Television and the American Family

By Jennings Bryant | Go to book overview

Chapter 17
Child and Family Television Regulatory Policy

Dale Kunkel

Implicit in any definition of family is the presence of children. Our culture has promulgated the term single-parent family to describe a widowed, divorced, or otherwise unpartnered parent and their offspring. Yet the words "childless family" are rarely found paired together, reflecting the notion that the presence of a child is an essential component of the concept of family.

From a public policy perspective, the family unit is an important entity that the government strives to support. But in terms of federal television regulation and policy, it is the child more than the family that has been the focus of government concern. Children are the most sensitive and vulnerable component of the family, so it is their interests that are typically considered, rather than families as a whole, in the formulation of broadcast policy. This chapter, then, will survey the various regulations and policies that shape and govern the realm of children and television, with an emphasis on their application to family settings.

From its earliest days, television has played an important role in family life. One of the first major studies of television's role in child and family life ( Schramm, Lyle, & Parker, 1961) found that television would be the communication medium missed most by the entire family unit if it was no longer available. The substantial increase in amount of time spent viewing television since then suggests such a perspective would be even more strongly held today.

Given the medium's pervasiveness in virtually every American home, it is hardly surprising that television is frequently characterized as a "member" of the family. Indeed, families that eschew the purchase of a television set are a rarity ( Edgar, 1977), comprising only about 1%-2% of American households ( Comstock, Chaffee, Katzman, McCombs, & Roberts, 1978). Thus, the government's

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