FAMILY VIEWS: THE EFFECT OF TRAINING PARENTS
TO MEDIATE THEIR CHILDREN'S TELEVISION VIEWING
ON CHILDREN'S COMPREHENSION OF COMMERCIALS
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PIHTT.OCOPT-Y
This manuscript is dedicated to the memory of my father, Phathon James
who taught me to cherish my own creativity and originality
My utmost gratitude goes to Roger Jon Desmond who provided the
major direction for this research and guided me through from its embryonic
stages to its final form.
His insight and dedication were invaluable to the
Wright remained optimistic and flexible throughout this
process while offering excellent advice as chair of my committee.
Weigold brought method to this madness and devoted crucial thought and
energy to this work far beyond duty.
Kim Walsh-Childers supplied important grounding in media effects
research with children as well as those intimations that the perils of my
personal PhD path were not unique.
Patricia Miller crossed disciplines to provide me with the benefit of her
highly respected knowledge of developmental psychology
She also nurtured
my process with encouragement and much appreciated warmth.
Both Barbara Taylor and Evelyn Rooks-Weir birthed my earliest
interest in this subject.
Their excellent community ties and reputation
Because of their quality work in the community, I received
nr n nn C; n ~ n i n rr nn rr~ n C: h~ ~lurn~M a rr~ n ~ln Hn n: r] n n ~ rl C~ n n r] m:n; nCHn C; n 11 nC
My dear friends Randi Cameon and Bill Black came to my rescue in a
very dark hour to save the experimental integrity of the project when my
My graduate school soul mate, Lynn Dirk, provided invaluable
help throughout this project from earliest conception to serving as a research
assistant on site.
Helen Maltezos always
believed in this endeavor and
supported me from the first.
I thank David Halpern,
an excellent statistical consultant and a great
I also thank workshop leader Barbara Young for her enthusiasm and
extra help and the many other individuals who actually toiled in this project--
the excellent interviewers, Martine Gauthier-Zotto
Venus; food organizers Lisa Herd, Maria Masque; and child care expert
Also, I thank the dedicated Head Start teachers who
cooperated in every way possible to make this project go smoothly
thank my mother who is a political genius and a tireless
public servant, and
who really knew how to mediate my TV viewing.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Research on Children
The Child Market ..
Intervention to Increa
Viewing . .
Viewing as a Public Issue . .
I and Television Advertising .
ise Parent Mediation of Children'
* 4 .
* S 4 4
* S S S S S 8
Historical Context: Family Variables in
Effects and Children . . . .
Parent-Child Interaction about Televisio
Theories that Help Explain How Parent-
the Study of Media
n . . . .
* S S S S 4 S S
* S S S S S S S
Helps Preschool Children Understand Television
Previous Interventions to
of Children's Television
Rationale for an Intervent
The Hypotheses .......
Encourage Parental Mediation
Viewing. . . . . .
S 1Lionlets So S is** St Sy *
Scale Properties ....
Test of the Hypotheses
. . . . . . ... 95
S. . p. .. .. .. . p...p 98
. . . . . P P . p 103
ANALYSIS AND CONCLUSION ...........................
Research Problem and Findings Reviewed ...... ....... ...
Limitations of this Investigation
Conclusions . . . .
Public Policy Implications and a Call for Media Literacy
Suggestions for Further Investigation . . .
. . 131
CONTROL CONDITION--BACKGROUND NOTES
PARENT DISCIPLINE ORIENTATION
N . ... . . . .
CHILD MEIASURE . . ..... 149
APPEARANCE-REALITY PRETEST ONLY MEASURE
HOW IT WAS ADMINISTERED
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
THE EFFECT OF TRAINING PARENTS
TO MEDIATE THEIR CHILDREN'S TELEVISION VIEWING
ON CHILDREN'S COMPREHENSION OF COMMERCIALS
The effect of encouraging and training low-income parent/caretakers to
mediate their preschool (age 5) child's television viewing on children's
comprehension of television commercials was investigated.
from eight Head Start classrooms were pretested for three levels of
comprehension of television advertising:
ability to discriminate between
programs and commercials, understanding of the intent of commercial
messages, and understanding the deceptive potential of commercials.
