Essay: Children as Audience and Impact of Television

Introduction
Nowadays television plays increasingly more important role in the life of people and the category the most susceptible to the impact of television are children. Obviously, this invention of the 20th century has contributed significantly to the development of technologies, telecommunications, culture but what is probably more important it affected the lifestyle greatly. In such a situation, it should be pointed out that the impact of television is not always positive. On the contrary, nowadays it is possible to speak about a very serious negative impact of television on people’s psychology, health, social behavior, etc.

Naturally, in such a situation, children are in great danger to suffer from negative effects of television for the earlier an individual starts watching television, the more influence he/she will be.

Unfortunately, the development of television in recent years is rapid, but there are a few indications of the improvement of the general situation as for its negative impact on a personality. This is why it is extremely important to start working on the solution of the problem, especially about children since they are influenced much easier by television and more seriously than adults because of the peculiarity of their psychology which is in the process of formation. Obviously, the problem of the impact of television on children may be solved by recommendations, which neutralize its negative effects.

Chapter 1: Children and television
Traditionally, television is considered as a very influential media that effects directly or not practically all people, regardless their social status, educational level, or cultural preferences. At the same time, since the start of the television era specialists warned against potential danger hidden in this new invention of mankind.

However, before discussing negative effects of television and its impact on children, it is necessary to briefly analyse the extent to which children are involved in watching television. In other words, it is necessary to define the time children spend watching TV and what its role in their life is and will be.

First of all, it should be said that nowadays children spent much more time watching television than they did a couple of decades ago, for instance. To put it more precisely, according to statistics data in the US, children are watching an average 19 hours 40 minutes of television per week while a typical American household has a TV set turned on for about 7 hours a day (Donnerstay and Strasburger 2000) that indicates the potential possibility of increase of the amount of time spent by children watching television. At this respect, it is quite interesting to note that, according to Donnerstag and Strasburger research, “the time youngsters graduate from high school, they will have spent about 1,000 hours in school but over 15,000 hours watching TV” (2000:58). In longer terms perspective it may result in much more impressive results, for instance, according to the same research, an average child today will have watched an estimated 7 to 10 years of television by the time they are 70 years old.

Consequently, it is obvious that the time spent on watching TV by children can constitute about a tenth of their entire life that makes television and what they receive from it extremely important and the effect of television may be crucial. As a result, if the negative effects of television are really strong than a significant part of children’s life will be spent under their impact.

Anyway, the statistics of the amount of time spent on watching television is quite contrasting in comparison to the statistics concerning their relations to parents. At this respect, it is quite interesting to note that, in contrast to almost 20 hours spent on watching TV, children spend only 38,5 minutes in meaningful conversations with their parents. Consequently, it is even possible to say that in a way television gets to be more important and meaningful for children than there own parents.

Another remarkable fact, about children’s watching television is the fact that an average child sees over 20,000 commercials per year. Obviously, it is very important because since their childhood individuals are influenced by commercials via television that can influence their further buying habits and preferences but its effects, basically negative, will be discussed a bit later.

At the same time, it should be pointed out that there may be distinguished different categories of children watching television. To put it more precisely, basically, there are distinguished heavy and light viewers. The former spend 4 or more hours watching while the latter spend about 1 hour or even less per day. Furthermore, a significant difference between the two categories of viewers is in the fact that heavy viewers “put in less efforts on school work, have poorer reading skills, play less well with friends, have fewer hobbies and activities, and are more likely to overweight” (Donnerstay and Strasburger 1999:134). Naturally, these are the general consequences of watching television that are rather negative. On the other hand, it is obvious that the impact of television may be different depending on the time children spend watching television that indicates at one of the possible solution of possible negative effects through reducing the time of watching television.

Finally, it should be said that regardless whether children are light or heavy viewers they are still susceptible to the influence of television, it simply the degree of the influence that differs. This is why, it is necessary to reveal what precisely are negative effects of watching television in order to better realise the ways of the prevention of possible problems children may face in the result of watching television, especially insignificant amount of time.

Chapter 2: Negative impact of watching television
Unfortunately, numerous studies held in recent years reveal a disturbing trend to increasing negative impact of television on children and their development. In fact, watching television affects children in different ways: psychologically, physically, culturally. The only thing that cannot be denied is a variety of negative effects.

