The ABC is considering a special children’s television channel. Would it be worth its great costs?
Obvious advantages of a TV channel for children are that the young can be protected from advertising, and also diverted from watching other channels aimed at “Mature Adults” - who are rated as preferring entertainment with violence, explicit sex, and coarse language. An innovative advantage of alternative channels would be to include “Open Primary School”, “Open Secondary School” and “Open University”: open to all ages, and with the premise that knowledge and education are pursuits as intrinsically fascinating as pastime entertainment, unless transmitted badly.
A dedicated TV channel mainly for children’s entertainment does, however, have three disadvantages. Developments in electronic communications may make a special channel superfluous. Too much television can harm children. There may be misconceptions about what is most suitable for children.
Electronic communications are developing so fast that all free-to-air children’s program material is becoming as accessible on a lounge-room screen as from a computer online, without the restrictions of a daily program. A remote control for children to use could be programmed to select only from within a wide range of shows for different interests and developmental levels. It could access many adult shows, and could note sites for re-watching. Even relative infants could be as fast as adults in learning to use a remote control. Programs both new and old could be listed on websites, the press, and normal television channels. Existing TV channels could - and should - continue to run children’s programs at convenient times.
There can also be too much television for children. For example, a dedicated non-stop children’s channel could encourage children to watch too much TV. Parents could still feel free to give children TV sets in their bedrooms, isolating them away from their families. A constant children’s television channel could be used as an all-day, anytime, baby-sitter. Parents may even be more likely not to share viewing with their children on a regular channel, and may not keep trying to provide parental guidance.
Children watching their separate channel may be more liable to be kept juveline by this “ageist” segregation, producers may feel that “anything goes” in the normal channels.. However, adults still need to have a few children’s shows on their preferred channels, to know what’s going on, and even to help them connect with their own “inner child”.
A great fallacy of our time is that if a little of something is good, more will be better. Not so. The weighty balance of findings, apart from research subsidised by vested interests, is that a baby should see no more than half-an-hour of TV a day, a toddler no more than one hour, and a child up to age 14 no more than two hours a day.
There is strong evidence that children who watch more than that run greater risks of developing obesity, attention deficit disorder, passivity, they may take insufficient exercise and outdoor play, have fewer constructive hobbies, and less motivation for literacy. Because they have less time for a “real life”, they are less likely to learn skills in social interaction and practical manual abilities, personal resources, and persistence in long-term goals. A circus every six months is fine for children, but not every day.
Parents are being encouraged to help their children with “early learning” that is provided by watching TV and computer screens, but for babies this increases the “blooming buzzing confusion” of the world, and for all children there is too much information overload to be able to sort out priorities about what is memorable. The electronic screen is addictive and exciting - like the ancientfirelight in the cave. Children can watch fascinated for hours without understanding any of it, or being able to report what they watched. They can cease seeking for meaning in their entertainment. “What are you watching?” “Telly.” “What is it about?” “Oh, just telly.”
On social occasions, the children hive off as they always have done - but not to play. They sit in a row watching cartoons, regardless of where they came in or where they leave. Such attention to visual stimuli without meaning has serious consequences when children continue to fail to seek meaning from lessons at school.
What of the anticipated content for children’s television? Steven Johnson has a popular book Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter. Yes, smarter at the skills needed to play computer games, faster visual processing and pattern recognition - good for a career in IT, but not so much help for becoming a well-informed, thoughtful, and lively citizen.
It is good for children to be protected from commercial advertising because it disrupts sequential thinking and attention-span by interrupting programs, and often promotes what children should not be pressured to desire.