Subsequent to child protesting,
parent dyads (n
self-selected parent/caretaker and
= 45) attended a workshop about television viewing and were
randomly assigned to a control or experimental workshop
Parents in the
received information about children's
viewing and discussed television
Two to three weeks subsequent to their parents'
one of these workshops,
children were posttested.
Children of parents who participated in the experimental workshop
demonstrated significantly greater time 1 to time 2 increases for two open-
ended items that measured children's understanding of the intent of
commercials than children of control workshop parents.
indicated that children of experimental workshop parents accurately
articulated intent of commercials to induce buying the product significantly
more often than children of control workshop parents.
No significant main
effects or interaction effects for time by treatment were found for any of the
other dependent measures.
pretest ability varied widely among the three levels of
Ability to discriminate commercials from
programming was relatively high and increased only slightly on the posttest.
Pretest levels of understanding commercials' deceptive potential was low and
remained low on the posttest. However
the intent of commercials were mixed,
and low scores on free-response items.
er, pretest measures of understanding
with high scores for recognition items
Significant posttest increases for the
experimental group in articulating intent of commercials suggest that
parents can be motivated to successfully apprentice their children in
The intermixing of mass and interpersonal communication that occurs
when families watch television demands that we transcend the narrow
theoretical limits of our subdisciplines.
This arena offers opportunities
to formulate a more fundamental conception of communication as the
basic social process defining, shaping, and coordinating human
(Alexander, 1990, p.223)
Communication between children and parents about television's
symbols acts as a powerful influence intervening between television content
and its effect on children (Alexander, 1990
, Singer & Singer,
,1982; Reid, 1979).
Parents/caretakers have the optimal opportunity to mediate the meanings
their children construct from television content because they are the adults
most likely to be present before, during,
and after children view television
(Bryce & Leichter,
, & O'Brien,
In this study parent/caretaker
-child mediation implies two types of
One type involves the extent to which
parents and other household members spontaneously answer children
questions about the world around them and offer evaluations and
explanations of people, events, objects,
, and messages like televised
Family mediation also refers to how parents/caretakers create and
enforce standards of behavior and how children are disciplined.
Parental limitation and restriction of viewing selections implicitly
communicates values to children,
while parents' comments about television
content explicitly shape children's
perceptions of reality (Lull,
comments can serve to influence values and views of the world and society
embodied in television programming and commercials (Buerkel-Rothfuss,
& Neuendorf, 1982; Lull, 1980
modeling interpretation of the meanings of televised messages and by talking
to their children about how they interpret television, may help their children
to develop their own capacity for interpreting television fare (Corder-Bolz,
Family rules about what and how much viewing is allowed and a
discussion-oriented family communication style are positively associated with
's lower total viewing (Desmond et al
awareness of prosocial
messages (Abelman, 1986; Buerkel-Rothfuss et al.
conventions, recall of narratives, and ability to distinguish
between reality and fantasy (Desmond, Singer,
, & Colimore,
Parents who reported being concerned that their children
are affected by television viewing are more likely to report limiting their
's television viewing (Bybee,
reported being concerned about their children'
understanding of content
were more likely to report engaging in discussions of content with their
children (Abelman, 1990).
Parents who reported using the existing parental
discretion warnings were the same parents who most often reported
mediating their children's
viewing (Slater & Thompson, 1984).
Parental mediation of young children
television viewing in the home
was observed infrequently among the heaviest viewers in a longitudinal
study reported by Desmond et al
The higher parents'
level and the higher their socioeconomic status (SES),
the greater the
likelihood of parents reporting that they mediate their child's
Rubin & Buckley,
The more parents said they believed in television's
the more parents reported engaging in mediating activities
(Medrich et al.
, African-American parents at all SES levels
were less likely to report that they restrict their children
African-American parents (Medrich et al.
's viewing than non-
The majority of parents surveyed about their interest in their children
viewing have indicated that they would welcome educational information to
that viewing (Bower, 1973; Mohr, 1979).
In their detailed volume about
children and television, Comstock and Paik (1991) commented
The proportions (of parents) in the nationally representative data
who assert they
'often' undertake any of the regulative measures only
infrequently approximate 50%.
