Can Television be good for Children?
University of Westminster
The Communication and Media Research Institute
Dr. Kaoruko Kondo
& Professor Jeanette Steemers
There is no evidence from anybody who has taken the trouble to look, ask and properly analyse, that watching television is a ‘mindless’ activity- for children, or for anybody else (Messenger Davies 1989: 84).
The purpose of this literature review is to identify and review research which supports the view that children’s television is a potentially beneficial medium; that in certain circumstances it can be a powerful educational tool; that it can inform and inspire; and that it is culturally relevant to today’s children. Many discussions of television’s impact on children focus only on its negative influence in relation to violence and advertising, for example, but it is also important to recognise that television can also have a positive impact. As two noted commentators point out:
Television can be of general benefit to children. It can bring them into contact with aspects of life they would not otherwise become aware of. It can provide a valuable tool in the home and at school not simply to keep children occupied but also, if used appropriately, as a constructive way to use their time….Television is not a ‘one-eyed monster’ lurking impishly in the corner of the living room, kitchen or bedroom waiting to exert an evil influence over young members of the household. It is a channel through which a range of entertainment, drama and learning can be obtained and experienced and increasingly these days it is under the control of the viewer (Gunter and McAleer, 1997: xii-xiii).
However, before starting such a review it should be noted that children’s television consumption now takes place in a much more complex media environment. When British academic Maire Messenger Davies wrote her book Television is Good for Your Kids in 1989, which challenged the view that television turned its young viewers into ‘layabouts’ and ‘morons’, most British children only had access to the terrestrial offerings of the BBC, ITV and Channel 4. This landscape has radically changed, and British children now inhabit a ‘media-rich’ environment (Livingstone 2002: 41) of multichannel television, mobile phones, the internet and computer games. According to Ofcom’s latest media literacy audit, 72% of children aged 8-15 now have access to digital TV, 64% have access to the internet at home, half own game consoles, and 65% of 8-15s own mobile phones (including 49% of 8-11year olds) (Ofcom 2006). However, although they use different media in their everyday life, television is still the most popular medium, occupying a significant proportion of children’s time, up to 13.9 hours a week, with higher viewing for those from ethnic minority (15.2 hours) and low income groups (15.5 hours) (Ofcom, 2006; see also Livingstone, 2002: 60; Rideout, 2003: 12).
Television is still an important medium for children and they use television actively. However, while children regard it primarily as a source of entertainment (see Buckingham, 1996: Livingstone 2002), many parents often see media, particularly for young children, as an important educational tool that can assist children’s intellectual development (see Rideout et al 2003: 12). In a recent American study, only 38% of parents believed that television mostly helped children’s learning, but they were relieved to make use of media, because they saw advances in the educational quality of media content (Kaiser Foundation: 2006: 32). In focus groups almost all parents pointed to ‘learning’ as one of the biggest advantages of television, and observed their children learning from television (ibid.). Buckingham and Sefton-Green, writing about the Pokemon phenomenon, point to the potential pedagogic value of non-educational programmes for children as well (i.e. those not particularly produced for educational aims), that show...
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