Nearly every household has access to television programming. With the variety of programs available children are exposed to many factors concerning choice. These choices can lead to a wide array of results depending on the type of content which is viewed. Positive programming can promote the learning of valuable skills and knowledge to enable success in life, while negative programming may have diverse opposite effects. The contents of television programming affect the health, behaviors and learned life skills in children.
First, a discussion of physical health concerns. Television viewing by children can cause a variety of physical health concerns. Children face physical health issues because of the amount of time they spend watching television. A couple of these physical concerns are eyesight and eating disorders. The length of time children focus on the television screen, and the proximity they sit from the television screen, causes them to develop eyesight problems.
Ideally, children should sit approximately “five feet away” from the television set according to McWilliams and Moulder. (1999) On the contrary, The Nemours Foundation explains the fallacy of children sitting close to television screens is not a cause of eyesight problems because children have the ability to focus at a closer distance than adults. (2010) In either event whether the sitting close to the television is the cause or a sign of an eye problem caution should still be used in not allowing children to sit too close to the television screen.
Children also face problems with eating disorders from watching television. Children become fixated on programs causing inattention to their eating habits. Some children will not eat at all while others tend to overeat. These eating disorders are influenced by the content children are viewing through specific programming. One factor of this programming is that the advertisements target children encouraging them to desire specific products, such as how McDonalds offers toys to attract sales of their products.
Findings of Zimmerman and Bell conclude, “Television viewing may be a sedentary activity, but it is not for that reason that it is associated with obesity in children. The relationship between television viewing and obesity among children is limited to commercial television viewing and probably operates through the effect of advertising obesogenic foods on television” (2010 p338). Children also face psychological health concerns in relation to television viewing. As children advance in age their minds become more developed giving them a better understanding of the environment surrounding them.
Some content available on television causes specific phobias which “include fear of insects, snakes, and dogs; escalators, elevators, and bridges; high places; and open spaces” as well as many others” (Healthofchildren. com, 2012). The development of these phobias causes elevated anxiety levels in children. Children who watch many hours of graphic content such as horror movies, nature programs, and news broadcasts which implant images in their impressionable, young minds providing them with a sense that the world is an unsafe place.
These anxieties influence different behaviors in children. Generally the negative content that can be viewed on television causes children to mimic behaviors and actions of the characters they see. “Repeated exposure to TV violence makes children less sensitive toward its effects on victims and the human suffering it causes” (Boyse, 2010). Children use their imagination during play. Children will oftentimes play games such as cops and robbers, cowboys and indians, or even mimic their favorite wrestling star causing harm to each other.
These behaviors are viewed as unacceptable in society and can overflow into situations where the actions are inappropriate such as in school, grocery stores, or movie theaters. As children may not have a complete understanding of the motives of the content which they were presented though television, they may accept them as reality. However, the acceptance of this reality can cause positive behaviors as well. “Children imitate their parental role models that they love and trust; then they imitate other role models that might not be so worthy” ( Jagers, 2007).
Depending on their understanding of the consequences of an action, children may choose a different mode of behavior concerning situations they encounter throughout their lives. A child who views someone getting burned may take caution when they are in a similar situation themselves. If a child observes someone calling 911 seeking assistance in an emergency situation, when confronted with this type of situation they will think to use this to their advantage. Some television shows for children encourage positive behaviors such as empathy, kindness, and helping others.
These television shows encourage emotional development allowing children to display positive behaviors. One show that has these qualities is “Dora the Explorer” which highlights characters helping each other, helping other characters to achieve tasks, and being kind by using polite language such as please and thank you. Shows like “Dora the Explorer” provide children with a foundation of necessary life skills. Children learn various life skills such as social roles and interactions through the content of television programming.
Television characters through their interactions teach children how to behave within certain situations. Viewing these interactions give children a guideline of social behaviors in a variety of situations that allow children to react to real life situations in a similar manner. The roles are not limited to specific situations in childhood, but reach across the lifespan. Children use television as an expectation of real life situations. A child who views family based programs will conclude a model of functionality within a family.
Some shows portray families that are functional whereas other shows portray dysfunctional families. These programs provide children a model to relate their personal experiences. If a child comes from a dysfunctional family they may envy the lives of characters in functioning television families. In other ways, when viewing a dysfunctional family on television, a child may find new methods to solve problems within their own family. Television shows such as “Reba” may give children who are subject to divorce and remarriage of their parents a way to deal with the new family life they encounter.
Also the gender roles highlighted on television provide children with expectations they should follow in their own lives. For girls, television may portray female roles of characters as mother, caregiver, and oftentimes business women. For boys, male character roles may be portrayed as father, disciplinarian, and supporter of the family. These expectations learned provide a productive model a child should attain in the eyes of society. Consequently, later in life a child’s impression of social rules and roles become part of their personality and can become individualized.
This allows a boy who wishes to become a nurse not to view this decision as deviant. Another source of skills for success in life learned through television is the acquisition of knowledge and academic skills. “Children imitate their parental role models that they love and trust; then they imitate other role models that might not be so worthy” (Kirkman, Wartella, and Anderson, 2008, p. 47). One area of knowledge present in television shows targeted toward children is the recognition and association of letters, numbers and words.
Children can be taught at a young age the association between what they are presented and hat they perceive, such as the #1 and the letter A. Through the elementary impression of these concepts a child learns secondary concepts such as reading, writing, and more. Some programming encourages the learning of foreign languages such as Chinese Spanish and French by exposing children to these languages making these concepts fun to learn. The acquisition of all these skills through television occurs in a passive manner. A child does not realize they are learning the content they perceive making television an effective outlet for teaching.
Another skill set taught through television is problem solving through visual examples. As children view others making decisions concerning real life situations they can refer back to the outcome of a similar situation they may have previously viewed. This allows for them to make educated choices within their own lives or experiences. Such programs show the process one must take in problem solving, empowering them with the skills to decipher between right and wrong. Television also presents a less desirable outcome for successful life skills.
Children who view content inappropriate for their age struggle with academics as well as face specific challenges later in life. As children gain an understanding of the content they are watching on television the presence of these struggles begins to decrease in their influential strength. An effect previously mentioned of children mimicking behaviors viewed on television, if a child learns and reflects defiant behavior toward authority the effect will not only cause poor grades but also dropping out of school. The child will avoid homework assignments because of the commands and deadlines made by the teacher.
This defiance of authority leads to reprisals from administrators such as principals and academic counselors. Another challenge to the academic lives of children is the presence of structure in schools. This struggle exists because television can be accessed at any time whereas school has a specific schedule. A child struggles to focus during these times. A major cause of this inattention is that television produces a higher level of activity than school. Naturally the child would choose the more stimulating activity, which in the eyes of the child is television.