Because of the widespread approval
of parent involvement we would expect any inaccuracy in reporting to
over-estimate the degree of regulation. (p. 51)
Although observed relationships between higher levels of parental
television mediation and higher levels of children
television strongly suggest a causal relationship,
's comprehension of
direct attempts to elevate
parental mediation have yielded mixed results (Greenberg,
,1990; Heald,1980; Matthews,
Viewin as a Public Issue
Children view an estimated average of 40,000 television commercials a
year (Condry, 1989; Condry
but during children
Saturday mornings advertisers target children.
Child advocates and free-
market proponents have conflicted about the ethics of targeting television
to children for almost 25 years (Action for Children
. Child experts argue that directing persuasive commercial
messages at young children who are not ready to understand the persuasive
intent of the message is not fair (Ward et al.
argue that the market will self-regulate as parents steer their children away
programming came with the 1990 passage of The Children'
Television Act (CTA), which
minutes per hour of children
restricts the number of allowable commercial
programming on both broadcast and cable
outlets (Palumbo, 1991).
in an effort to increase educational children's
CTA requires broadcast stations to air "some" educational/
A new surge of public concern about the effects of media content on
children has accompanied the introduction of each new communication
medium from motion pictures to television (Wartella, & Reeves,
the 1980s cable boom echoed this pattern.
The penetration of cable presents
children with more advertising and more programming,
violence and adult themes.
Cable subscription increases the need for
parental mediation, but according to Atkin,
and Baldwin (1989),
"Despite this fact,
cable subscribers show no more resolve to intervene in the
viewing process than their broadcast counterparts" (p. 578).
Research on Children and Television Advertising
Media researchers have responded to the public's
concern about children
and television advertising with hundreds of studies during the past two and
half decades (Comstock & Paik,
During the late 19
Os the National
Science Foundation convened a group of media researchers to provide data
for the Federal Trade Commissions' consideration of the issue.
commercials from programming, (b) ability to discern the selling intent of
(c) understanding the persuasive and/or deceptive potential of
television commercials. They concluded that
A substantial proportion of children, particularly tho
se below age
7 or 8,
do not draw upon the concept of selling intent in defining commercials,
in distinguishing them from programs,
suggesting little comprehension and/or
as a critical feature of advertising.
or in explaining their purpose,
low salience of persuasive intent
Comstock and Paik (1991) emphasize that although the data may
suggest that by the time children are seven years old the majority can
correctly identify commercials verses programming, if children cannot
recognize commercials' persuasive intent, their ability to distinguish
commercials as different from the program is irrelevant.
Successful mediation of children'
viewing will be influenced by the
child's developmental level and cognitive capacities.
Levin et al.
that when the researchers used nonverbal measures,
,4-, and 5-year old
preschoolers could make a distinction between commercials and
The youngest children made correct identifications more than
50% of the time and 5-year-old children about 80% of the time.
90% of mothers of 3-year olds reported that their children asked for toys they
saw advertised on television (Lyle & Hoffman,
distinguish between commercials and programming and to associate
advertised products with buying requests develop well in advance of their
normally does not develop until between ages 4 and 5 (Flavell, Flavell &
Understanding the deceptive potential of a commercial; i.e.,
that a commercial may portray a product more attractively on television than
it is in real life in order to induce the audience to buy,
complex cognitive abilities (e.g.,
requires even more
the viewer must be capable of thinking about
manipulation of the viewer).
The capacity for this type of
recursive thinking does not develop fully until later childhood (Miller et al.,
The Child Market
Half of all 5-year-old children make purchases regularly with the help of
parents (McNeal &
The attraction of marketers to these young
people is based not only on the number of potential consumers but also on the
belief by marketers that young audiences are more desirable because they
have not yet formed brand loyalty (Stabiner, 1993).
Not only are young
children a more easily influenced market, but they are a burgeoning market.
