ERIC Identifier: ED320662
Publication Date: 1990-00-00
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood
Education Urbana IL.
Guidelines for Family Television Viewing. ERIC Digest.
Children in the U.S. view an average of 3-5 hours of television daily.
It is difficult to document effects of such extensive television exposure
on children. However, research indicates that television viewing may be
linked to violent or aggressive behavior, obesity, poor academic performance,
precocious sexuality, and the use of drugs or alcohol. Thus, it is important
that parents help their children use television as a positive, creative
force, and help them avoid television's negative influences.
ASPECTS OF VIEWING
1. Time Spent Watching Television. When children spend 3-5 hours a day
watching television, time for other activities is severely limited. Childhood
is a period of growth and development, when children need to play, alone
and with other children. Children need to read and talk with other children
and adults.2. Violence on Television. The amount of violence on television
is increasing. A recent report from the National Institute of Mental Health
indicates that television violence can be harmful to young children. Children
can become frightened, worried or suspicious from watching violence on
TV. Researchers have also found that children who watch many violent programs
tend to be more aggressive than other children on the playground and in
class. Parents should realize that viewing violent programs may encourage
their children's tendency toward aggression. Parents also need to keep
in mind that television often portrays sexual behavior and the use of alcohol
or drugs in realistic or inviting terms.
3. TV and Learning. Many recent studies indicate that excessive television
viewing may have a detrimental effect on learning and school performance.
The hours spent viewing television interfere with homework and limit the
time available for other ways of learning. If a child is not performing
well academically, television watching may be a strong factor contributing
to the problem.
4. Commercials. The average child sees more than 20,000 commercials
a year. Advertisers spend roughly $700 million annually to make sure that
their sales pitches reach large numbers of children. The majority of food
advertising is for heavily sugared products such as candy and pre-sweetened
cereal. Commercials for meat, milk products, bread, and juice make up only
about 4% of the food ads shown during children's viewing time. This emphasis
can give children a distorted picture of how they ought to eat. A recent
study found a direct relationship between amount of television viewing
and children's risk of obesity.
GUIDELINES FOR PARENTS
Here are some ideas that will help parents guide their children's TV viewing:1.
Set Limits. Know how many hours of television your children watch. Limit
your children's viewing to one or two hours per day. Don't be afraid to
reduce the amount of television your children watch. Your children probably
won't like being kept away from the television set. Television is seductive.
The programs your children watch are apt to be filled with commercials
promoting other programs. The word-of-mouth campaign that goes on in playgrounds
and school cafeterias is powerful and pervasive. But establishing good
habits for your children is worth the effort. Television watching is often
more habit than choice.
Don't be surprised if your children go through a sort of withdrawal
when the television time is reduced. You can ease the transition by encouraging
alternative activities such as sports, games, chores, reading, conversation,
or hobbies. You can help by joining your children in these activities.
Because children model their behavior after their parents' example, an
examination of your own television viewing habits may also help. Be a good
Eliminate some TV watching by setting a few basic rules, such as no
television during meals, or before household tasks or homework are completed.
2. Plan. Encourage children to plan their viewing by using a TV GUIDE
or newspaper listing rather than flipping the channels to decide what to
watch. The set should go on only for specific programs, and it should go
off when they are over. Approach a television program as you would a movie.
Help children decide which show to see, and talk about the show after it
ends. Select programs that feature children in your child's age range.
Try to balance action, comedy, fine arts, and sports.
Don't reward or withhold television in order to punish. Such practices
make television seem even more important.
3. Participate. Know what your children watch on television. Watch with
them and talk about the programs. TV programs may help you discuss difficult
topics such as sex and war. Follow up interesting programs with library
books. Explain situations that are confusing. Ask the child about his or
her responses to the program when it is over. Discuss the difference between
fantasy and reality. The worst program may be a good experience for your
children if you are there to help them get the right message, while the
best program may be wasted without your encouragement to think, evaluate,
Parents who watch television with their children will be able to point
out that violence on television is not real, and that the actor has not
actually been killed or maimed. Parents can also show disapproval of the
violent episodes and stress that such behavior is not the best way to resolve
a problem. By discussing the violence shown on television, parents can
lessen its impact.
The best solution, of course, is for parents to eliminate the most violent
programs from their children's schedule. Remember that lock-out devices
will ensure that certain channels cannot be seen. If you are offended by
certain programs and intend to forbid your children to watch them, try
to communicate your reasons. If your children are watching a program, and
you see behavior to which you object, tell them so, and explain your objection.
The Center for Early Education and Development's publication "How Can
I Guide My Child's TV Viewing?" lists psychologist John Murray's recommendations
for actions parents can take to deal with violent programs:
--Watch at least one episode of each program your child watches so you
know how violent it is.
--When you are viewing together, discuss the violence with your child.
Talk about why the violence happened and how painful it was. Ask your child
for ideas about how the conflict could have been resolved without violence.
--Explain to your child how violence on entertainment programs is faked
and what might happen if other people casually tried these same stunts.
--Encourage your child to watch programs with characters who cooperate
and care for each other. Such programs have been shown to influence children
in positive ways.
4. Resist Commercials. Don't expect your children to resist commercials
for candy and snack foods without help from you. The ability to see through
a sales pitch is learned fairly late and with difficulty. Poor eating habits
can be picked up early and with ease. Advertisers have market researchers,
writers, producers, and saturation campaigns with big budgets on their
side. When your children request foods and toys advertised on television,
teach them that television makes them want things they don't necessarily
need and that may even be harmful. Help the child analyze commercials.
Note the exaggerated claims, and the fact that the makers of the product
pay for advertising.
5. Express Your Views. The most effective way to change commercials
or programs is to call your local television station. When you are offended
or pleased by something on television, let the station manager know. Write
or call the network or the program's sponsor. Stations, networks, and sponsors
are all concerned about the effects of television on children and are responsive
to parents' concerns. Be specific. Don't call or write just to complain.
It is also important to voice your approval. Programs you like may not
have high ratings, and your support may help keep them on the air.
If you feel a commercial is inaccurate or misleading, write down the
name of the product, the channel, the time you saw the commercial, and
a brief description of your concern. Then call your local Better Business
Bureau with this information, or send it to the Children's Advertising
Review Unit, Council of Better Business Bureaus, Inc., 845 Third Avenue,
New York, NY 10022.
6. Get Help. Action for Children's Television (ACT, 20 University Road,
Cambridge, MA 02138) has been a leading public interest group.
This ERIC Digest was adapted from two publications:
"How Can I Guide My Child's TV Viewing?" from the Center for Early Education
and Development of the University of Minnesota, and
"Television and the Family," Copyright 1986, American Academy of Pediatrics.
Reprinted with permission.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Cecil, Nancy Lee. "Help Children Become More Critical TV Watchers." PTA
TODAY 13 (April, 1988): 12-14. Corporation for Public Broadcasting,
Washington, DC. "TV Tips for Parents: Using Television to Help Your Child
Learn." (1988). (ERIC Document Number: ED 299 948).
Lickona, Thomas. "TV: Taming the One-Eyed Dragon." PTA TODAY 12 (December-January,