Using Television Wisely

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2 years ago

Television is toch a major presence in the ver age child's life that it has been compared to having another adutt in the house Young children watch a staggering ant of TVANiclsen poll in the mid 1980s put the average sat more than 2 hours a week for children aged two to tve. This and more time than most preschoolers will spend in a classroom and more than they may even pend talking to their parents or playing with friends

This statistic in particularly disturbing because television program and commercials Noten cone images that are violent, Merentypet misleading or simply confusing to a young child to parents would hire a tuby sitter who tiled their child's mind with stories of murder and monsten, mixed with occasical exhortations to buy the latest capensive toy or breakfast c ereal yet many are content to leave this role to the television et sitting prominently in the family room

Parents educators and child psychologists who are con cermed about the impact of elevision on children also find che form in the sheer passivity of TV viewing The child absorbs information without making any effort in return. Some pas bour aher hour in this wiley inactive fash tontit could have been better spent participating in ativeir crestveplay, whether alone or with other children

The picture is not all negative, however, and with proper guidance TV can be a constructive element in a childs covirooment. Parents who Nny the ted of children's programming, looking for shoEs that are pecialy geared to the needs of their chi ha 5) will m o encouraging choices There are educational programs tha trodace fundamentals such as letters, numbers shapes and color and rice other skills children learn in nursery school and dir ar writings Television can alo teach positive social values, such as shan and helping others. One frequently cited study reported that children tally became more helpful friendly and cooperative acr e d well-designed children's shows such as Mr Roger Neighborhood

In recent years, a number of high-quality children's entertainments have to become available on video-among them, cartoOn tos pes instructional packages and dramatizations of children's Toddler and preschoolers, ot course, do not know which shows are best for them it is up to parents to screen and select program and ta monitor family viewing habits. Educators also believe that parents should wanch programs with their children whenever possible ticularly adult oriented this they can help interpret the notes hafting images that ficker cross the screen

Before the age of fout, a child's immature perceptual ahlines makr it difficult her to understand the sophisticated conventions of mont TV program Young children often do not see the distinction between television drama and real life for them, the action on the screen is really happening, and they are part of it They also may not grant subtleties of characterization Characters tend to be cither all good or all had to young children, and they become confused when beroes and villains do not act according to their notions of good and evil.

Children under the age of four may have trouble following the se quence of events in a television program, as well. For example, a three year old may become anxious when she sees a churacter in distress just as adults do. Unlike adults, however, the child is not relieved when the hero rides to the rescue in the near scene. For a young child, cach scene is a separate incident, un related to the one before. She might not even recognize the characters from the previous scene. And events may pass by too quickly for her to comprehend, leaving her pattery and confused, Cyen acclaimed programs such as Sesame Street have been criticized providing too much information at too fast a clip

Television can also distort reality in ways that confuse and even frighten children. Time bends to Nait the needs of a half hour or hour long programming format. On television, a house can be built in a few minutes a child can grow to adulthood over a commercial break anda conversation frozen in midenience in one scene will continue from that point minutes bter, intetrapnd by a totally unrelated dramatic scene, a commercial or petup pad political anouncement

Camera trickery and the n i netection perspective may bale children as there the Avatar character who stands just a few inches all in one sccoe ner be a big as a turn in the next Action may lapse into slow moda ur merge into a dream sequence Adults are not confused, but there is nothing in theaperience of young children to tell them that this does not happen in real life

No clement of TV has been more thoroughly debated and studied than dramatized violence. One statistician estimated that the average child sees more than 1,000 people killed on TV cach year,countless more are bashed and maimed What does all this mayhem trach a child

Controversy abounds on this question. Although a few experts say that TV violence does children no serious harm, several studies have suGGest that watching an excessive amount of it may have a number of letects including making a child fearful for his own safety, desen sitiring him to violence and encouraging aggression toward others

