The Digital Beat -- Kids & Television

Gary Handman (
Thu, 2 Sep 1999 17:03:37 -0700 (PDT)

More fuel for the Turn-Off-Your-TV fire...

gary handman

>The Digital Beat v.1 no. 15
> Introduction
> AAP Policy on Media Education
> The Argument for Media Literacy
> Strategies for Parents
> Conclusion: Get Smart, Connected and Involved
>I. Introduction
>"Parents, Turn Off the TV" -- "Docs: No TV For Toddlers Under 2, Should Be
>Playing With Parents Instead" -- "Pediatricians: TV Sows Couch Potato Seeds"
>Headlines like these introduced parents to the new policy of the American
>Academy of Pediatrics in early August. Within days additional headlines
>"Baby Doctors Tampering Where They Don't Belong" -- "Edict On Kids' TV
>Viewing Leaves Too Little Wiggle Room" -- "Turn Off the TV? Get real,
>Parents Say"
>In a country where children watch an average of 3 to 4 hours of
>television programming each day, the recommendations of the AAP demand more
>examination than has been offered in the press so far. The child who watches
>3-4 hrs/day of noneducational TV will have seen 8,000 murders by the time
>they finish grade school and sees more than 20,000 commercials each year.
>The AAP policy statement goes past just issues of content, however, by
>questioning the potential effects of the medium itself on the very young.
>The fundamental questions are: What's good for kids? How do parents get the
>tools they need to do right by their kids concerning media.
>This Digital Beat provides a closer look at the AAP's recommendations,
>outlines the arguments for media literacy training, looks at additional
>guidelines for parents, and highlights the opportunities for you to get
>involved in the policy arena.
>II. AAP Policy on Media Education
>In the August issue of Pediatrics, the peer-reviewed scientific journal of
>the AAP, a new policy on media education was published. The policy
>recognizes the potential benefits of media use for children -- including
>educational television, though-provoking magazine articles and educational
>computer software -- but also warns of potential health risks for children
>and adolescents. The most publicized recommendation is that pediatricians
>urge parents to avoid television for children under 2 years of age.
>"While certain television programs may be promoted to this age group," AAP's
>press release read, "research on early brain development shows that babies
>and toddlers have a critical need for direct interactions with parents and
>other significant care givers for healthy brain growth and the development
>of appropriate social, emotional, and cognitive skills." Time spent with
>media like television, AAP's Committee on Public Education concluded,
>displaces involvement in creative, active and social pursuits.
>While some may criticize the academy for venturing into sociological
>with little direct connection to medical health issues, the study's authors
>say the influence of mass media is a public health concern.
>"Children who spend a lot of time in front of the TV set tend to gain
>weight," said Dr. Miriam Bar-on, assistant professor of pediatrics at
>Louisiana State University in New Orleans and a member of the Committee on
>Public Education. "Obesity is a physical health issue."
>Robert Lichter, president of nonprofit research group the Center for Media
>and Public Affairs, agreed that the specific recommendations for
>pediatricians to give parents was a new step. "This is part of a drive by
>health professionals to view certain social problems as public health
>problems," Mr. Lichter said, also noting recent efforts by the Centers for
>Disease Control and Prevention to treat gun use as a public health issue.
>"It's not a bad thing for health professionals to remind parents that they
>need to be aware of the risks," he said. "If you're worried about what your
>kid eats, you should worry about what your kid's watching."
>The new AAP statement on media education suggests parents create an
>"electronic media-free" environment in children's rooms. "Their bedrooms
>should be a sanctuary, a place where kids can reflect on what happened that
>day, where they can sit down and read a book," said Dr. Bar-on. She said
TV sets
>and computers should be placed in the family room or home office.
