by Susan Stellpflug: Television for education rather than giving control to whoever has the remote
Who is in charge of the remote control in your home? A television can be a valuable tool, especially for our children’s education; but it can also become very harmful to children when the parent is not actively involved in making informed decisions about what programs are being watched and how much time is being spent in front of the television.
In today’s world, there are countless television programs available for all ages to choose from. But who is making those choices? It is of utmost importance that parents take the time to learn about these important issues and create a safe and beneficial environment for everyone in the home.
There are many good television programs for preschoolers. In Lisa Guernsey’s book, “Into the Minds of Babes – How Screen Time Affects Children From Birth to Age Five”, she mentioned television shows, like Sesame Street, Blue’s Clues, and Barney, that have pretty impressive research behind them. The research cited in this book shows that children who regularly viewed these programs tested better in areas such as cognitive skills, socio-emotional awareness, “flexible thinking”, vocabulary, and awareness of manners and health (Guernsey, 2007, p. 128-129). Will these shows also have positive long-term affects? Guernsey also referred us to another study which says:
Adolescents who often watched Sesame Street as preschoolers, compared to those who rarely watched the program, had higher grades in English, mathematics, and science; spent more time reading books outside of school; perceived themselves as more competent in school; placed higher value on achievement in mathematics and science; elected more advanced mathematics courses; and expressed lower levels of aggressive attitudes (Huston, Anderson, Wright, Linebarger, Schmitt, 2001, p. 131).
The producers of Sesame Street and other educational television programs have put an enormous amount of time and money into research to provide some really great educational material. But not all children’s shows are beneficial and some are even harmful. Very recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a report on a study to find how a fast-paced television cartoon influenced young children. In the study they divided sixty 4-year-olds randomly into three groups. For nine minutes the first group watched a popular, fast-paced cartoon that changed scenes every eleven seconds. The second group watched a slower paced, educational program where the scene changed every thirty-four seconds. The third group was given crayons, markers, and paper instead of a television program. The researchers concluded that “Children who watched the fast-paced television cartoon performed significantly worse on the executive function tasks than children in the other two groups”. These researchers described executive function as: “attention, working memory, inhibitory control, problems solving, self-regulation, and delay of gratification” (Lillard & Peterson, 2011). An important conclusion we can draw from this study is that, just because a program is made for children, does not make it a wise choice for them.
As we begin to look at school age children, we find that there are also some impressive educational programs available for them. A quick search brought up the following: Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, SchoolHouse Rock, Reading Rainbow, Bill Nye the Science Guy, The Electric Company, Wishbone, Zoom, Beakman’s World, Zoboomafoo, The Magic School Bus, and others. While many of these are now off the air, they are all available in DVD format to bring quality educational programs into the home.
If the parents are not the ones controlling the remote, the children are, and often make very damaging choices. The Association for Natural Psychology says, “A large percentage of children (kindergarten to teens) are watching extremely violent movies, such as R-rated slasher type, and violent horror movies. This is reflected in some of the art that they produce in the schools and it can leave deep psychological wounds on a child” (2011). Some parents might protest and say they would never allow their young children to watch such movies. Unfortunately, violence seems to be sneaking in anyway. The University of Michigan Health System states, “An average American child will see 200,000 violent acts and 16,000 murders on TV by age 18” (Kyla, 2010). The Association for Natural Psychology says, “Most children have seen this horror movie about an evil doll come to life” (2011). How could scenes from movies such as this one not be emotionally harmful? Parents need to wake up and take action! Why is this happening? Who is controlling this remote control?
Do these frightening programs have a lasting effect on young viewers? In her book, “Mommy I’m Scared”, Joanne Cantor, Ph.D., wrote about her own memories of the terror she felt as a child when she watched a scary movie. She wanted to study how children react to media and what types of media might be frightening to a child. She decided to have her students write short papers, telling about something they had seen on television or a movie that had scared them. She said, “I was immediately struck by how deeply disturbed and distressed my students had been by a program or film, and I was amazed by the vividness and emotionality with which they wrote about their experiences.” She went on to do a study of first-year college students and came up with similar results (1998, p. 8). Her story illustrated how emotional fears affect us throughout childhood, our college years, and even into adulthood.
In discussing who is in control of the remote and making wise choices about the content of what is being watched, we must also consider the context of television in the home. The amount of television we watch directly influences the amount of time left for other beneficial activities in our lives. Reports show that “Americans spend more than 33 hours per week watching video across the screens” (Nielson, 2012). This averages to over 4.7 hours a day. It is also unfortunate to discover that 64% of 8-18 years olds say the television in their home is usually on during meals (Rideout, Foehr, 2010). Mealtime can be such a valuable time for family and it is no surprise that WebMD’s suggestion for mealtime is “…no TV allowed, no phones answered! This is time for listening to each other, sharing the day’s stories, and nurturing the family connection” (Davis, 2006). If the television is carefully used for educational benefits in the home, the time spent watching television will naturally decrease and children will have more time to read, play outside, interact with family, and be involved in other healthy activities.
It is time for parents to take back the remote control and make informed decisions about television use in the home. If we continue to misuse television, we are allowing our family members to be harmed by its improper use. The television is a powerful tool and should be used in a positive way to enrich the lives of everyone in the home.
- Cantor, J. (1998) “Mommy, I’m Scared”: How TV and Movies Frighten Children and What We Can Do to Protect Them. Orlando, Florida: Harcourt Brace & Company.
- Child Psychology – The Psychological Effects of Children’s Movies. [Image of Chucky]. (2011). Association for Natural Psychology. Retrieved from http://www.winmentalhealth.com.
- Davis, J.L. (2007). Family Dinners are Important. WebMD: Children’s Health. Retrieved from http://children.webmd.com/guide/family-dinners-are-important.
- Guernsey, L. (2007) Into the Minds of Babes: How Screen Time Affects Children From Birth to Age Five. New York, New York: Basic Books.
- Huston, A.C., Anderson, D.R., Wright, J.C., Linebarger, D.L., Schmitt, K.L. (2001). Sesame Street Viewers as Adolescents: The Recontact Study, Fisch and Truglio, p. 131.
- Kyla, B. [Child with remote] Father and daughter with remote. Television and Children.
- University of Michigan Health Systems. Retrieved from
- Lillard, A.S., Peterson, J. (2011). The Immediate Impact of Different Types of Television on Young Children’s Executive Function. Pediatrics: Official Journal of the American
- Academy of Pediatrics. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2010-1919. Retrieved from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org.
- Report: How Americans are Spending their Media Time… and Money. (2012). Nielson Wire. Retrieved from http://www.nielsen.com/content/corporate/us/en/search.html?q=How+Americans+are+Spending+their+Media&sortbyScore=false
- Rideout, V.J., Foehr, U.G., Roberts, D.F., (2010) Generation M2: Media in the lives of 8-18 year-olds. Kaiser Family Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.kff.org/entmedia/upload/8010.pdf
By Susan Stellpflug, Life and Crisis Coach
Copyright 2012 Susan Stellpflug©
Permission is hereby granted to copy and distribute this article but only in its entirety
Not to be construed as medical advice