The children being observed did not generally imitate specific acts of violence they saw on television, but those who watched four or more hours of TV a day had fewer inhibitions against violence and behaved more aggressive toward other children One significant study of young adult criminals concluded that the televised violence they watched as children contributed to the violence they later displayed toward their victims. However, a child's temperament seems to be an important factor those who have a low threshold for aggression fee the

Influence most, while calm, stable children are the least affected. Educational experts point out that the messages conveyed by violent shows are as disturbing as the violence itself. The consequences of violent acts are rarely seen, someone badly beaten in one incident may be walking around unscathed in the next scene. And violent programs tend to glorify both the beroes who solve their problems with fists or guns and the villains who fout authority and get away with it.

In addition to violence, television shows have traditionally carried a heavy load of social stereotyping While this has changed in recent years, distorted sexual and racial characterizations are still abundantly present in the remains of old situation comedies that young children often watch Shows portraying women as bounchold drones or empty headed sex objects names incisive dupes, and the entire world as white and middle cus do not help a child to understand real life.

Scrutiny of these and other problems has led to improved family com edy programs over the years, but television advertising has lagged be hind, particularly in observing the rules of fair play. As with advertise ments for adult products, children's commercials attempt to create a need where none existed before. But young children are far less able than grownups to evaluate what they are being shown on TV Toys often loom larger than life on the television screen pictured against a fantasy landscape, their child owner surrounded by admiring friends When the small, disassembled, hatteries and friends not included product arrives at the house, it can be a considerable disappointment

Some children's programs, particularly in the Saturday morning time slots are thinly disguised vehicles for selling new products, their car toon characters deliberately creating a confusion between television fantasy and toy store reality. Parents can help children deal with the pressures of TV advertising by watching commercials with them, point ing out the exaggerations

Because of television's many drawbacks, a few child psychologists have gone so far as to say that it would be best for children not to watch it at all until they have learned to read. However, even these idealists ac knowledge that this is unlikely in the majority of households. Most experts feel it is enough for parents to supervise their children's TV watching closely, establishing clear rules and routines very carly even before the child really becomes interested in television.

A child usually becomes aware of the bright colors, sounds and mo- tions on the screen between 12 and 18 months of age, but at this stage television viewing should not be a regular part of her life. You may want to begin introducing your toddler to special programs when she is around two, keeping in mind that her attention span is likely to be very short. At this age, a simple, gently paced show such as Mr. Rogers Netgbborbood is best. Keeping to i clearly defined schedule - watch ing the same show at the same time each day -- helps to establish TV watching as a special activity, rather than a random way to fill up time

By the age of three or three and a half, your child will probably be cager to watch a broader selection of programs. Faster paced chldren's fare such as Sesame Street and some cartoons that you have screened and sclected are appropriate to a now to the shows previously intro duced You should be aware that three and four year-olds have more highly developed reactions and are more likely to be frightened by what they see on television. Ironically, many paychologists warn against al. lowing children to watch cartoons at this stage, pointing out that pre schoolers can be unnerved by the way cartoon characters are blown up, run over and otherwise maimed and dismembered It is also casy to misread the reactions of a child at this age: your daughter may seem to be entranced by Big Bird on Sesame Street but she may actually be intimidated by the character's exaggerated size and motions

At about the age of five or so, children can be introduced to more sophisticated programs that will apand their horizons and stimulate creativity-shows that retell legends and myths, realistic animal stories and programs on dance or puppetry, as well as carefully selected family comedies, animated features and yes, the ubiquitous cartoon series

Rexcarch into the effects of television on children indicates that chil dren are more positively influenced by shows they watch and discuss with their parents than those they watch alone. You should make a point, therefore, to watch television with your child whenever possible, encouraging her to talk about interesting parts and explaining points that are hard for her to understand

Here too, as in every other area, children are influenced by their parents' behavior: If you wish to limit your child's TV viewing you will probably have to limit your own. And to help establish a deliberate, pick and choose attitude toward television viewing, be sure to turn the set of when no one is watching it

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