Probably, one of the most serious negative effects television produce on children is violence they watch on television regularly and sometimes it even does not depend on their will or conscious choice made either by children or their parents. Briefly summarising the violence on television and its impact on children, it is possible to make four main trends: 1) children become ‘immune’ to the horror of violence; 2) gradually accept violence as a way to solve problems; 3) imitate the violence they observe on television; 4) children identify themselves with certain characters, i.e. victims or/and victimizers (Cullingford 1984).

In order to better understand the reasons why violence on television produces such a significant impact on children, it is necessary to draw some examples and statistics. For instance, about five violent acts are committed during one hour of ‘prime time’ evening television programming and 20 to 25 violent acts occur each hour on Saturday morning ‘children’s programs’. Moreover, children in their formative years are influenced by the violence on television that is particularly dangerous since it is the period when the basis of their personalities is formed. However, in the period before children leave elementary school, those who watch the typical amount of television will see about 20,000 of murders and more than 80,000 of other assaults. In general, it constitutes 100,000 violent acts that children witnessed before they become teenagers and the more children watch television the more violent acts they witness and the more they are affected by it (Doubleday and Droege 1993).

At this respect, particularly dangerous are ‘realistic’ programs, which are perceived by children as taken from real life. However, regardless the nature of the program the children watch the violence they see results in extremely negative effects. Not surprisingly that children may “become less sensitive to the pain and sufferings of others, they may be more fearful of the world around them, and they may be more likely to behave in aggressive or harmful ways toward others” (Lowe 1981:344).

Among the possible negative consequences of violence children witness on television, aggressiveness is probably the most socially dangerous because it may provoke anti-social or even delinquent behaviour of children. At the same time, it is noteworthy that even a single violent program may lead to increase of children’s aggressiveness.

Moreover, Lowe underlines that “children who view shows in which violence is very realistic, frequently repeated or unpunished, are more likely to repeat what they see” (1981:367). This is the direct evidence of the idea mentioned above concerning the increase of aggressiveness in the result of watching realistic programs. The situation may be deteriorated dramatically if the situation within the family contributes to children’s violent and aggressive behaviour. In such circumstances, violence on television serves as a stimulus, as the last straw that make children project the violence they watched on television on surrounding people, including their peers.

Another, consequences of violence children watch on television is their desensitization to real-life violence. As it has been said children project what they watch on television on real-life situations, including violence. At this respect, it is noteworthy that violence in news coverage produces a particularly significant impact on children since it is taken from real life.

However, violence and its consequences along with aggressiveness are not the only negative effects of children’s watching television. In addition, it is necessary to mention a negative impact of watching television on children’s health. Notably in recent years obesity has become an extremely serious problem that acquires epidemic features and the contribution of television to the development of this illness is quite significant. Since watching television is a sedentary activity it naturally may result in obesity since children remain passive instead of some active games or playing sport that children could normally practice if they spent less time watching television.

At the same time, it is not only the lifestyle provoking obesity that is developed because of watching television, but children are also seriously affected by junk food commercials which stimulate children to eat unhealthy food. It is noteworthy that, according to American Academy of Paediatrics, “most food advertising on children’s TV shows is for fast food, candy and pre-sweetened cereals” (2001:424) while commercials for healthy food make up only 4% of those shows (Amstrong and Brucks 1988). In such a way both a sedentary character of watching television along with junk food commercials lead to the development of obesity at very young age.

On the other hand, it is necessary to indicate that television affects not only physical but also psychological and even mental health of viewers, especially children. As some research shows, “viewers feel an instant sense of relaxation when they start to watch TV – but that feeling disappears just as quickly when the box is turned off” (Kurdek and Rodgon 1975:647). Ironically, usually children as well as adults watch television longer than they plan despite the fact that prolonged viewing is less rewarding because after watching television they usually feel depleted of energy. At this respect, playing sports or active games is much more energizing and contributing to children’s health but because of television children spend less time on these activities.

Also, television is one of the reasons for children’s low academic successes because children spent less time on activities crucial to their healthy mental and physical development, while the time of watching television increases dramatically. This is particularly dangerous because according to Kurdek and Rodgon research, “most of the children’s free time, especially during the early formative years, should be spent in activities such as playing, reading, exploring nature, learning about music, or participating in sports” (1975:644).

Finally, one more negative effect of television is sexual messages and images children are simply bombarded while watching television. For instance, according to Donnerstay and Strasburger (1999), three out of four prime-time shows contain sexual references. Notably, situation comedies top the list with 84% of them contain sexual content. At the same time, only one in ten of shows with sexual contents include references to safe sex, or the possible responsibilities of sex. As a result, it shows that portray teens in sexual situations, only 17% contain messages about safe and responsible sex (Donnerstay and Strasburger 1999). Consequently, the general impact of sexual content television is rather negative though it could contribute to educating young people about risks and responsibilities of sexual behavior.

