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Television and Its Influence on African American Children


Recent studies indicate that children who watch a lot of television are more likely to have problems adjusting to society. They are also likely to exhibit characteristics of extremely high levels of socially aggressive behavior. The influence of television on the lives of African American children is much greater than ever anticipated.

While a great deal of attention has been focused on the effects of TV on the average viewer, special emphasis must be placed on the far-reaching effects this form of electronic media has on the African American child. These children watch TV an average of 7 hours per day compared to 4-1/2 hours of daily television viewing for white children. This medium, therefore, plays a greater role in developing attitudes and behavior patterns that may affect black youth for many years to come.

The following facts are important to note:

1. Black children tend to be more emotionally involved in the plot of TV programs.

2. Black children often use TV as a substitute for other activities, such as reading or interacting with other children.

3. Black children tend to use TV as a source of role models. They imitate other people’s behavior, dress, appearance, and speech.

4. Black children use information gathered from television for guidance and direction when making career choices.

5. TV provides examples for interacting with members of the opposite sex.

6. TV is used as a primary source of learning and perfecting aggressive behavior.

7. Black children closely identify with television characters---particularly the black characters.

You must realize that television trivializes human life by showing a murder every 57 seconds. This fact directly impacts the high rate of black-on-black homicide. This is a cause-and-effect relationship. You should also realize that the high rate of teen pregnancy among blacks is directly related to the numerous programs that feature sexual promiscuity. Few television shows provide information on sexual responsibility.

A 1978 study completed at Michigan State University showed that:

· Black children believed that TV was very true to life.

· 46% of elementary school children believed that blacks on TV were representative of blacks in real life.

· Commercials are more believable for black children than white children.

· Over 50% of all black children between the ages of 5 and 12 believe that commercials present true and accurate information.

A 1975 study showed that most black children believed when they felt ill, they should take aspirin, Tylenol, Alma Seltzer Plus, or Nyquil. The same children felt that if they wanted a healthier lifestyle, they should take vitamins, drink sodas, and eat fast foods. Common sense tells you that this thinking will lead to chaos, premature disease, and death. Even though television has been a negative influence on the lives of African Americans, I would be the last person to suggest that you do the impossible and turn off your TV sets! I strongly believe that “the answer to most problems can be found within the problem itself.” One must first take a look at a situation and then derive a solution from that assessment.

We must all ask ourselves the following Questions:

1. How much time do my children spend watching TV each day?

2. How much time do I spend watching TV with my children?

3. What programs are my children watching, and what are they learning from these programs?

Naturally, adults must have good television viewing habits before they can teach good viewing habits to children. It’s important that adults become aware of the powerful influence of television and then develop a discriminating eye. We, in the Washington, D.C. community, are fortunate to have access to Channel 32, WHUT-TV at Howard University. We should support that station and others like it because it provides us with positive programming.

Now that cable television is available, many of you pay a monthly fee to watch additional programs featured on numerous channels. Have you ever wondered why commercial TV is free? It’s because the advertisers pay for the air time, and TV programs are packaged around the advertiser’s commercials. Commercial messages provide financial support for existing television programs.

Understand that commercials are designed to influence the way you think. Viewers are programmed to be receptive to a particular product. When you are aware of these facts, it’s easy to understand why these programs are offered free of charge. TV programs are specifically designed to influence the viewer’s thought process. If you respond favorably to the content of the program itself, then you will be particularly susceptible to the commercial message.

Much has been written over the years about the effects and influence of television on the lives of the American viewing audience. When you take the following statistics into account, it is easy to see how important television has become in the lives of most people.

· The average American household has at least two TV sets and one VCR.

· The average American spends 1/5 of their life (approximately 15 years) watching TV.

· Of the time spent viewing TV, approximately 50 minutes of each day is spent just watching commercials. That amounts to a lifetime average of 1-1/2 years of watching just TV advertisements.

With this information in mind, it is foolish to look at TV as anything other than a molder of minds. TV is directly responsible for presenting the viewers. So watch your television with caution, and be aware of its potential mental health hazards, after all, it is you who control your TV set.

Soon, households throughout America will have their own high-definition television with a flat screen over five feet wide. This TV set will be cable-ready and allow access to 500 channels of programming. It will have a built-in microprocessor that allows you to block out commercials and download the programs you want to watch when you want to watch them.

You will be able to pause the transmission of your favorite shows while you go to the bathroom, to the refrigerator, or to the store. You can send or receive e-mail and search the World Wide Web with wireless interference from the comfort of your living room sofa. You’ll be able to do all these things and more---except find quality programming featuring African Americans.

Does this sound far-fetched? Well, it’s all happening right now. This technology is available for those who can afford it and will become accessible to the masses when the prices drop. Despite these technological advances, the capacity to produce quality African American programming on television will be achieved in the near future.

At the beginning of the 1999 fall television season, the NAACP blasted the three major networks for ending African Americans from any major roles in their new shows. The networks backpedaled, scrambled to add a little color to a few programs, and said that they’ll do better next season. Wink! Wink!

A recent study commissioned by the Screen Actors Guild confirmed African Americans were “Stuck in [A] Sitcom Ghetto.” This report found that 52 percent of African American characters on prime-time TV are seen on Monday and Friday on sitcoms broadcasts on UPN and WB.

The study also revealed that African Americans get far less exposure on the major networks. Approximately 50 percent of the African American characters on Fox and NBC were on screen for less than a minute per hour. Those on CBS fared better, with an average screen time of seven minutes per hour of programming.

Television has been described as the “dominant cultural form” in America, and it is how our nation gains a sense of itself. Because America has yet to come to terms with the “race issue,” the presence and absence of African Americans on TV reflects the power imbalance within our society.

With the increased popularity of “reality-based programming,” music videos, and exploitative shows like Jerry Springer, we can expect our children to be turned into “short-intentioned spanned, socially inept, media junkies.” Didn’t you know that television is addictive? The more you watch, the more you need to watch. Didn’t you know that television is not benign? The steady stream of radiation, light, and sound emanating from the set is absorbed into your body like a sponge. Once it gets inside your head, the words and sounds reconfigure your thoughts and influence your behavior. They don’t call the show's programs for nothing.

If you are concerned about drugs, violence, crime, and poor role models, you need to be concerned about the programs your children watch. You need to be concerned about what you watch because your children are watching you. You're their first programmer. But who has programmed you?

Television, Cable, Commercial, African American Children, Influence


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