>Parents are advised to avoid using media as an electronic babysitter. "It's
>easy to plop them down in front of the TV," said Dr. Michael Cupoli, a
>pediatrician at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago. "It's wrong, but a
>lot of us do things wrong because we're too tired, we're overwhelmed or we
>just don't know better." Dr. Cupoli said the no-TV policy echoes the
>decade-long efforts of pediatricians to get parents to read to children as
>young as 6 months old. In a sense, Dr. Cupoli said, pediatricians who urge
>parents to read to children already are indirectly advising against watching
>TV. "Infants respond in ways that adults don't think of," he said. "They
>don't just respond to somebody's voice or sight but to touch or smell, even
>an aura of being wanted. TV interferes with that -- it's a two-dimensional
>The policy also recommends that pediatricians incorporate questions about
>media into routine child health visits, as education can reduce harmful
>media effects. The review would be used as a tool for youth and parents to
>examine their media use habits and would allow doctors to offer suggestions
>based on areas of concern. "With an educated understanding of media images
>and messages, users can recognize media's potential effects and make good
>choices about their and their children's media exposure," states the new
>As noted above, the policy recognized the research that shows increased
>television use is a significant factor leading to obesity. It may also lead
>to decreased school achievement. In addition, the AAP noted these
>content-related concerns:
>1) Media Violence and Aggressive Behavior. More than 1,000 scientific
>studies and reviews conclude that significant exposure to media violence
>increases the risk of aggressive behavior in certain children and
>adolescents, desensitizes them to violence and may lead them to believe
>that the world is a meaner, scarier place than it is.
>2) Sexual Content. The average young viewer is exposed to more than 14,000
>sexual references each year, yet only a handful provides an accurate
>portrayal of responsible sexual behavior or accurate information about birth
>control, abstinence or the risks of pregnancy and sexually transmitted
>3) Tobacco and Alcohol. Media messages and images normalized and glamorize
>the use of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs. Tobacco manufacturers spend $6
>billion/yr (although not on TV) and alcohol manufacturers spend $2
>billion/yr to encourage youngsters to "just say yes."
>III. The Argument for Media Literacy
>Research strongly suggests that media education may result in young people
>becoming less vulnerable to negative aspects of media exposure, the AAP
>says. In some studies, heavy viewers of violent programming were less
>accepting of violence or showed decreased aggressive behavior after a media
>education intervention. Another study found a change in attitudes about
>wanting to drink alcohol after a media education program.
>According to the AAP, a media-educated person understands that:
>* all media messages are constructed;
>* media messages shape our understanding of the world;
>* individuals interpret media messages uniquely; and
>* mass media has powerful economic implications.
>Canada, Great Britain, Australia and some Latin American countries have
>successfully incorporated media education into school curricula. "Common
>sense would suggest that increased media education in the United States
>could represent a simple, potentially effective approach to combating the
>myriad of harmful media messages seen or heard by children and adolescents,"
>the AAP policy statement says.
>Kathleen Tyner, author of _Media & You: An Elementary Media Literacy
>Curriculum_ and _Literacy in a Digital World: Teaching and Learning in the
>Age of Information_, writes, "Media literacy requires the "reader" to think
>independently, to question and to reflect on answers. Media literacy is an
>ideal that constantly negotiates the tension between knowledge and power --
>between power and justice." As we debate about access issues in the digital
>environment, Tyner reminds us that access to information and media is just
>one step; the ability to analyze, evaluate and produce
>communication in a variety of forms is the next step.
>IV. Strategies for Parents
>High-quality, nonviolent children's shows can have a positive effect on
>learning. Studies have shown that preschool children who watch educational
>TV programs do better on reading and math tests than children who do not
>watch those programs. The AAP and many media literacy professionals offer a
>number of strategies for parents to develop positive television viewing
>habits in children.
>1. Give Other Options
>Watching TV can become a habit for a child. Diversify their activity by
>including playing, reading, activities with family and friends, and learning
>a hobby, sport, music instrument or other art.
>Of course, not every moment of a child's day needs to be or should be
>scheduled. "Down time" away from media is a necessary part of developing
>intrinsic motivation and understanding one's own creative process. With the
>visual image, there's not much need to use the imagination; the temptation
>to fill leisure time with TV should be avoided.
>2. Set a Good Example
>Parents are the most important role model for children. Limiting your own TV
>viewing and choosing programs carefully will help kids do the same.
>3. Set Limits
>AAP suggests that children should not spend much more than 1-2 hours/day
>watching TV and movies or playing video and computer games. Children should
>not watch TV while doing homework.