Thus, television has a number of negative effects that have to be eliminated or at list minimized.

Chapter 3: Alternatives to negative impact of television and recommendations to watching television
In order to neutralise negative impact of television, it is necessary to find possible alternatives and not only alternatives to television at large but also alternative within television. It means that television is obviously a very powerful tool influencing children psychologically, mentally and physically. In such a situation it is necessary to direct the impact of television on educational purposes. In such a way the problem may be solved since the negative effects will decrease while educational, i.e. positive impact will increase. It can be done through the development of educational programs that could be interesting for children and integrating such programs in the learning process. It is also important to get children used to watching such programs regularly and this obviously needs a cooperation of both educators and parents who could guide children in television or develop educational programs.

On the other hand, television can also contribute to the development of children’s cultural experience and this can occur unconsciously while watching different programs or movies where children learns some information about different cultures or even about their own. It is not a secret that television can develop certain models of behaviour and children often imitate what they watch on television in the real life.

As a result, the content of the program they watch is also of a paramount importance. Consequently, quality shows, programs or even movies can teach children important values and provide useful lessons. This is why it is possible to presuppose that through the development of such programs the impact of television may be rather positive than negative, especially if children watch them regularly.
Nonetheless, it is difficult to use television for educational purposes to promote important values, moral norms, and models of behaviour while the negative effects are quite strong. Consequently, along with the development of quality programs it is necessary to solve the problem of negative effects of television.

Obviously, the development of educational programs and other programs aiming at positive development of children naturally cuts the time children spend in watching other shows, programs and movies which may be dangerous for their psychology and mental health. However, it is insufficient effort and needs to be supported by certain restrictions and regulations limiting the amount of time children can suffer from negative effects of television. What is meant here is the idea that it is important to limit the amount of violence, for instance, children watch on television as well as other negative effects of television.

This can be done by parent through limitation of watching certain programs, which expose children to higher risk of watching issues, which have been defined above as producing negative effects, i.e. violence, junk food commercials, sexual content, etc. On the other hand, it is not always possible to set limits on all violent programs, for instance, and children willingly or not can watch violent issues. In such a situation, along with suggested limits, it is possible to recommend discussing with children what they watch on television. In such a way, parents can really make watching television meaningful for children and help them better understand moral norms and models of socially accepted behaviour and clearly distinguish fantasy children watch on television and reality they face in everyday life.

Naturally, before setting any limits on watching television by children, parents should know well what their children actually watch and than develop their ‘culture’ of watching useful programs, shows, etc. that contribute to their educational, moral, and cultural development.

Unfortunately, limiting and regulation of what children watch on television is obviously not enough to prevent all negative effects of television. As it has been mentioned television affects not only psychological or mental health of children but physical health as well. This is why the recommendations mentioned above turns to be ineffective in coping with sedentary nature of television and even though children watch only ‘good’ programs they still will be passive and it won’t help solve the problem of obesity, for instance. Consequently, it is necessary to seek for alternatives that could substitute television.

To improve the physical health of children, it is possible to recommend children’s participating in sports or playing active games with peers. As for psychological and mental health, other media may be suggested, such as video and computer games (but they also have to be strictly limited and regulated since many of them can also negatively affect children, especially violent games), reading books, or simply suggest to explore surrounding nature with the help of trips, for instance, or visiting museums, expositions, etc.

Anyway, if parents want their children were less negatively affected by television have to set a good example through watching the programs parents want their children watch and leading a healthy way of life participating in sports, etc. In such a way, children will have the best model of behaviour that no program on television can really substitute.

Conclusion
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that nowadays television play a really significant role in the life of people and it affects dramatically the development of children. Unfortunately, the effects of television on children’s development are rather negative since often programs, shows, and movies children watch on television contain violence, sexual messages and images, advertisement of unhealthy food, etc. This is why it is particularly important to prevent children from these negative impacts and the recommendations mentioned above can be really helpful. Obviously, television is very important but children as well as their parents have to be very careful with it and the sooner they understand the potential danger hidden in it, the sooner they will cope with the negative consequences they may suffer from in the result of heavy watching of television. Anyway, television cannot substitute the real life but it can change it, if watching television is uncontrolled and unlimited.

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