This study concerned the thinking of mothers in the United States and Japan, in relation to the television viewing of their preschool children. The following was our rationale for conducting research on active mediation and television viewing issues in the preschool years from a comparative approach.
Active parental mediation of the television viewing of their children is an important phenomenon, because it has been shown to facilitate children's understanding of television as well as children's cognitive and perceptual development (Dorr, Kovaric, & Doubleday, 1989; Watkins, Huston-Stein, & Wright et al., 1980). Active mediation is defined as when parents ask their children age-appropriate questions, respond to children's questions, or explain program content in a manner which facilitates children's understanding of viewing contents (Dorr et al., 1989). Children's thinking about television content concept formation, and their perceptions of reality are influenced by active parent-child communication about programs (Austin, Roberts, & Nass, 1990; Austin, 1993). Further, children learn to see the world through another person's eyes and to take multiple perspectives when parents actively mediate their television viewing (D. Singer & J. Singer, 1990). By contrast, coviewing (defined as watching television in the presence of children) is distinguished from active mediation of children's television experience, because coviewing per se is not a socially stimulating or challenging experience (Kubey & Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).
The theoretical importance of active mediation is seen in the reference to the work of Vygotsky (1978) and Rogoff (1990). For instance, Vygotsky's "zone of proximal development" is explained as the gap between a child's "actual level as determined by independent problem solving" and the higher level of "potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers" (Vygotsky, p. 86). In this framework, active mediation of television viewing creates a social milieu in which the parent guides the child through the zone of proximal development to solve the problem of understanding television contents. Active mediation also is an example of what Rogoff (1990) calls "apprenticeship," whereby "active novices advance their skills and understanding through participation with more skilled partners in culturally organized activities" (Rogoff, p. 39). In her view, the parent is an expert who enables the inexperienced child to manage the skills and values needed to view television capably. Rogoff also calls this mediation "guided participation," as the parent and child build a bridge from the known to the new. In our research we focused on mothers' perceptions of the importance of playing a guiding mentor role by actively mediating preschool children's television viewing. Given the widespread societal concern for the impact of television on children's thinking and behavior, it is important to study the early sources of children's attitudes toward television.
Our research focused on mothers of preschoolers, because parental active mediation appears to have the most influence on younger children. Research in this area has usually examined active mediation of television viewing among elementary school children (Dorr et al., 1989; Austin et al., 1990) or adolescents (Austin, 1993). But older children's viewing habits and preferences are increasingly similar to those of their parents (Dorr et al., 1989), and research suggests that the earlier the parental mediation, the more likely children are to acquire an active frame of reference toward television viewing (D. Singer & J. Singer, 1990).
Preschool children's understanding of television reflects their level of cognitive development (Dorr et al., 1989; J. Flavell, E. Flavell, Green, & Korfmacher, 1990) and at this age prelogical, egocentric and magical thinking blurs their perception between reality vs. …