As one of the most easily accessible, affordable entertainment forms, television is one thing people everywhere in the world have in common. Regardless of the way television has been described over the decades since television has entered regular people's houses, anyone who has witnessed children watching TV knows that it captures children's and adolescents' attention with excessive force and it holds the power to keep them glued to the screen. Even today, in 2014, when the internet claims a good portion of the viewing time dedicated to television in the past, television is reported to have kept a good deal of its influence. Parental control is thus crucial to the way television influences children's minds and shapes their development.
According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, children in the United States watch an average of three to four hours of television a day (2011, http://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/Facts_for_Families_Pages/Children_And_Wat_54.aspx ). Considering that represents about two thirds of the time children usually spend in elementary school, in the U.S., for example, the amounts reported for daily television watching are quite significant.
Parents allow their children to watch television because of various reasons: to keep their children company, for educational purposes, for entertainment, for information. Considering the data just mentioned, children are expected to bear a major influence from the part of television in their behavior, thinking, judgment skills, reasoning, vision of the world around them, interpersonal relationships, attitudes, beliefs etc. Television will influence every aspect of a child's life because of its persuasive language and a child's inclination to take for reality things, situations, advice, arguments and counterarguments etc. Under ideal conditions, if a child watches television, a responsible adult should always be nearby for explanations and clarifications. Even in the case of TV shows a child has seen before, one the child advances in age, the questions will start changing and gathering; the child will become interested in different parts or aspects of the same show; his or her world will transform. At the age of four, for example, many children are afraid of dark or fantastic creatures, or the most unexpected things. Most of the time, television does not help them process these fears by itself. On the contrary, television could feed their feelings of insecurity and add to the total sense of confusion.
Authors Barrie Gunter and Jill McAleer stress the fact that there are various viewing patterns and therefore the effects of television viewing on children and adolescents will have a great degree of variability. However, television watching has increased constantly since the 1950s, only starting to decrease once the Internet started to gain ground. The Internet should not be regarded as a completely separate entity when analyzing the effects of television on young viewers, but rather as a medium that has plenty of overlapping areas with the realm of television. Children and adolescents can go online and watch their favorite TV programs on a computer, tablet or their cell phones, thus the presence of the internet and the development of the media devices has only helped television in disseminating its content at a larger scale. Children and adolescents are no longer bound to a chair in their homes; they have the mobility now to watch a television program virtually anywhere.
The time children and adolescents dedicate to television watching means less time for family interaction, exercise, play, learning, reading, any type of physical activity. The American Academy of Pediatrics signals the fact that "studies have shown that excessive media use can lead to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity" (http://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/Pages/Media-and-Children.aspx#sthash.8W2oaDkA.dpuf ). Doctors, scientists, researchers, teachers and parents have over half a century of television effects to study and to find about in order to take the right decision when it comes to how to handle children and adolescents' television watching. Factors like: types of programs, content, frequency, the duration, the time of day, will positively or negatively influence a young viewer's behavior. However, the American Association of Pediatrics recommends no television watching under the age of two: "A child's brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens (http://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/Pages/Media-and-Children.aspx#sthash.8W2oaDkA.dpuf).
It is hard to ignore the fact that many children would gladly spend some time in front of a TV set than engage in other activities. Children as young as four have been reported as refusing to get involved in activities such as drawing or being read to, asking instead to watch some TV program, when they where at home. Dr. Adam Cox, a fervent adviser against children and adolescents' television watching, pulls the alarm of another potential risk related to this activity: addiction. "Children are like a magnet for this type of gratification, and as most parents know, can become addicted to the neurological stimulation of television very quickly" (2005, http://www.dradamcox.com/newsletter/05sept.html).
Indeed, parents often confirm that children, especially very young children, manifest a type of addictive behavior related to television watching. One mother reported that her five-year-old daughter would ask for television watching (Disney Jr. Channel in her case) every time she had a chance: immediately after she woke up, mornings or afternoons, on the way home from kindergarten etc. This type of behavior shows a certain degree of addiction. Other parents would also report on observing an increase in their children attention deficits or a decrease in their willingness to cooperate, blaming these manifestations on the time spent in front of the TV. They would also mention that such problems were easily fixed by simply switching the television and other media devices off for days or even weeks, when necessary.
One of the most studied negative effects television watching has on children and adolescents, in particular, is: the increase in violent behavior. There is a high degree of controversy in this field because there are many variables that need to be taken into account, such as: previous violent behavior, violence in the family, neglect, poverty, child abuse, drug addiction, peer influence or other elements that may increase the likelihood to see violent manifestations in young people. These variables have been statistically analyzed and researchers have done their best trying to exclude them as much as possible so that the sample of the population used for testing is homogenous and less likely to present violent manifestations outside the norm (excluding television watching, of course). Some still claim that violent acts and their manifestation cannot be directly related to the amount of television watching during childhood and adolescence.
In his book, Adolescents, Crime and Media, Christopher J. Ferguson mentions the correlation specific studies have shown between the rise in popularity of TV and TV shows depicting violence, in particular, and the increase in overall violence in the U.S., twenty years later. The adults could have suffered the effects of watching those violent shows as children and adolescents. However, such conclusions depend on what time frames the researchers use to compare violent manifestation in adults.
The Civil War was the most violent manifestation of a whole nation and they did not watch television back then. The first half of the twentieth century has known two World Wars, so it could be hardly used for studies of violent behavior in Europe or in the U.S., for that matter, whereas the second half of the twentieth century offers only a small window to use for comparison and contrast in similar studies.
The topic of television influence on children and adolescents is complex, eagerly debated and extremely important. The future adults will bear the signs of how much television they watched in their early years and what type of programs they where exposed to. Television can influence social behavior at any age and children and adolescents are the most vulnerable when it comes to opinion forming. Young children cannot even make a difference between commercial and regular programs; therefore a commercial can be taken as seriously as any other program. Additionally, as mentioned before, young children just begin to learn how to discern between reality and fiction.
Although, television should not be relied upon when it comes to children's education, television can present educational shows that encourage the child to look for solutions (Mickey Mouse Club House), learn how to change things on their own (Super Why), be curious and explore (Sid the Science Kid), have fun while learning (Sesame Street), be socially active and involved and enjoy singing and dancing (Barney). These are just a few examples that parents could choose if there is not other alternative for their children's activities.
When it comes to adolescents, the restrictions and parental control for television watching becomes even more difficult. Puberty is a difficult age and adolescents are naturally inclined to manifest a degree of distrust in their own parents and take as better suited for them anything that feels them rebels. They are developing a sense of identity and starting to develop a certain independence. Any form of control from the part…