This book explores children's ability to understand and learn from television programs. The success and fulfillment that people enjoy in their adult lives can be greatly determined by the nature of their intellectual and emotional development during childhood. This development is shaped by children's early life experiences. These include direct experiences deriving from their interactions with other people and indirect or vicarious experiences obtained through various mediated sources. Today, the latter are dominated by the mass media, the most prevalent and prominent of which is television. But how do children experience television? How much do they understand of what they watch? Are their perceptions of the world significantly shaped or altered by the programs they watch? Are some programs more influential than others as sources of learning and socialization?
Given the reach that television now has, most children in modern and many developing societies are exposed to it almost from the time they are born. It is important therefore that we understand the different ways in which it might affect them. There is evidence to suggest, for instance, that infants in households with television demonstrate their first awareness of it as young as 6 months ( Hollenbeck & Slaby, 1979), although it is more generally accepted that proper viewing begins in earnest between 2½ and 3 years of age ( Huston & Wright, 1983; Schramm, Lyle, & Parker, 1961). Certainly, the frequency with which young children have been observed to glance at the television set increases markedly at this age ( Levin & Anderson, 1976). As they grow older, children may devote 2, 3, or even more hours a day to watching television, and in so doing are exposed to a vast range of material that may entertain them, inform or educate them, or involve them in a variety of other ways.