In 1989 the United States birth rate reached more than 4 million for the first
time since the early 1960s (Shrieves,
population increase as an opportunity to cultivate a new children'
A group of 48 million United States spenders younger than
command allowances and incomes that total $15 billion dollars annually
and have the potential of influencing $147 billion dollars worth of purchases
Given this lucrative potential, young child audiences are targeted
aggressively by toy,
cereal, fast food, and other product manufacturers
and service providers (Stabiner,
Although young children
's inability to
discern the selling intent of commercials is well established (Ward et al.,
1977), public policy does not regulate the marketplace.
helping their children to understand the selling intent of commercials--
emerges as a viable option for parents who want their young children to
interpret commercial messages accurately
Researchers using observational
and ethnographic methods have discovered that as audiences interact and
they assign their own meanings to television content that may be
quite discrepant from the meanings intended by sponsors and producers
Parents may become "cognitive filters" (Ward et al.
pointing out or asking their child to identify the advertised product, or
explaining the selling purpose of the commercial message and that messages
may be deceptive.
Intervention to Increase Parent Mediation of Children
The few studies involving interventions designed to help parents
their television mediation efforts have yielded mixed results.
suggest that simply giving parents information (Greenberg et al.,
less effective than giving parents encouragement to regulate their child's
viewing accompanied by explicit instructions and concrete examples (Heald,
investigation is to determine whether children from low-income families--
whose parents are encouraged and informed about why and how to mediate
their young children's television viewing--will increase in ability to
distinguish commercials from programming, in their understanding of the
intent of television advertising,
potential of television advertising.
and in their understanding of the deceptive
The theoretical sources that guided the
conceptualization of this investigation will be discussed in Chapter 2.
Family Variables in the Study of Media Effects and Children
More than six decades ago,
the Motion Picture Research Council
responded to parental concerns about the influence of violent and sexual
motion picture content on their children by initiating what was to become the
first large-scale research program to study media effects on children,
Payne Fund Studies.
During the late 1920s and early
, a group of
leading United States educational psychologist
sociologists set out to elucidate the public debate over whether or not
commercial motion pictures were responsible for contemporary youth crime
The scholars conducted a series of 12 large-scale studies on
the influence of motion pictures upon children and youth.
and qualitative approaches to determine young
use of the medium,
, school performance, and
demographics, as well as the relationships between their movie viewing and
The Payne Fund researchers defined and isolated variables and
mP2.lurod nhsprvablhe nuantifiable outcomes. like learning.
and gender with the influence of motion pictures on behaviors
these studies revealed that children with strong social ties like family and
community support were less influenced by antisocial motion picture
messages than children with weak social ties (Charters, 1933).
early point in media effects research, researchers identified the importance of
family influence as a factor intervening between the viewer and the message.
The diffusion of television into lives of American children began in the
late 1940s, at the same time the study of mass communications as a distinct
academic discipline developed.
The rapid introduction of television into
American homes catalyzed the public to ask if violent programming content
could be influencing the rise of juvenile delinquency
Legislators called for
studies into the influence of television on children (Rowland,
, Congressional hearings addressed this concern.
backward glance was given to the Payne Fund studies' earlier conclusions,
Senator Owen Harris
, Chair of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary
Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency
dismissed the Payne
es' findings as inconclusive.
ignorance of this early
work left researchers of the new medium to rediscover laboriously patterns of
influence that had been established fairly well two decades earlier.
In 1955 Paul Lazarsfeld, one of the founders of communications
, called for the study of parental influence on children
ways families spent their leisure time (Himmelweit,
1958; Shramm, Lyle,
Shramm et al.
(1961) conducted a
multi-study program spanning many communities in both the United States
Schramm and his associates
surveyed hundreds of families and
found an active child audience with definite viewing patterns and
This early recognition of the child as active in the process of
television viewing stands apart from the emphasis on how the child is acted
on, characteristic of the effects research that was to follow
Shramm et al.
identified a group of intervening variables that they saw as mediating the
child's viewing process:
and peer relations.
These variables are similar to those identified in several of the Payne Fund
studies three decades earlier.
While family-related variables like income and education provide
demographics that relate to children's
knowledge and behaviors,
they do not
provide a picture of the complexities of interpersonal relating within a family
naturalistic observations are best suited to establish these data (Desmond et
al., 1990; Lull
During the 1950s when American
families rapidly adopted television,
the social and behavioral sciences favored
positivist paradigms and methods that relied on quantitative techniques.
