Television Viewing and Young Children (page 2)
Television is one form of technology that has been available to parents and teachers for many years. Much has been written about the problems young children encounter as they interact with this technology. Time spent viewing, the content of programming, and advertising issues have all been concerns voiced about television viewing. An additional concern is the recent effort to promote television and video options for infants and toddlers. For example, a recent DVD series published by Sesame Beginnings uses popular Sesame Street characters such as Big Bird and Elmo to entice very young children to watch television programming at a very early age (Jacobson, 2006b). The National Association for the Education of Young Children (2005b) clearly identifies this as developmentally inappropriate practice. Despite these valid criticisms and concerns, limited television viewing in the early childhood classroom may be useful.
Time Spent Viewing
One major concern voiced about television use is the large amount of time children spend viewing. Children in the United States watch an average of 23 to 28 hours of television weekly (Hurst, 2004). One study also indicates that 30% of children from birth to age 3 and 43% of 4- to 6-year-olds have a television in their bedroom (Rideout, Vandewater, & Wartella, 2003). Children typically spend more time watching television than they spend in school, playing, or interacting with adults (Persson & Musher-Eizenman, 2003). Even if all the programming being watched was excellent, spending this much time in front of the television significantly decreases the child’s opportunities for other valuable experiences. For children during the early childhood years, the activity that television is most likely to replace is play.
Let’s create a typical day in the life of a 5-year-old child to see the potential impact of an average level of television viewing:
7:00 a.m. Wake up, dress, breakfast, television
8:30 a.m. Leave for kindergarten
2:30 p.m. After-school care (with 1 hour of TV viewing)
5:00 p.m. Home, television (1/2 hour), dinner
6:30 p.m. Television (11/2 hours)
8:00 p.m. Prepare for bed
It does not take much imagination to see that this child has little time for anything other than regular routines and about 3 hours of television viewing. The TV has crowded out most of the opportunities for socializing with others, being read to, or playing.
Because of the large amount of time many young children spend watching television, there are fewer opportunities for active physical play. This is seen by many as a major contributing factor in childhood obesity and health problems (Sorte & Daeschel, 2006). The lack of vigorous physical activity in the early years may well lead to a more sedentary lifestyle as an adult, compounding health and fitness problems in later life.
Sex, Violence, and Advertising
A careful analysis of television programming during prime time also shows considerable content that is inappropriate for young children. Sexual themes and acts of violence are often cited as problem areas (Cortes, 2000; Hurst, 2004; Thornton, 2002). Children are viewing a variety of adult-oriented sexual situations and many different acts of violence on a daily basis. It is estimated that the average child sees more than 200,000 acts of violence on television, including 40,000 murders by the age of 18 (Hurst, 2004). The ability of children to make sense of these situations is limited, at best, and leads to considerable confusion and misunderstanding. If something is on television, does that mean it is acceptable in the real world? Young children are struggling to define the borders between reality and fantasy. Unfortunately, television often blurs this already unclear distinction. The results are painfully evident in the inappropriate behaviors of young children.
Another problem area associated with television viewing is the advertising to which children are exposed. It is estimated that the average child sees approximately 40,000 commercials a year, many of them specifically targeting children as consumers (Kunkel, Wilcox, Cantor, Palmer, Linn, & Dowrick, 2004). The following concerns regarding children and TV advertising have been identified (Kunkel et al., 2004):
- Commercial recall and product preference
- Parent–child conflict over products purchased
- Materialistic attitudes
- Unhealthy eating habits
- Positive attitudes toward alcohol consumption
The preceding discussion suggests that television viewing has a strong negative impact on the lives of young children. Although research supports this perspective, other evidence indicates that children can benefit when they spend time watching quality programming. Educational programs like Sesame Street and Between the Lions are receiving good reports in terms of their impact on preparing children for school. Regular viewing of these programs has helped improve early literacy and mathematics skills (Rath, 2002; St. Clair, 2002; Wright & Huston, 1995). Although many television programs have limited value, educational programming may be a positive experience for many young children.
© ______ 2009, Merrill, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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