The Effects of Television on Children: Summary

Introduction
‘Younger children are often unable to distinguish between make-believe and reality, which applies to and can interfere with their comprehension of ideas presented by television’ (Unnikrishnan N. and Bajapai S., 1996). Today television has become a very important part of our daily lives, but particularly so in the lives of our children. As we are aware, these days the greater majority of families, in many parts of the world, have (or have access to) this magical screen. Television is a very powerful and effective modern phenomena which can influence the shaping of the future for many generations of children in many parts of the world. Children imitate the action, the spoken word and/or the personality they may happen to be watching, therefore, its influence cannot be underestimated, regardless of the circumstances which the child may happen to be in. This influence can be categorised as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for the future development of these children. Parents and guardians have a major role to play in deciding what channel or program their child can watch, for how long and what part of the day. All these factors are important in deciding the shape of a child’s future within any environment.

Positive and Negative Aspects
Not long ago, the majority of countries had only one or two television channels, not just that, but the viewing time was limited as well as the transmission itself was restricted to a number of hours per day/night. Today, there are a large number of television channels, and some of these channels specialise in children programs only. Many of these children’s TV channels broadcast from early hours of the morning to late evening (or even on 24 basis), to the extent that large number of children find it difficult to break the habit of not missing a number of favourite programs. One of the negative effects television has on children is the effect of violence. The hero in a film or television soap opera may use violence for one reason or another, which certainly can be justified in the eyes of the child. That violent action will be considered as normal way of solving a problem(s), and the character, i.e. the hero, becomes the model for any real life situation, in which the child may find himself/herself later on. On the other hand, educational influences can be excellent aid for learning and development, regardless of whether the children are at school or not. This learning process can also be a step forward later on in life when the subject of education is tackled more seriously. Not forgetting that the learning process, or education in itself, can be much more appealing to the child when used through television

programs rather than via a text book, even if the main purpose of this program is pure entertainment or the procedure of a scientific experiment in laboratory.

Comparison
Another factor which can play an important part in the development of children who watch television regularly is comparison. Children start to compare the behaviour of children and adults on television and the behaviour of those around them. They see two models of behaviour, the behaviour of the characters or the presenter on a television program - usually watched regularly – and the behaviour of the parents/guardians and/or relatives who live with the child. In many cases, but particularly so when the child watches TV programs more often, the TV presenter or any TV character shown regularly in many cases will work as a model for the child, rather than the parents/guardians. If this causes confusion in the mind of the child when comparing two different behaviours, then this confusion can influence the mental/emotional development of the child later on in life. The role of the parents obviously is very important, if the child needs help to sort out any confusion which may occur. In many cases the child will assimilate the differences in behaviour between the model he/she watched on TV, and the surrounding environments. Depending on each individual’s environment and the strength of the TV influence, a child can develop mentally faster (or slower) than the average normal mental development.

Advertising
Commercial advertising also is another factor which can affect children’s understanding of their environment, as well as having an influence on their mental and emotional development in different ways. In many cases, parents/guardians are not concerned about the effect of television adverts on their children, unless the children make demands to buy one or more products seen by them through advertising. Obviously the purpose of the advertiser is to create this kind of demand. If it doesn’t, then the advert has failed in its’ original purpose. Commercial advertising on television, as we know it, are images with or without sound, which reflect – sometime with great exaggeration – only the beneficial side of a particular product or service. For a child watching an advert related to a product he/she is interested in, then the image of that particular product can be the starting point of a daydream of how wonderful it will be to have such a ‘thing’. Sometimes, this daydreaming can lead to frustration and anger if the product is beyond the reach of the child, particularly so if other children known or seen by the above child managed to have it. Consequently, the end result will be manifested in the child’s behaviour immediately, or it could be later on - for a shorter or longer period of time. Having said that, and despite the real effect the television may have on children, the claims for the powers of TV should not be exaggerated to the extent of blaming everything the child may do or not do simply on what he/she watched on TV. These kinds of exaggeration are simply a way of shelving the responsibility of parents/guardians, or family members, towards the child concerned. ‘Since children are supposed to be innocent it becomes very useful to blame inappropriate’ behaviour on some corrupting and devilish influence outside the

family. Unsurprisingly, the alien ‘box in the corner’ comes high on many people’s lists of bad influences’ (Root J., 1996).

Conclusion
Television can be a source of education and entertainment for the majority of children around the world. At the same time, television can stop children from being mobile and expressing their own vibrant energy (including vocabulary aspects) as they play and make contact with their natural environment. Television also gives a misguided message about the world as a whole when interpreted in the mind of the child. In general, the effect is very real, and in certain circumstances, it can have an unquestionable impact on the mental and/or emotional development of any child. These effects can express themselves, on short or long term basis, in a positive or negative way. Television, therefore, should be used by those who look after children mainly for the benefit of those children. This should be done in a balanced and a healthy environment, where supervision by the parents (or the guardians) is an important guiding factor for their mental and emotional growth and development.

Najib Altawell

Reference
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. Abercrombie N. (1996) Television and Society. Polity Press. Berger A. A. (1995) Essentials of Mass Communication Theory. Sage Publications. Unnikrishnan N. and Bajapai S. (1996) The Impact of Television Advertising on Children. Publications. Dunn G. (1997) The Box in The Corner. Macmillan Publications. Root J. (1996) Open The Box. Comdia Publications.

Sage

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