Phenomenological approaches to understanding familial influences on
television viewing, like naturalistic observation, did not flourish
early research on television effects on children.
experiences generally were not studied within the context of family variabi
A series of laboratory experiments conducted by Bandura and Ross
(1963) established a strong relationship between young children'
to television models/behaviors and subsequent performance of the same
Identification with a model implies an intricate set of prior
experiences; for most young children the greater part of that experience
occurs within a family context.
research lead to the observation
that certain factors inhibited or disinhibited the child'
performance of the
observed behavior (Bandura, 1977).
For example, a child's
characteristics of a particular model/actor had a disinhibiting effect on the
child's performance of behaviors displayed by the model/actor.
cognitive approaches to learning became more common in the late 1960s
the 1970s did media effects researchers begin to explore the intricate
influence of prior experiences and social contexts on children's
, Blumer, in his work Symbolic Interactionism,
reservations about the direction of television effects research.
the impoverishment of the effects paradigm in mass media research.
came to this argument well-qualified, as one of the original Payne Fund
researchers and a
"Chicago school" disciple of social psychologist G. H. Mead,
whose ideas formed the foundation of symbolic interactionism.
carefully observe the phenomena they purported to be studying.
emphasized that this type of first-hand observation was not antithetical to
empiricism but was truly empirical and should form the basis of research
grounded in fact.
Blumer (1969) acknowledged that the lack of this first-hand observation
social contexts was attributable to a lack of sponsorship and support for
this type of phenomenological research.
Social science researchers were not
being funded for ethnographic-style field research that did not purpose to
gather inferential statistical findings.
Yet he argued without this rich
foundation of observed phenomena from which to derive meaning,
truly understand the complex interactions of media and daily life.
observational and in-depth interviewing methodologies
have provided traditional effects research with a phenomenologically based
perspective on the interplay of family variables,
television exposure, and
's behaviors (Brody & Stoneman, 1983; Reid,
rames Lull (1980),
1979; Reid & Frazer,
a major investigator of family uses of television,
, observational, and in-depth interviewing methods to
determine concrete practices of family interaction around television.
research represented a growing trend toward including how "certain
environmental conditions facilitate the learning of attitudes,
behavior patterns from television by children in preschool and early school
laboratory experiments, and ethnographic/observational research conducted
in natural settings.
The importance of the family, particularly interactions
between children and parents in modifying the influences of television
are well documented by investigations across these methodologies
(Comstock & Paik
However, despite a long tradition of research on
children and media effects
, the challenge of Lazarsfeld's call for "
which would result in ideas as to how the average family can create an
atmosphere which will compete with television" (p.
250) remains to be met.
Parent-Child Interaction about Television
Family variables have been identified as influencing the effects of media
messages on children for more than five decades (Charters,
1933; Desmond et
, 1985; Chaffee, McLeod,
Huston, & Wright,
Schramm et al., 1961)).
Studies examining the relationships
parental mediation and children's
responses to television viewing may be
considered in a variety of ways.
In this review
studies will be discussed
according to methodological categories.
In the examination of any social
different methodological approaches contribute complementary
information--from broad societal trends to intimate observations.
may be pieced together to present a more complete understanding of the
subject under inquiry.
, knowledge, and behaviors; these are parental income/social economic
and viewing habits (Bower,
Also of interest are
parents' self-reports of their attitudes and behaviors concerning active
mediation of their children's viewing, including nonrestrictive interactions
like conversations about programming and restrictive mediation like
regulating viewing quantities,
and selections (Adler et al.
Greenberg, & Baldwin, 1991
Parental income correlates to the amount of
, with higher incomes associated with greater
nonrestrictive mediation as reported by parents in a survey of 421
and 10th-grade students and their parents (Atkin et al.,
In the same survey
lower parent income was related to greater
amounts of children
television viewing (Atkin et al.
African-American families are more likely to be heavier viewers of television
regardless of income (Anderson & Williams,
Survey data relating parental education to viewing
Many studies indicate a negative correlation between parent
education and family viewing (Comstock,
1978; Timmer et al.
