What Is “Children’s” Programing?

As a child I recall watching a wide variety of different programs. Some of which may have been intended for children and others that were not. From Saturday morning cartoons, to Mr. Rogers, to PBS documentaries, to Sixty Minutes, to Cops and so on. I only recall programing that seemed to be strictly for children coming into existence during the mid-late 90’s. With programing such as Nick jr. and Noggin. Even then I did not find myself watching much of it. The concept of what “children’s” programing is today is evolving. It has changed over the decades from its original formatting to suit more recent studies on the mental engagement children have while watching a television program.

Initially children were thought to be relatively under stimulated mentally while viewing television. Thus the original formatting of children’s television shows such as Sesame Street were very sporadic, with little focus on any one subject for too long; usually no more than 10 seconds to 4 minutes in length. This was due to the notion that children had difficulty sustaining their attention on one subject and needed variety to keep them interested longer. However, over time, it has come to the attention of child psychologists that children tend to focus more deeply on television programs than they had originally believed. Meaning that the rapid pace of programs meant for children was too difficult for them to follow, causing cognitive dissonance and interfering with the message they were supposed to be getting from it. Studies then found that shows that addressed and engaged the children were more effective for shaping their ability to focus and learn a subject.

What I found most intriguing about the article by Jenny Price, “Tele[re]vision”, are references to case studies where children were monitored while viewing television. The reaction they witnessed; children watching, then going on to play or engage in some other activity, then watching more, were very true to what I have witnessed as an individual who has looked after groups of children before. I saw this behavior quite often. I would also see where children would sometimes pantomime or repeat things they had heard or seen. I would also notice how children would seem to loose interest in a show quickly when it presented them with over stimulus, ergo fast cuts, too many characters or settings, too complicated of a storyline and so forth.

I found it strange, that the type of programing I viewed as a child seemed to more complicated but just as enthralling to me as more simplistic programing apparently is to children nowadays. I also began to notice that the shows, even though they were cartoons, ideally targeted at children, seemed to be more relatable to adults rather than their target demographic. Ultimately it made me question, who were these television shows being made for, children or the adults that may inevitably end up having to watch them. This makes me question how I might monitor the television I allow my children to watch one day. Will I let them watch television the way my parents did, with little discretion to what I was subjected to, as I do not feel that this impacted my development in a negative fashion. Or will I be more particular about the things they view, with the hope that I am not presenting them with the wrong message.

In summation I believe that what a child views on television should be left to the parents discretion. Each child is different, and may interpret stimulus in various ways. A parent should be the ultimate barometer of what a child should believe is morally and cognitively right or wrong. Thus one should not allow the television to act as a surrogate parent.

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