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Children and Television

Children and Television



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Published by jessicardreistadt

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Published by: jessicardreistadt on Jan 16, 2009
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Jessica R. DreistadtA Durkheimian Analysis of Excessive Television Viewing by Children in the United StatesSSP 401 – Proseminar: Applied Social TheoryNovember 1, 2004
A recent New York Times article reported startling facts about the television viewinghabits of children in the United States. According to the article, “the average young child…watches about four hours of television a day.” In addition, “nearly 60 percent of children aged 8to 16 have a TV in their bedroom” and “half of American households have three or more[televisions]” (Brody, F7). Emile Durkheim’s theories about the division of labor, solidarity,anomie, and religion illuminate several possible causes and consequences of this social phenomenon.Changes in Family StructureIndividualism is highly valued by our society; it is engrained into our nation’s psyche andrewarded with recognition and monetary gain. The feminist movement and subsequent massentrée of middle and upper class women into the workforce has led to increased individualismamong women. Historically, women worked because of financial necessity; today, women work for power, prestige, and profit. Women compete with men for what was once deemed ‘man’swork.’ This shift in social function and identity has affected other roles held by women,including that of wife and mother.Women who once sought their identity through the family now seek affiliation outside thehome in the workplace. The demands of working limit mothers’ ability to contribute to thefamily unit in the same way as was once expected. Time spent away from home at work, oftenDreistadt 1
compounded by an ongoing preoccupation with work responsibilities, make taking care of homeand child a challenge. Because of women’s individualism, men and children also areexperiencing new roles in the home. Men are expected to contribute to housework and childcare,and children often care for, and entertain, themselves.Television has become a convenient and inexpensive babysitter for children. Mothers,who once had the time to guide their children’s physical, intellectual, social, and emotionaldevelopment, now rely on television to assume part of that responsibility. From an early age,children get accustomed to the stimulation that television provides.As a result of the breakdown in traditional family roles, children have come to expectencouragement of their individual autonomy. Children demand decision-making power over their parents. Parents, overwhelmed with work responsibilities and the fast pace of their lives,succumb to their children’s demands. If children want to watch television, parents, relieved of their challenging parental role after a hectic day, welcome this behavior.Children are put in front of the television at a young age and this behavior is perpetuatedthroughout their childhood by their demands for more television and the stimulation they havecome to expect. This behavior is allowed because of parents’ permissiveness in response toincreased responsibilities outside the home and a shift in traditional family member roles.Television has furthered the effects of the breakdown of the family unit.Changes in the Television IndustryTelevision has progressed from its primitive genesis over half a century ago to atechnologically intricate web of entertainment and educational programming. Television onceoffered a handful of programs that appealed to a small faction of society; today, television offersa plethora of shows that appeal to a wide spectrum of audiences. With the advent of cable,Dreistadt 2
television is able to provide even more channels and specialized shows that appeal to highlysegmented audiences. There is a program available to suit almost any person’s taste.As the programming has evolved, so has the structure of the television industry. Thecompanies involved have also become more complex. An increase in the number of channelshas led to increased competition for viewers. The sophisticated marketing techniques used toattract viewers are designed to intrigue their minds and stimulate their senses, while encouragingrepeated viewing of specific programs. This satisfies the demands of advertisers that serve asthe funding stream for the television industry.Advertising occupies sufficient airtime on television, because it is its primary source of revenue. Advertisers and television networks collaborate to encourage viewers to purchasecertain products. Compelling images, symbols, slogans, and music are used to get viewers’attention. These pictures and sounds resonate with viewers’ innate need for affiliation withsomething larger than themselves. A culture of commercialism has emerged, and corporate branding has become the religious symbolism of many.Television uses images and sounds that fascinate children’s developing senses. Childrenare drawn to television’s never-ending pool of stimulation. As a result, children are exposed tonew ideas, cultures, places, and things. In addition, children are also exposed to many newconsumer opportunities. Marketers are aware that children spent a lot of time watchingtelevision every day; many advertisements are targeted toward children. Because of theincreasing number of products and brands available, companies work to establish brand loyaltyfrom a young age. Because children watch many advertisements that are specifically tailored toengage them, their compulsion to purchase advertised products is evoked on a continuing basis.Dreistadt 3

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