According to a survey of 219 low-income parents of 2-
to 4-year-old children,
total viewing is negatively associated with education, income,
occupational status (Murphy et al.,
rules about television viewing increases with their education (Medrich et al.,
Family media use.
Viewing habit data are not surprising.
television parents view, the more their children view (Desmond et.
Children of more educated parents watch less adult programming (Murphy et
Children from single-parent families view more television than
children in two-parent families (Webster, Pearson &
on a Canadian sample of 330 5-
12-year-old children, the more television
sets families have, the more children view alone and the less parents regulate
their viewing (Baron,
But coviewing only modestly predicted any kind
of parental mediation or conversational involvement (Brody et al., 1980
Kovaric, & Doubleday,
Parents and children were observed to touch
more during coviewing than during parent-child playing (Brody et al.
As Comstock and Paik (1991) indicated,
assessments of parental mediation patterns from survey and questionnaire
data reveal a paradox. Appr
of mediation are low (Bower,
toward regulating children's
oval for parental mediation is high
In a survey of consumer attitudes
93% of the respondents
said that they believed it was up to parents to regulate their children'
g behavior (Cully
's (1980) survey of 3,321 Texas families,
52% of parents
watched, and 55% said they often or always talked to their children about
In a nationwide survey of 2,000 Americans 18 years and older sponsored
less than 50% of parents of children 4-6 years old reported that they
"often" regulated their children's
included many questions about television limits, including limiting time
regulating what children watched, and changing the channel
when the program was objectionable.
A comparison of data from the
CBS audience survey and earlier versions of the survey conducted in 1960
and 1970 revealed that parents reported slight increases in having rules
about viewing amounts and selections for children 4-9 years old (Bower,
Despite the low levels of parental mediation indicated by survey data,
many researchers report positive associations between parents'
learning from and comprehension of televised content.
Parental mediations have been demonstrated to influence children's
gains from television exposure,
behavioral responses to televised content,
's social cognition in regard to televised content.
learning of cognitive skills from television is
enhanced by adult/parental mediations that are relevant to the "lesson."
enhanced by parental interactions during viewing of Sesame Street (Cook,
, Shaffer, Tamkin,
, 1975; Lesser,
. Collins et
al. (1981) found that second grade children who watched a drama with an
adult who pointed out implicit plot features scored better on understanding
the narrative than children to whom the adult coviewers made neutral
In a series of laboratory studies by Corder-Bolz (1980),
the effects of
adult mediation on children's cognitive skills and social perceptions were
examined, including reading skills from Electric Company,
gender roles from All in the Family,
and perceptions of violent acts from
The author found that the interaction of a
aide regarding reading skills content greatly enhanced the
instructional value of a program for a child, but only with content that
children were ready to learn.
Another study compared children who watched
an All in the Family episode with and without a parent-surrogate mediator
reinforcing the nontraditional
sex roles in the program.
pretested one week in advance of the viewing session and posttested
immediately and one week after.
Children in the mediated condition scored
highest in acceptance of non-traditional sex roles.
The effectiveness of parental mediation on children's
behavioral responses to television commercials were tested in a laboratory
Children in the experimental condition viewed a program with
one of two toy commercials, either for a very attractive toy or for a less
Mothers were coached to discourage children's
interest in the
toys by either using a power-assertive or a reasoning manner.
and sons were rejoined a half hour later, the experimenter left them alone
under the guise of setting up a game for the child. During the "wait,"
mothers presented counter-information about the advertised toy to the child.
Children were then lead into a "toy store" room where they could opt to get
the advertised toy
an unadvertised toy, or cash.
Results indicated that the children whose mothers reasoned with them
were less likely to buy the toy only in the case of the less attractive toy.