>Since children under 12 need much more time *doing* rather than viewing,
>Gloria DeGaetano -- a national media literacy consultant and author of
>_Television and the Lives of Our Children_ -- suggests limiting TV and video
>use to 5-7 hours/week. To help develop a healthy attention span, DeGaetano
>writes, have a child spend twice as much time immersed in language
>activities than he or she spends watching TV. (Such activities include
>listening to audio story tapes, perhaps an appropriate substitute to occupy
>the child while a parent needs to get something done. The tapes are
>available at many libraries.)
>4. Planning a Child's Viewing
>Program guides and the TV ratings system can help parents find the right
>shows for their children. As part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996,
>Congress directed television manufacturers to install a devise called the
>v-chip into every TV with a screen bigger than 13" by 2000. The v-chip will
>allow parents to program the TVs to block programming with objectionable
>content based on an industry rating system called the TV Parents Guidelines.
>The ratings apply to all TV programs -- both broadcast and cable -- except
>news and sports. They can be found in local TV listings and at the start of
>a program. The ratings are as follows:
>* TV-Y (All Children -- This program is designed to be appropriate for all
>children.) Whether animated or live-action, the themes and elements in this
>program are specifically designed for a very young audience, including
>children from ages 2-6. This program is not expected to frighten younger
>* TV-Y7 (Directed to Older Children -- This program is designed for children
>age 7 and above.) It may be more appropriate for children who have acquired
>the developmental skills needed to distinguish between make-believe and
>reality. Themes and elements in this program may include mild fantasy or
>comedic violence, or may frighten children under the age of 7. Therefore,
>parents may wish to consider the suitability of this program for their very
>young children. Note: For those programs where fantasy violence may be more
>intense or more combative than other programs in this category, such
>programs will be designated TV-Y7-FV. For programs designed for the entire
>audience, the general categories are:
>* TV-G (General Audience -- Most parents would find this program suitable
>for all ages.) Although this rating does not signify a program designed
>specifically for children, most parents may let younger children watch this
>program unattended. It contains little or no violence, no strong language
>and little or no sexual dialogue or situations.
>* TV-PG (Parental Guidance Suggested -- This program contains material that
>parents may find unsuitable for younger children.) Many parents may want to
>watch it with their younger children. The theme itself may call for parental
>guidance and/or the program contains one or more of the following: moderate
>violence (V), some sexual situations (S), infrequent coarse language (L), or
>some suggestive dialogue (D).
>* TV-14 (Parents Strongly Cautioned -- This program contains some material
>that many parents would find unsuitable for children under 14 years of age.)
>Parents are strongly urged to exercise greater care in monitoring this
>program and are cautioned against letting children under the age of 14 watch
>unattended. This program contains one or more of the following: intense
>violence (V), intense sexual situations (S), strong coarse language (L), or
>intensely suggestive dialogue (D).
>* TV-MA (Mature Audience Only -- This program is specifically designed to be
>viewed by adults and therefore may be unsuitable for children under 17. This
>program contains one or more of the following: graphic violence (V),
>explicit sexual activity (S), or crude indecent language (L).
>5. Watch TV with Children and Find the Right Message
>Young children can have trouble distinguishing between a show and a
>commercial, a cartoon and real life. Watching and discussing a show with a
>child can help them tell the difference between what's real and what's make
>believe. Newscasts or reality-based shows may contain violent material and
>young children may worry that what they see could happen to them or their
>Sometimes even poor programming can offer the opportunity for a lesson. When
>a child and parent see a show that portrays people as stereotypes, they can
>combat the images with a discussion of the real-life roles of women, the
>elderly and people of races that may not often be shown on TV. But beyond
>just reacting to the content delivered on television, parents can also use
>TV and VCRs to be more selective about what is seen and use favorite films
>to help pass on their values.
>Gloria DeGaetano provides strategies for turning television viewing from a
>passive activity into something more productive and educational -- like a
>"visual book," she writes.
> a.) Make predictions: Get kids involved in guessing what will happen
>during the program. Emphasizing imagination and fun over "getting the right
>answers," after watching the show, confirm which parts of the prediction
>occurred and which parts didn't, but could have.
