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Parents Television Council - Because Our Children Are Watching

 

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Statement by L. Brent Bozell

Founder and President of the Parents Television Council

 

On the Release of

Wolves in Sheep's Clothing: A content Analysis of Children's Television 

 

Good morning, thank you for coming.  My name is Brent Bozell, and I am the Founder and President of the Parents Television Council. 

 

In its ten year history, the PTC has released dozens of studies looking at topics broad and narrow, from the content of all of prime time broadcast television to the reliability of the TV ratings system to the treatment of religion on television.  But until now we have never undertaken a study of children's television programming exclusively.  Why look at children's television now? 

 

Children today are bombarded by intensely violent images in the movies they watch and the video games they play.  Even prime time TV is loaded with violent imagery.  We wanted to know exactly what children are seeing on programs designed uniquely for them. 

 

We chose to focus on entertainment programming for school-aged children aged 5-10 on broadcast television and expanded basic cable.  Eight networks four broadcast and four cable offer programming matching that criteria: ABC, Fox, NBC, WB, ABC Family, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel and Nickelodeon.  The PTC focused its analysis on before-school, after-school, and Saturday morning programming.  The analysis covered a three week period from the summer of 2005 for a total of 443.5 hours of children's programming. 

 

The results were frankly staggering.  In the 443.5 hours of children's programming analyzed by the PTC there were 3488 instances of violence -- an average of 7.86 violent incidents per hour.  Even when the innocent, "cartoony" violence most of us grew-up with (i.e. an anvil falling on Wile E. Coyote's head) is extracted, there were still 2794 instances of violence for an average of 6.30 violent incidents per hour.   To put this figure in perspective, consider that in 2002 the six broadcast networks combined averaged only 4.71 instances of violence per hour of prime time programming.  Thus there is more violence aimed directly at young children than at adults on television today.

 

But it is not only violence that is present in today's programming for children.  Sexual innuendo is present.  Adult language is present.  Trash talking, bullying, and disrespect are present.  In its analysis of children's television the PTC also found:

 

  • 858 incidents of verbal aggression (i.e. abusive yelling, mean-spirited insults and put-downs) for an average of 1.93 instances per hour

  • 250 incidents of offensive language (such as excretory references or euphemisms for obscene language) for an average of 0.56 instances per hour

  • 662 incidents of disruptive, disrespectful or otherwise problematic attitudes and behaviors for an average of 1.49 instances per hour

  • Of those, 53 were disrespect for authority either parents or teachers.

  • 275 incidents of sexual content for an average of 0.62 instances per hour

 

Looking at the individual networks:

 

  • Although Cartoon Network had the highest total number of violent incidents,  ABC Family Channel turned out to pack the most punch-per-program, with 318 instances of violence (only 11 of these could be considered "cartoon" violence) for an average of 10.96 violent incidents per episode. 

  • The Disney Channel had the least-violent children's programming (0.95 incidents per episode).

  • The WB had the highest levels of offensive language, verbal abuse, sexual content and offensive/excretory references. 

  • Fox had the lowest frequency of this content.   

 

Too often we dismiss violence in children's programming as inconsequential.  "After all," the argument goes, "I grew up watching Road Runner cartoons and I turned out okay."  Violence in cartoons, of course, is nothing new.  What has changed is that violence today is ubiquitous, often sinister, and in many cases, frighteningly realistic.    

 

Studies have shown exposure to TV violence to be positively associated with aggressive behavior in some children and exposure to sexual content increases the likelihood that children will become sexually active earlier in life.  The extended argument implies that exposure to coarse language and disrespectful attitudes will also negatively affect children. 

 

Parents often take it for granted that children's programs are always, by definition, child-friendly. This clearly is not the case.  Unfortunately this faulty assumption has led many parents to let their guard down and allow their children to spend hours watching television unsupervised.  Young children are especially impressionable, and they learn social norms and behaviors as readily from television as from their peers or parents.  The "Wolves in Sheep's Clothing" report documents that "children's television" is no safe haven for children and parents must be extremely vigilant as to what their children are watching, perhaps more so in this arena than in any other.

 

Full Report | Press Release | Executive Summary |Response by Michael Rich, MD, MPH  |Comments by Senator Brownback | Response by Nell Minow "The Movie Mom"

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