Saturday, January 19, 2008

It Was a Mistake to Let Kids Watch TV

I have a doctoral degree in telecommunications.

I taught an entire class on sex and violence in the media last semester.

But it was neither of those things that led me to my current conclusion. It is television's powerful force as an agent of socialization that is the problem.

Sitting here yesterday, my kids were watching Baby Looney Toons before school.

Really, what could be more innocuous than that, right?


This particular episode involved Baby Sylvester (a boy) wanting to play at a tea party. He got kicked out and told to do something such as play basketball, at which he was bad and of which he was afraid.

Meanwhile, Lola (a girl) did not like to be at the tea party and longed to play basketball with the boys.

Let's take a look at that, shall we?

The entire point was to set up a conclusion that we should not gender stereotype these activities. However, in order to satisfy this seemingly good resolution, the bulk of the show had to build up these gender stereotypes to be torn down.

And I think that is fundamentally bad.

At the end of the day, one has to ask what the children will remember. Will they remember the build up or the tear down?

As someone who does research within this area, the data suggest that children will remember the build up. These gender stereotypes are consistent with what they will see in their real lives, so the build up will resonate with their real lives. They get a double dose of the stereotype. The life lesson is far less likely to be remembered.

When I ask my kids questions about what they are watching, my hypothesis is generally confirmed. They bite on the build up.

So they get all kinds of ideas. Multiple episodes of Hannah Montana -- I am sooooo lucky -- center around of a theme of deceiving your parents. Sure, by the end of the episode, there is a tidy ending where the deception fails to pay off. But the lion's share of the episode was a lesson in duplicity.

Say what you will, the Teletubbies had no such nonsense. But it's been downhill from there.

It was a mistake to ever let my kids watch TV.

Growing up, I had friends who were not allowed to watch TV. I pitied them as if they were some kind of pauper child forced to wear home-sewn bib overalls.

But their parents were right. You cannot protect kids from the entire world, but children's television offers almost nothing of value, and it unintentionally teaches a lot of lessons that I try pretty hard for them not to learn.

Labels: ,


Blogger IUAngelini said...

Actually research has shown that if you present imagery that is inconsistent with existing gender schema children it doesn't actually help. It doesn't activate the existing schema and therefore those attitudes and beliefs aren't changed. What has been shown to be effective, though it has to be done MANY times and not just within the exposure to one episode of a TV show, is to activate the gender schema that boys should be playing sports and girls should be playing tea party and then presenting information that is schema inconsistent. Only through activating it can it be changed.

10:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What - a single exposure to a stimulus doesn't change attitudes? Blasphemy!


5:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Man, you're scaring the bejesus outta me about ever having kids. Thanks!


6:44 PM  
Blogger IUAngelini said...

And I was thinking about this a bit more. You can keep your kids from watching TV altogether from birth but these ideas about gender don't come from just there.

Even if you and Emily are completely gender neutral is what you do and what you say the kids will see these beliefs about gender in other people around them. Also, I'm sure you've had family and friends buy them "gender appropriate" toys. I think developing these ideas and beliefs about gender in U.S. society is pretty inevitable. You just need to do what you can to combat them and make the kids realize that playing tea party isn't the only option available to them. If they want to play football then that's OK too.

3:56 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home