> b.) Help children concentrate and sustain attention. Help build
>concentration skills by helping kids focus on important aspects of the show
>-- like the arrival of a favorite character.
> c.) Retell the story. Parents can help develop a child's thinking
>skills -- including sequencing events and recalling details -- by asking
>them to retell the story after the program ends.
> d.) Discuss moods and emotions. Discussing a character's feelings
>can help children see the relationship between inner motives and outward
> e.) Point out context clues. Context clues help kids understand what
>they read and view. Learning to spot context clues can lead children to
>higher-level thinking as they watch.
> f.) Focus on personal relevance. Asking a child why they like a
>program, or what they liked best about what they've seen, can help them make
>a personal connection to programs and develop interests.
> g.) Lead from your own curiosity. The joy of discovery is
>contagious. When television shows with educational potential are chosen, it
>is easier for parents to get excited and to encourage children with
>statements like: "I didn't know that, did you?" or "What do you think of
>6. Help Your Child Resist Commercials
>Explain the purpose of commercials to children -- that they are intended to
>make people want things they may not need. Limit the number of commercials
>kids see by viewing shows on public television stations or taping shows and
>skipping commercials.
>A poll commissioned by the New American Dream, a non-profit that advocates
>that Americans cut down on consumption, raises concerns about children and
>advertising. In a poll of 400 parents with children ages 2 to 17, New
>American Dream found that: 1) 87% of parents think advertising aimed at kids
>makes them too materialistic, 2) 78% say ads put too much pressure on
>children to buy things, 3) 63% of parents said their children defined
>his/her self-worth more by possession than their parents did at that age, 4)
>55% said they bought something for their child that was too expensive and
>junk just because the child wanted it and 5) 31% felt their spouse had to
>work longer hours to pay for things the child felt it needed. New American
>Dream states that $2 billion was spent on children's advertising in 1998
>which is over 20 times that spent just 10 years ago.
>7. Look for Quality Children's Videos and Programming
>The Coalition for Quality Children's Media ( evaluates and
>rates children's media using a national jury of adult professionals and
>children of diverse socioeconomic, geographic, and ethnic backgrounds. To
>gain an endorsement, a title cannot contain any gratuitous violence or
>sexuality; physical or verbal abuse; bias in terms of race, gender, culture
>or religion; condescension toward children or unsafe behaviors.
>Titles are voluntarily submitted for evaluation by the suppliers. Every
>title is evaluated by five adult jurors and children's juries of 3-6
>children per adult Juror (15-30 total). The adult juror must have an
>academic degree in child development, education, children's library
>sciences, or a similar field. All evaluations are conducted independently
>and submitted to CQCM's office for final compilation. Discrepancies are
>subjected to further review.
>CQCM uses professionally designed criteria and evaluation tools, engages
>child development professionals, teachers, parents and children as jurors,
>and initiates public outreach programs collaboratively with other national
>organizations that bring high quality media to underserved and at-risk
>children and families.
>Another source is the The Movie Mom's Guide to Family Movies by Nell Minow
>(see Minow not only rates and reviews current and classic
>movies, but also provides
>hints and guidelines for developing healthy viewing habits and engaging
>children in more educational fare.
>Every broadcast television station must address the educational and
>informational needs of children -- the only programming mandated by law (the
>Children's Television Act of 1990 or CTA). FCC rules state that a station has
>complied with the CTA if the licensee has aired at least three hours/week of
>children's educational programming. Material is considered educational if it
>meets the intellectual/cognitive or social/emotional needs of children 16
>years old or younger. The programming must be aired between 7:00 a.m. and
>10:00 p.m., be at least 30 minutes in length, and be scheduled regularly.
>Advertising time during these programs must not exceed 10.5 minutes/hour on
>weekends and 12 minutes on weekdays. All such programming needs to be
>identified at the beginning of the program and information identifying the
>programming must be sent to program guide publishers.