Children exposed to the power-assertive counter-argument chose the
advertised toy more often than children in the control condition.
lead to the conclusion that parental reasoning can influence children's
behavioral responses to commercials, but when the product is very attractive
neither parental reasoning nor power-assertiveness are influential and
power-assertiveness parental interactions are not effective regardless of the
toy (Prasad et al.,
Other studies have demonstrated that social cognition
may be enhanced by parental mediation of television viewing.
were shown prosocial and antisocial programming, children whose mothers
Guiding children as they watch family shows to notice prosocial
interactions can influence the beliefs children hold about how family
members behave in the real world (Buerkel-Rothfuss et al.
encouraging family communication patterns coupled with specific television
rules are associated strongly with children's
visual conventions, plot comprehension, and
(Singer et al.
comprehension of television
I understanding commercials
Another of Corder-Bolz's
(1980) experiments compared children who
viewed the Batman episode with and without a parent-surrogate mediator.
The mediator devalued the violence and discussed alternatives to violence for
When posttested, children in the mediated condition were
less likely to report
that hitting and stealing were all right.
studies Corder-Bolz concluded:
As parents and other adults
verbalize their interpretations and
evaluations of television programs and commercials to their children,
the children will internalize these critical viewing skills,
ultimately make television a more positive part of their lives.
Family communication style. Experimental and survey studies have
been helpful in establishing relationships as well as the cause and effect of
parental mediation on children's outcomes.
These studies reveal the
important influence of family communication styles on children
(Chaffee & McLeod, 19
's media use
A measure of family communication patterns
(FCP) developed by Steven Chaffee and Jack McLeod (1971) has been popular
controversial topics and self-expression is labeled
other dimension which discourages children from expressing anger or
disagreeing with parents is labeled
Despite successes in
establishing correlations between this measure of family communication style
cognitive and behavioral responses to television viewing,
FCP has been criticized as not tapping more "important dimensions of family
interaction" (Alexander, 1990,
Qualitative Studies of Parental Mediation
Dissatisfaction with the limitations of survey and experimental
methodologies for revealing dimensions of family interaction have lead
researchers to investigate with qualitative methodologies.
Sarett (1981) conducted in-depth interviews with 26 parents as a basis for
hypothesis development about parent-child interactions involving television
From these interviews and reviews of previous
developed a theoretical framework for studying the relationship between
parent-child interactions about television content and the development of
interpretational skills and behaviors.
Several consequences of parent-child interactions about television were
categorized, including changes in the way the child interprets televised
content, changes in the child's inventory of cognitive categories about the real
world, changes in the child's
pattern of interacting with the environment, and
changes in one or a combination of knowledge,
Although a systematic approach to testing these hypotheses is lacking,
evidence of the validity of Messaris and Sarett's hypotheses is found
throughout the parent-child and television literature.
In the late 1970s some mass communication researchers began
employing ethnographic methods like naturalistic in-home observation and
in-depth interviews for studying families and mass communications (Brody &
Brody et al., 1980; Lull, 1980; Messais & Sarret,
. These studies contributed detailed, intimate,
about the interactions of families around television viewing.
children's interactions with parents and siblings about televised content are
included in many of these studies.
These data, by providing observation-
based accounts of family interaction may contribute to the conceptualization
of non-ethnographic studies as well.
Reid and Frazer (1980) used observational techniques to study children
using television in their play
. Their report includes numerous examples of
transcribed interactions between children as they watch television.
examples clearly support their conclusion that co-viewing siblings '
television and its content as social objects" as they play (p
interaction is particularly relevant to the present investigation:
age 5 and Ed,
are watching a Saturday morning cartoon
The nroeram is interrupted by 3.
In interviewing Ed and Charles'
parents, the researchers learned that
the parents actively taught their children about the nature and purpose of
The above example shows the older child quizzing
his young sibling about commercials just as he has seen his parents do.
Frazer and Reid took a symbolic interactionist approach to this research,
pointing out that children treat televised content like social objects to be
discussed, interpreted, and manipulated.
principle of social learning theory as we
This example also reflects the
see that the older sibling has learned
the quizzing behavior from his parents and is capable of impressive
Lull (1980) studied
television viewing in the lives
of more than 200
families of varying social economic status.
2 to 7 days with families observing their media use.
Participant-observers spent from
Families were not aware
were focusing on media use.
At the end of the observation
period, each family member was interviewed in-depth.
Social uses of
television in the home were categorized as either structural or relational.
