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
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. …