>V. Conclusion: Get Smart, Connected and Involved
>1. Get Smart
>There are a number of sources for additional information including your
>friends that are parents and the parents of your child's friends and
>classmates, your local Parent/Teacher Association (PTA), your pediatrician
>and the AAP's Web site ( To receive AAP's materials on media or
>learn more about its Media Matters campaign, contact Jennifer Stone,
>Manager of Health Education, at (847) 981-7870 or by e-mail at
>Connect For Kids, a publication of the Benton Foundation, offers a host of
>resources on media and television in its feature The Early Years
>( including:
>* Plugged In and Tuned Out -- An interview with David Walsh, Executive
>Director of The National Institute on Media and the Family.
>* Check Out Your Child's Media Choices -- Looking for a thorough rating of
>television shows, movies, video and computer games that kids are likely to
>see? Check out the Children's Impact Statements from the National Institute
>on Media and the Family. These independent reviews, developed with input
>from experts and parents, give parents information about violence, language,
>character traits, and sexual content in an easy to understand format.
>* Tools to Use to Help You Choose -- Your local Cable TV operator has a
>toolbox for parents to understand the voluntary TV ratings code. The toolbox
>contains a 9-minute video with Bob Keeshan (aka Captain Kangaroo), a
>user-friendly brochure, and a summary of the code on a peel-off sticker for
>your remote control.
>* Television Violence and Young Children -- Does watching violence on
>television really harm young children? Some experts say that televised
>violence has a profound effect on children. Get the facts and read an
>analysis of the impact of television violence.
>* Viewing with Kids in Mind -- Ever wondered why a particular movie is rated
>R or PG-13? This parents' guide goes a step farther to inform adults about
>potentially objectionable content in movies and videos. Kids in Mind doesn't
>offer a thumbs up or thumbs down -- it simply alerts parents to what's in
>the movies so they can make better viewing decisions.
>2. Get Connected: the Campaign for Kids TV
>The Campaign for Kids TV ( aims
>to improve the quality of children's television through public education and
>organizing. As part of the Campaign, the Center for Media Education
>published _The Children's Television Act in its Second Year - 1999 Report_.
>The report provides a closer look at some of the key questions and issues
>surrounding the programs television broadcasters are airing to fulfill their
>public interest obligations regarding children and families -- and about
>those areas of the CTA that sill need attention. Where are children's
>educational programs to be found in the broadcast schedule -- and why? What
>are the main educational objectives of these programs -- and how effective
>are they in this regard? Which children's age groups are being served -- and
>which are not? How does the second television season under the new rules
>compare to the first?
>"As the marketplace for children's programming continues to expand across
>both broadcast and cable television," CME concludes, "it is crucial for
>parents and policymakers, educators and advocates to collaboratively ensure
>the quality of educational fare for children. The Children's Television Act,
>if monitored closely, can encourage this climate of quality media for
>The Children's Television Act Tool Kit also provides tools to help you
>monitor the implementation of the Children's Television Act. Additional
>information is available from the FCC at
>3. Express Your Views
>The AAP emphasized that media education should not be used as a substitute
>for careful scrutiny of the media industry's responsibility for its
>programming. Let television stations, networks and sponsors know when you
>see something you don't like on TV.
>If you think an advertisement is misleading, write down the product name,
>channel and time you saw the commercial and describe your concerns. Let your
>local Better Business Bureau
>know or send the information to:
> Children's Advertising Review Unit
> (
> Council of Better Business Bureau
> 845 Third Ave
> New York, NY 10022
>The FCC encourages citizens to first contact stations when they have
>complaints since the station is responsible for its content. When no
>progress is made at this level, the FCC will consider complaints. All
>comments or complaints should include the following: 1) call letters of the
>station, 2) city and state, 3) specifics about the matter, 4) name of anyone
>you contacted at the station(s), and 5) a statement of the problem along
>with a recording of the
>program, if possible.
>Complaints should be directed to:
> Federal Communications Commission
> Enforcement Division, Mass Media Bureau
> 445 12th St, SW
> Washington, DC 20554
> 202-418-1430
> 202-418-1124 (f)
>The FCC maintains a homepage on children's television at
>(c)Benton Foundation, 1999. Redistribution of this email publication - both
>internally and externally -- is encouraged if it includes this message.
>This and past issues of Digital Beat are available online at
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Gary Handman
Media Resources Center
Moffitt Library
UC Berkeley 94720-6000

"Everything wants to become television" (James Ulmer -- Teletheory)