Michael Rich, MD, MPH
Director, Center on Media and Child Health
Wolves in Sheep's
Clothing: A content Analysis of Children's Television
pediatrician, child health researcher, and parent, I am concerned by
the findings of this study. It is particularly timely that we
examine the content being offered to our children as we approach the
rapid expansion of media programming that will occur with the
national conversion to digital television broadcast.
December 14, a settlement was reached by the American Academy of
Pediatrics, American Psychological Association, National PTA and
other child advocacy organizations with a consortium of
entertainment companies that objected to rules proposed by the
Federal Communications Commission for children's television in the
digital era. Similar to the Children's Television Act of 1990,
the final agreement included a commitment that each broadcast
channel would provide at least three hours of children's educational
programming per week. Unfortunately, this content analysis of
children's television makes such guarantees less than reassuring.
Three hours of children's television from this study would contain
24 acts of violence, six examples of verbal abuse, and two
portrayals of sexual behavior. As was found with the
Children's Television Act, assurance of minimum amounts of
industry-defined children's programming does not protect children
from exposure to material that can threaten their health and safety.
Children learn from media. Research has shown that exposure to
media violence can lead to fear and anxiety, desensitization to the
suffering of others, and increases in aggressive attitudes,
thoughts, and behaviors. A more recent, smaller body of
evidence indicates that similar increases in other health risk
behaviors, including unsafe sexual activity and the use of tobacco,
alcohol, and other drugs, are found among young people exposed to
media portrayals of these behaviors as normative and attractive.
Yet the entertainment industry persists in including such content in
children's programming. Every day more children are exposed.
can no longer be reduced into a simple issue of competing values.
Such debate has led repeatedly to stalemate, stopped in its tracks
by the First Amendment. Today's children use media for more
hours than they spend in school, with parents, or engaged in any
activity except sleeping. If they were exposed to even
miniscule amounts of an air pollutant or food additive that
increased their risk of violent injury, substance use, or unsafe
sex, we would be unified in our efforts to remove it from their
environment. In the Information Age, the average child is now
exposed to over 8 hours of media content each day, media must be
seen and understood as a powerful environmental influence on their
physical, mental, and social health.
defaulted to the entertainment industry the decision about what is safe
and healthy for our children. This study shows exactly what our
children are learning when we trust them to the electronic babysitter.
The entertainment industry has long contended that public worries about
media content are just culture wars. Research that has raised
concern among health professionals and teachers has been discounted and
obfuscated to the point where parents do not know what to think or do.
Far more heat than light has been generated by this issue - and in the
confusion, parents are paralyzed and children are exposed to risk.
study has found in children's television concerns us, but we still do
not have adequate scientific data with which to inform parents how media
affect their children and to convince media producers that they must
create products that do not harm their users. Senator Sam
Brownback, along with colleagues from both parties and both houses of
Congress, has had the vision to realize that we must treat media
exposure as a public health issue. He has sponsored important and
timely legislation that will bring to media exposure the same scientific
rigor, seriousness, and compassion that our best scientists have applied
to understanding heart disease, cancer, and traffic safety, saving
millions of lives. The Children and Media Research Advancement
Act, known as CAMRA, will authorize the first dedicated Federal research
support for investigating how media affect us and developing programs
and policies to protect children from harm and promote positive
influences of media. The findings presented today have demonstrated that
now, more than ever, we are in need of knowledge to focus society's
concern and give clear direction to our response. Recognizing that
something is not right in children's television is an important first
step. Now we must apply our resources, ingenuity and energy to
characterizing how media affect us and to creating a safe and healthy
media environment for our children and our future.
MD, MPH is founder and Director of the Center on Media and
Child Health at Children's Hospital Boston, an interdisciplinary group
committed to pursuing research, developing interventions on negative
health effects of media, and creating health-positive media. Dr. Rich
was honored by the Society for Adolescent Medicine with their New
Investigator Award for developing Video Intervention/Prevention
Assessment (VIA), which explores the illness experience through
patient-created visual illness narratives. He received the 2005 Holroyd-Sherry
Award from the American Academy of Pediatrics for his contributions to
children, adolescents and the media. Dr. Rich has authored numerous
research papers and pediatric policy statements, and delivered testimony
on the health effects of media to policymakers from city councils to the
U.S. Congress. He is Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard
Medical School, Assistant Professor of Society, Human Development and
Health at Harvard School of Public Health, and practices adolescent
medicine and pediatrics at Children's Hospital Boston.
| Executive Summary
by L Brent Bozell
by Senator Brownback
by Nell Minow "The Movie Mom"