While television can block growth and be destructive to children, research is showing that many people regard it as a positive force in their lives.
Missing parts of life can, to some degree, be replaced by television.There is evidence that children's aggressive behavior is linked to watching television programs with violent content.
Yet some children who watch violent television programs do not turn to violent behavior. These children often watch programs with their parents and then take part in family discussions about what has been watched.
An interesting recent finding is that most adult Americans report that they dislike violent television programs in general, but they tend to enjoy violence when the hero of the story is the violent one.
Married couples often report that television is a positive force in their lives. They maintain that television marks a time of togetherness.
Many couples also maintain, surprisingly, that a television program gives them an opportunity to talk with each other. Television provides a "holding" environment, a setting that allows a togetherness that might not otherwise occur.
We know that television is introduced to our children at a very young age. Parents take breaks from parenting by setting the 2-year-old in front of TV, sometimes for long periods.
Later, the parent may join the child in play, with the TV still on. Throughout this time, the youngster isn't interacting with another person, nor is he or she left alone. The television provides holding that is somewhere in between.
It now appears that television provides for what is called parasocial interaction. This means that the television holds a personal status for its viewer. It is as though the television becomes a friend.
This friend is important because it is predictable, reliable and often friendly - perhaps in a way that other friends are not. Many people turn to the television, regardless of the content of the programs, after a day of being disappointed and hurt by real people.
The parasocial interaction with the television does not, however, replace true interpersonal relationships.
While interactions with real people promote a give and take that helps a friendship grow, the relationship with the television is more one way, like being fed. People who are regular TV watchers often report that the television made them feel good, even though they cannot remember the content of what they saw.
Children who spend time playing or talking with a friend, sibling or parent remember much of what happened, what they thought and felt, and what they imagined the other person thought and felt.
The children who more often spent time with people than with the television offered more spontaneous ideas about what they thought and what they wanted to do next.
Children who habitually watched television tended not to produce their own ideas, but to speak only when answering a question. In a way, they waited for the other person to "feed them" ideas, the way a television does.
Many people consider television a positive force in their lives because of the portrayal of feelings. Television watchers get to see feelings acted out by professional actors. These people commonly say they can't relate to literature, because they don't have a sense of the emotional feelings of the characters.
Another recent study found that there is a high frequency of TV watching in families that have an authoritarian and dictatorial style. The reason for this is not yet evident. It may be that for children who are used to being told what to do and are not permitted ongoing family discussion, television serves a purpose - it also tells them what to do.
Among children who watch TV frequently there are two groups:
- Children who look to television for an explanation of life and see people interacting on television as models for their own lives.
- Children who see TV shows as entertainment. They do not take the shows so seriously, and the stories watched are not competitive with their friends and family. The children in this latter group typically come from families who talk together about the day's experiences, about the rules of the household, and about how the parents imagine the child's experience to be.