Study: Busy Kids Watching Less TV
The paradox is that kids are watching less TV. A recent study by Nielsen Media Research, issued in early November, clearly demonstrates this trend. From August 1998 through August 1999, kids in the 2-to-11 age range watched an average of 2 hours and 57 minutes of television per day, a drop from the average of 3:25 of 10 years ago. Kids aged 12 to 17 now watch an average of just under three hours, compared with the 1990-91 peak of 3:15.
Three hours a day is a tremendous amount of television by anyone's standard, but it's a number unlikely to increase because kids today live much more structured lives than they used to: more time in school, and more time at organized after-school athletics and other activities. They also spend more time at computers and on the Internet, something that wasn't a factor at the start of the decade. Computer use has caused the number of hours they spend staring at CRTs to increase substantially, the difference being that computer use is active and watching TV is completely passive. The number and intensity of non-television activities for kids will almost certainly increase as time moves on, leaving program developers and entertainment-industry executives chasing a shrinking market.
The timing of the Nielsen report's release coincided with the launch of a national campaign to reform television content by a group calling itself the Parents Television Council. Chaired by writer/comedian/musician Steve Allen, the group has taken out full-page ads in major metropolitan newspapers nationwide decrying the fact that "TV is leading children down a moral sewer." The ads include mail-in coupons that concerned citizens can fill out with their names and addresses—and donations, if they care to contribute to the cause.
The organization is targeting the TV industry where it is most vulnerable—its bank account—by directing its efforts at companies that advertise on programs that corrupt youth with what Allen calls "filth, vulgarity, and violence." The Parents Television Council is hoping that economic pressure will bring back what it calls "family-safe TV." The ads do not make clear when, exactly, this sort of programming might ever have existed. Even during the first era of television, prime-time entertainment was dominated by cop shows and westerns in which murders and gunfights were standard fare. It's unlikely that ostensibly well-intentioned efforts like the one by Allen's group will do much to change the fact that the formulaic shoot-'em-up will probably endure as long as TV itself.