Black Canadian Children and TV: A Recipe for Failure?
Study finds children’s TV shows lacking in educational content. With black children in Canada continuing to lag behind their peers in school — which will affect their career opportunities and economic well-being in the future — we can’t afford to take the issue lightly.
The negative effects of television viewing on children are common knowledge. For instance. The Canadian Paediatric Society states that as little as one hour daily of watching TV negatively affects academic performance, especially reading.
Another study showed that preschoolers are more likely to display aggression after watching TV shows with violence. Some researchers believe that excessive TV time affects the prefrontal cortex, causing children to experience problems with emotion control, sequencing and attention.
The younger your children are the more they’re susceptible to these side effects of TV viewing, because research shows that babies, toddlers and school age children are the most at risk. If you’re like some moms and dads you’ve probably switched your kids over to educational programs instead. However, you may want to think again.
A new study by Children Now, an American research and advocacy organization for children found that E/I (educational/informational) shows are lacking in, well, education and information.
The study, entitled “Educationally/Insufficient? An Analysis of the Educational Quality & Availability of Children’s E/I Programming,” evaluated programs marketed as educational/informational (E/I) by commercial stations.
They found that only one of eight E/I shows (13 percent) is rated as “highly educational.” Nearly one of four (23 percent) were classified in the lowest category of “minimally educational.” And most E/I programs (63 percent) were judged to be “moderately educational.”
The researchers critiqued 120 episodes of 40 programs (10 from public stations) and evaluated them on criteria such as availability, and cognitive-intellectual, social and health lessons. Most of the content in these programs were lacking. Only about 45 percent had cognitive-intellectual lessons, with about 1 percent providing math lessons. About 56 percent of the shows depicted either some or a lot of socially aggressive behaviour, such as name-calling and gossiping .
Furthermore, most stations offered their programming only once or twice a week, with 75 percent of stations airing E/I programs on weekends.
Canadian Kids Not off the Hook
With easy access to channels just on the other side of the border, digital stations and satellite TV, Canadian children are also affected by these failing-grade shows. It’s also difficult for them not to get swept up in the hype surrounding shows on popular channels like Disney and Nickelodeon. Parents aren’t just battling poor content, but also peer pressure.
One solution is to stick to publicly supported stations like PBS (or TVO). According to the report, educational programming from PBS was rated significantly higher (9.1 on a 12-point scale) than those from the commercial stations, which received a 7.9 average score. PBS programs focused more on cognitive-intellectual lessons whereas commercial channels relied largely on social-emotional lessons (67 percent of programs) such as sharing or getting along with others.
Clearly, those skills are important, but the overemphasis on them in children’s programs is troubling. We live in an age when parents can barely find time to teach kids basic academic skills such as spelling and arithmetic at home.
There is also growing concern about the academic competitiveness of Canadian children compared to children from European and Asian countries. Consider the fact that most kids dropping out of school today had their fill of children’s shows when they were growing up. And Black Canadian children continue to be among the highest risk groups for dropping out of school.
Arguments that TV is supposed to be entertaining not educational don’t cut it — especially not if your child is glued to the tube two, three or more hours per day. It wouldn’t be so damaging if a child also spent that same amount of time reading or playing educational games each day.
Unfortunately, the reality is that TV time usually takes the place of educational efforts. With black children in Canada continuing to lag behind their peers in school — which affects their career opportunities and social and economic wellbeing in the future — we can’t afford to take the issue lightly.
It would be easy to let it slide. After all television keeps kids occupied while parents take care of chores, touch base with family and friends, or enjoy precious downtime. So if turning off programs produced by commercial stations isn’t an option, opt for these few that scored high in Children Now’s study:
• Beakman’s World
• Fetch! with Ruff Ruffman
• 3-2-1 Penguins
You also can’t go wrong with these choices on public stations:
• Maya and Miguel
• Reading Rainbow
• Sesame Street
• Sid the Science Kid
We’d also recommend Little Bill, an educational offering from TV’s favourite dad Bill Cosby, who holds a master’s degree in education. Even better, grab the Little Bill books for your kids and share a little parent-child reading time.
Also, keep in mind that these educational programs have websites where kids can learn and practise skills including reading, mathematics, problem-solving, general knowledge and social skills.
BROW RAISER: Children who watch less television demand fewer toys. (Consumer Alert, 2001)
To check out the study visit Children Now’s website.
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