television as a source for information about the world. If we insist that children watch less television, we need to provide them with other ideas of how they might spend their time. Children need to know about themselves as much as they need to know the world; this information is only obtained from acting in the world, from real human interaction. Children need more experience, and less television.
Television cannot teach children what they need to know as they grow into adolescence and adulthood. Television is an advertising medium; as such, it has a legitimate place. It may be entertaining; there is nothing intrinsically wrong with entertainment. Television may be informative, and that is a good. Still, as an instrument of socialization, it fails; this must be recognized and acted on. Schools and families need to do a better job than they are now doing, and they need all the help that is available. Reducing the influence of television in the lives of children is a good first step. The time to take that step is now.

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 TV and children by Carol Makela de Rosales on October 1, 2004
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