TV Values: Bart's Bad Influence Two New Studies Show Extent That TV Portrays Negative Behavior and the Effect on Children

Article excerpt

WHEN children click on the TV set looking for entertainment, they sometimes get an unexpected education as well - one that encourages deceitful behavior, disrespect for parents, and early sexuality.

That is the conclusion of two major studies about children and the entertainment media released yesterday. Commissioned by Children Now, a California-based advocacy organization, they mark the most comprehensive surveys to date on television's portrayal of children and its potentially negative effects on youthful values.

In a national poll of 750 10- to 16-year-olds, two-thirds of participants say that children their age are influenced by what they see on television. Four-fifths think TV entertainment shows should help teach children right from wrong.

Sixty-five percent of those polled find that programs such as "The Simpsons" and "Married ... With Children" encourage a lack of respect for parents. And more than three-quarters think television portrays too much sex before marriage, with 62 percent stating that this influences young viewers toward early sex.

Reinforcing these findings is a separate study examining how children are portrayed in entertainment programs on network and cable television. The content study found that the majority of child characters engage in pro-social acts - telling the truth, sharing, helping others, and meeting responsibilities - but that 40 percent exhibit antisocial behavior. This includes lying, being physically or verbally aggressive, and neglecting responsibility. Some of that negative behavior helps TV characters achieve their goals, thereby encouraging lying or being aggressive to get ahead.

Almost all of this negative behavior - 95 percent - appears on commercial television, the analysis finds. PBS - noncommercial televison - presents the most positive role models, with only 10 percent of its child characters exhibiting antisocial behavior.

According to Katharine Heintz-Knowles, an assistant professor of communication at the University of Washington who conducted the analysis, child characters are most often influenced by peer relationships, romance, and sports. Communities, schools, and religion are far less powerful influences.

Speaking of the findings, James Steyer, president of Children Now, says, "This is a huge issue for us as a society to deal with. Kids are exposed to media today in a way they never have been before. At the same time, they're growing up facing more difficult choices and consequences at earlier ages, from sexuality to violence to `How do I make it in a changing world?' They need a strong foundation and strong values."

Among the young people polled, two-thirds live in a household with three or more TV sets. …