Television by Salvatore Vuono (freedigitalphotos.net)
Be careful — what your kids watch may be hazardous to their health and your wallet.
If TV is “chewing gum for the eyes,” as Architect Frank Lloyd Wright once said, it may be causing more than tooth decay in children — TV may also be making them fat, according to two new studies.
“The more than 1,000 hours that the average school child will spend in front of the television this year will harm him or her far more than the one second of Janet Jackson’s breast,” said TV-Turnoff Network Executive Director Frank Vespe.
The typical child sees about 40,000 ads a year on TV and the majority of ads targeted to kids are for candy, cereal, soda and fast food, a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation found. In addition, many of the ad campaigns enlist children’s favorite TV and movie characters — Spongebob Cheez-Its, Scooby-Doo Cereal, Teletubbies Happy Meals, to name a few — to pitch products.
Apparently the $12 billion per year spent on advertising to youth works. “Commercials make people want to buy things, like Cox high speed internet,” said 4-year-old Sophia Bordofsky.
Indeed, a series of studies examining product choices found that children recalled content from ads they’d seen, and their preference for a product occurred with as little as a single commercial exposure and grew stronger with repeated exposures, found a recent report by the American Psychological Association. The Kaiser study also found that exposure to food advertising affects children’s food choices and requests for products in the supermarket.
While there’s no doubt that advertisers are selling to children, not everyone is buying. Many parents restrict their children’s viewing. “They do have to do their homework first and they have to take turns picking a show,” said Misty Bordofsky, Santa Barbara mother of four children aged 4 to 13. “Usually they’ll leave the room and go do something else if it’s the show another kid picked,” she said.
Numerous parents may limit their children to watching videos and commercial-free television and a rare few don’t let their kids watch TV at all.
“I am appalled by marketing that targets children with ads for junk food and toys. Young children are not able to understand the inherent bias of an advertisement. They are easy targets,” said Charla Bregante, a Goleta mother of two who is in that 2 percent demographic that does not own a television.
“Most of the advertising during children’s programming is for junk food such as candy, chips, and sugared cereals. Kids are given the message that these foods are desirable and nag their parents to buy them. In addition, children tend to snack more while they are watching TV. Turning off the TV is one of the best ways to fight obesity in children. Almost any other activity will use more energy than sitting in front of a television,” said Bregante.
“While older children and adults understand the inherent bias of advertising, younger children do not, and therefore tend to interpret commercial claims and appeals as accurate and truthful information,” said psychologist Dale Kunkel, a professor of communication at UCSB and senior author of the APA report, which recommends restricting ads targeting children under the age of 8.
“I can tell you that my children rarely nag me for a specific toy or food item. I believe this is because they are not exposed to television advertising and the consumer culture promoted in television programming,” said Bregante, who encouraged families to participate in TV-Turnoff Week, April 19-25 (www.tvturnoff.org).
Is there anything positive for kids on television? Yes, according to Professor Kunkel: “There are lots of positive influences that may result from children’s viewing of certain pro-social or educational programs. The problem is that parents have to mine the media landscape pretty hard to find those occasional nuggets.”
Television is an (almost) inescapable part of modern culture. “With the recent explosion in satellite and digital specialty channels, we now have access to a plethora of both good quality and inappropriate TV content. In this crowded television environment, the key for parents is to search out high quality TV programs for their kids, and whenever possible, enjoy them together as a family,” recommends the Media Awareness Network, a nonprofit organization that focuses on media literacy.
For parents who don’t want to opt out completely, David Kleeman, Director of the American Center for Children and Media, recommends that parents ask the following questions to select viewing that is good for children:
Does the program actively engage my child, physically or intellectually? Television watching doesn’t have to be passive. It can prompt questions, kindle curiosity, or teach activities to pursue when the set is off.
Does my child see others like himself or herself on television? Young children believe that television reflects the real world. To not see people like themselves — in race, ethnicity, or physical ability, for example — may diminish their self-worth. A lack of role models should spark discussion about how TV portrays different types of people.
Do I respect this program? Parents don’t have to like every show their children choose — in fact, young people need their own district culture. But parents should trust that a program’s creators understand and respect how children grow and learn.