Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Parent and Child Perspectives on the Presence and Meaning of Parental Television Mediation

Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Parent and Child Perspectives on the Presence and Meaning of Parental Television Mediation

Article excerpt

A growing body of literature on parental mediation of children's television viewing reveals that parents' or other adults' behaviors regarding television has a significant effect on children's reactions to television. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics urged pediatricians to assess, among other things, the extent to which parents talk to children about television and impose viewing restrictions, seemingly under the assumption that such behaviors protect children from undesirable television-related effects (Committee on Public Education, 1999). However, we still don't know very much about mediation, and calls have been made to discover why certain kinds of mediation behaviors are associated with specific effects (Nathanson, 1999).

One method of gaining insight into how mediation works is to explore why parents use it and what these messages mean to children. Although researchers can impose definitions on the various forms of mediation behaviors, it is difficult to predict what kinds of effects mediation will bring if we do not consider how the individuals who give and receive mediation messages interpret them. The purpose of this study was to understand the motivations underlying parents' use of mediation and how children interpret mediation messages.


Mediation has been conceptualized as a three-dimensional construct encompassing the following types of behaviors: active mediation (talking with children about television), restrictive mediation (setting rules about children's television viewing), and coviewing (watching television with children; Nathanson, 1999). Although it is often assumed that any form of mediation is good for children, research indicates that the three forms of mediation are quite distinct and do not always lead to positive outcomes.

For example, active mediation provided by parents or other adults has been shown to be related to positive outcomes among children, including skepticism toward television news (Austin, 1993a), lower levels of aggression (Corder-Bolz, 1980; Nathanson, 1999; Nathanson & Cantor, 2000), and a better understanding of televised plots (Desmond, Singer, Singer, Calam, & Colimore, 1985). In general, parental restrictive mediation has been linked with positive outcomes as well (e.g., Desmond et al., 1985; Singer, Singer, Desmond, Hirsch, & Nicol, 1988). However, restrictive mediation constitutes a very different kind of behavior than active mediation -- and there is some suggestion that very high levels of restrictive mediation may be detrimental to children (Nathanson, 1999). Finally, research on parental coviewing has been mixed. Some research indicates that it leads to positive outcomes, such as learning of educational content (Salomon, 1977). However, coviewing is also related to negative outcomes, such as believing that television characters are like "real-world" people (Messaris & Kerr, 1984) and learning aggression from violent television (Nathanson, 1999).

Predictors of Mediation

Other work on mediation highlights the distinctiveness of these three forms of behaviors by demonstrating that each is motivated by different kinds of parental concerns. Bybee, Robinson, and Turow (1982) and van der Voort, Nikken, and van Lil (1992) both demonstrated, using very different samples, that "restrictive guidance" (analogous to restrictive mediation) is performed by parents who believe that television has antisocial effects on children. Other research indicates that being concerned that the media might influence a child's behavior (Abelman, 1987) or promote aggression or fright reactions (Valkenburg, Krcmar, Peeters, & Marseille, 1999) leads parents to restrict their children's access to television.

The predictors of active mediation are less clear. Some research reveals that parents are more likely to discuss television with their children when they are concerned that the media might affect their children's thought processes (Abelman, 1987). …

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