It is very hard for children to avoid watching television especially nowadays when it is one of the most used form of entertainment in many a household. Sometimes some parents use television cartoons as a babysitter substitute. Television viewing has both negative and positive effects on the socialization of children and youth (Hardy and Claborne, 2). This is because some programs foster positive messages as others foster negative ones.
How the message reaches the child also depends on the child as well. Children of different ages have different capacities of understanding the content they view on television. This depends on their span of attention as well as the amount of attention they pay to what they are watching. Their experiences in life and the way information is processed in their minds are also factors that influence the kind of message a child gets from a program they watch on television. Children who are attending pre-school tend to look for meanings in what they watch but their main focus is normally the production features that are vivid. So what they concentrate on mostly will be the sounds and change of scenes rather than the message on the program (Hardy and Claborne, 3). Those attending elementary school have longer attention spans and can process the motivation of the characters in the programs. However, they do not invest much mental effort in what they watch and so they cannot process the information well enough to react to it in a focused way so most of their reaction to it is unconscious. Adolescents on the other hand can be capable of processing the information they get from the programs they watch and they tend to shift from watching cartoons to watching more of the adult programs. They tend to be interested in independence, sex, romance and others prefer music videos and horror movies. They have the ability to reason abstractly and can decide to imitate what they watch and care should be taken for such people (Hardy and Claborne, 2).
The programs aired on television have great potential to influence the views and opinions of children and adolescents. Most of the previous research done tends to focus on the negative effects of television viewing on the young generation. For instance there are several researches with findings that prove that the violence that these young people watch on television is what contributes to their aggressiveness and rough behavior in schools. Some other research also concludes that the programs that youth watch also have an influence on their attitudes and sexual behavior (Hardy and Claborne, 5). This has made the policy makers and educators as well as the general public to focus on the negative effects of television viewing forgetting that at times it is not all bad and there are a couple of positive effects that the programs viewed on television have on the socialization of the young generation. Not all content of television programming is negative and there is so much moral content aired.
When television programs are analyzed, it is found that the amount of moral content it provides could equal the amount of immoral content. Some programs although meant to foster moral messages especially cartoons aimed at children audiences tend to have some sort of violence in them (Hardy and Claborne, 4). The television programs are such that those that aim at children have the highest amount of moral content and these decreases as the audience level rises with adult programs being the least moral. The programs with high moral content tend to be aired early in the day when the children and adolescents are mostly viewing and the ones with immoral content is mostly aired late night or later in the day when young people are thought to be asleep and adults are the ones watching. The programs like “Sesame Street”, the “Cosby Show” and “7th heaven” are some of the examples of programs with high moral content aired during periods when the children and adolescents can view them. For example, in the Cosby Show, children and adolescents can view Bill Cosby and his wife at times talking to their children about the importance of honesty and not lying to people (Hardy and Claborne, 3). This kind of message sticks in the minds of these youth since they consider most of the stars in the programs as their role models. This is one way that these programs foster positive behavior and attitude development in the young.
In the book “Thinking outside the Idiot Box”, Dana Stevens (232) believes that television programs have no effect on cognitive development and should therefore just be used for amusement. The program 24 is said to enhance mental activity since it has very complicated plots that keeps the audience thinking and trying to figure out what happens next and also to keep up with what is going on in every episode. According to Stevens (234) this only leaves us yearning for more episodes and prevents us from doing other activities like reading and learning that can help us grow cognitively.
The popular television show “The Simpsons” disguises itself as a kids cartoon and is aired weekly. This program mocks other television shows and its characters are very important. This is because the characters are people we can relate to since the program depicts the daily societal life we live. It is possible for viewers to relate their own experiences to those of the characters on the simpsons and this is a recipe to keep everyone going back to watch more episodes (Rushkoff, 1). Rushkoff (1) compares the cartoon “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy” saying that the former concentrates more on the generation gap as the later focuses on race, sexism and political views. He says that The Simpsons’ writers do not say much about social issues but their imagery does all the talking. Peacocke (263) on the other hand says that the producers of family guy leave it to the viewers to interpret what they view on the program while they mock the weaknesses and strengths of the American society and politics. Antonia Peacocke is the author of an essay known as “Family guy and Freud” in which she states that the only effect television programs have on people is to give them the desire to watch more television. She says watching the cartoon “Family guy” only makes her crave for more and she finds herself able to even enact some of the episodes. She however says that one is supposed to be able to discern what is real and what is not as well as what is right and what is wrong in what we see on television. In view of the article written by George Will (295), Reality Television: Oxymoron, the author states that the American people are becoming more and more insensitive and are doing things on national television that are degrading and disgusting only to provide amusement and entertainment. She says that even if we do not watch these programs we still remain as smart as we have always been since the program does not make us any wiser or smarter and we do not get dumber if we do not watch them. She insists that television viewing should be for entertainment and not brain racking. Another author, Sherry Turkle, agrees with Dana Stevens saying that television viewing is damaging to societal attitudes. Turkle (1) says that people use these programs and other technological advances to escape reality and the social relationships they should be mending. Both authors agree that the television shows do not do the society any justice and instead they are distractions that make youth put their mind more on fiction than the reality that faces them in everyday communal life.
In conclusion, it is true that television viewing has some negative impacts on the young generation but it is also a means of inculcating positive attitudes and behavior in children and adolescents (Hardy and Claborne, 5). There is very limited research on the positive effects of television viewing compared to the negative effects research and this calls for more research to be done to prove the positive effects of these programs. This kind of research will also help the parents and teachers to be able to use the television programs effectively in fostering positive behavior and lessons in the children and adolescents so as to avoid the negative behavior patterns exhibited by the aggressive teenagers who emulate this kind of behavior from television programs showing violent scenes (Hardy and Claborne, 5). It should also be made clear that there are other factors that influence how the children will take a message from a program on television like for example the character of the child or the environment and context in which the message is passed on in the program. Therefore other factors that influence the socialization of these young people should also be put into consideration and not only the effects of television programming.