International Symposium 1998 TOP

A. Murat Tuncer, M.D.

Television and childhood education

The mass media may be a particularly effective way to reach preschool children and their parents in communities in which poor socioeconomic condition is prevalent and to educate them. After the family, television is probably the most important influence on child development and behavior. Children spend more time watching television than other activity except sleeping. Low income children spend more time in front of TV than others. Television's influence on children is a function of the length of time they spend watching and the cumulative effect of what they see.

Television can also promote pro-social behavior. Television can exert its strongest pro-social influence in the area of learning and cognitive development. "Sesame Street" has created demonstrable increases in children's abilities with simple arithmetic and the alphabet as well as the pro-social attitudes of racial harmony, cooperation, and kindness. In fact, some studies conclude that young disadvantaged children achieve better in school if they watch one to two hours of television per day, although more than this is detrimental to academic performance at all ages.

Academician group, consisting of programmers, pediatricians, psychiatrists, teachers had made broadcast of "Sesame Street" in 1989. This program was designed to improve educational and instructional benefit to pre-school Turkish children. The preliminary study of "Sesame Street" was carried out in 1991 to investigate the impact of program on preschool education. The proportion of "Sesame Street" watching among studied 147 children was 95 %. Among study population, 88 % of children enjoyed "Sesame Street" and wanted to turn on for "Sesame Street". 37 % of them watched alone and 52 % watched it with family and 9 % with friends. Following watching "Sesame Street" 53 % of children had started to count numbers and 26 % had started to pun and 65 % had learned the names of geometrical figures. 34 % of children improved their vocabulary.

Television may be a cause as well as a solution for many serious childhood problems. Excessive viewing of television has also been linked to aggressive behavior, violence, childhood obesity. Because of the amount of time children spend in front of television set, television exerts a so called displacement effect, pushing aside more active pursuits like playing outside with friends or reading books.

Television is a powerful medium and powerful influence on the life of children. With respect to television, there is much than can be done, as physicians, as citizens, and as parents.

  • Community should support legislation making broadcast of high-quality and non-violent children programming a condition of license renewal and seek a revival of legislation mandating at least 1 hour per day of programs of educational and instructional benefit to children.
  • Alcohol, cigarette and toy advertising on television should be eliminated.
  • Parents should be advised to limit their children television watching to no more than one to two hours per day. Families should participate in the selection of the programs that their children watch. Young children sometimes have a hard time knowing what is real and what is not. Parents should watch television with their children and then talk about it after it ends. A poor program might turn out to be a good learning experience if mother or father is there to help child get the right message.
  • Pediatrician have an important role as experts in child health and development in the prevention of harmful effects of media.
Finally the Convension on the Rights of the Child have articles on the role of mass media in child education as well as the articles that protect children from its violent effect.

Children's viewing frequency
(preschool aged, n=147, Sesame Street, 1991, Turkey)

During viewing
Every day 75 %
Every other day 7%
One or two times a week 12 %
Imitation 37 %
Speaking with characters 13 %
Answering questions 68 %
Asking questions about subject 34 %
Participation with hand movement 11 %
(preschool aged, n=147, Sesame Street, 1991, Turkey)

Change in behavior following watching "Sesame Street"
Brushing tooth 45 %
Washing hand 33%
Speaking good 34 %
Social interactions 27 %
Eating behavior 20 %
(preschool aged, n=147, Sesame Street, 1991, Turkey)

Parents mentioned the difference of "Sesame Street" from other programs
More enjoyable 35 %,
More educational 83 %,
Attractive 26 %,
No difference 1 %
(preschool aged, n=147, Sesame Street, 1991, Turkey)
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