Structural uses included using television as an environmental background
and as a way to punctuate time and family activities.
Of interest in the
current investigation are the relational uses of television identified by Lull.
Relational uses refers to the ways that family members use television in their
relationships with one another.
of relational uses were observed:
Children, for example, use television programs and characters as
primary known-in-common referents in order to clarify issues they
A child often uses television in order to enter an adult
conversation ... by using a television example which illustrates the
point being made by one of the adult interactants.
Television facilitates conversations by providing a common
that everyone can refer to and talk about.
around television viewing tend to be prolific but not substantive.
however, that the advent of more controversial programming in the late
1970s provided opportunities for family members to clarify attitudes and
Some parents used themes and values portrayed in television shows
to help socialize their children into perspectives consistent with their own.
They did this by encouraging or discouraging viewing, informal evaluation,
Another relational use is affiliation/avoidance
which refers to use of
television to enhance or deter interpersonal contact among family members.
Family members touch more while watching television,
television viewing to escape interaction (Lull,
but they may also use
The two relational uses of television most pertinent to parent-child
interaction are social learning and competence/dominance.
programming provided a source of social learning.
encouraged children to watch educational programs that provided lessons in
Parents also used themes presented in television
viewing by limiting viewing times.
Parental regulation of
's viewing was placed within the category of relational use that Lull
referred to as competence/dominance.
This refers to the opportunities
provided by television programming for family members to demonstrate
competence and dominance in their roles.
For example, parents may limit
and select their children's television viewing to reflect their parental values.
Another way in which television use may enable family members to
display role competence is by referencing to the symbolic portrayals of
television characters as confirmation of parental roles.
enjoyed criticizing and correcting newscasters and other "authorities" as well
as pointing out editing incongruities and other technical flaws as a way of
displaying their competence to other family members.
Family members also
used television to dominate others by controlling programming choices or
withdrawing access to television as a punishment.
The categories delineated by Lull (1980) provided a picture of family
communication and television use that confirms the central role of television
in family life and the complexity of family members' interactions around and
about television uses.
The uses of television as a
source of conversational
, social learning, and parental regulation are basic assumptions in
the conceptualization of the present investigation.
For each family
uses vary in proportion and emphasis and patterns of parent-child
A Multi-Method Longitudinal Study
longitudinal research on media effects and children have
sometimes combined survey,
experimental, and ethnographic methods within
studies to refine hypotheses about family influences on children's television
1982; Singer et al., 1988).
'Television and Family Living
," a 3-year longitudinal study conducted by Jerome and Dorothy
Roger Desmond, and their associates combined survey data,
and naturalistic observation in preschools and
Data from this study provides important background for the current
investigation and therefore will be described in detail.
From the literature, Desmond et al.
three categories of
communication that have been observed during and after children view with
and disciplinary intervention.
Coviewing between parents and preschool children potentially provides
opportunities for discussing prosocial and cognitive content; however,
coviewing does not necessarily predict these positive mediation and occurs
least often with younger children "who need mediation the most" (Desmond
The purpose of their work was to discover behavioral and cognitive
consequences of family mediation.
They defined mediation as
"some form of
active effort by parents and others to translate the complexities of the
interested in the relationships between parental mediation/discipline styles
cognitive skills in understanding television.
Their analysis was based on data gathered from 66 urban kindergarten
and first-grade children and their parents who were studied over a 3-year
The authors collected data from parents using a variety of methods,
including 10 days
worth of family diaries detailing all family activities
including media use,
parent-child interaction questionnaires,
questionnaires about media use, media rules,
perceptions of their child
's aggressive behaviors,
and a self-report measure of
The children were tested using the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test and
three scales of the Peabody Individual Achievement Test
and general knowledge.
Children also were
tested on their ability to discriminate between television fantasy and reality,
ability to follow plots, knowledge of television special effects, knowledge of
the purpose of commercials, and perceptions of family television viewing
Open-ended responses to pictures of families interacting in various
situations were elicited from the children.
Observational measures of
's restlessness were made by research staff while children were
"waiting" to be tested at the research center.
In addition, 26 families of the
children rated as the heaviest television viewers were visited by researchers
situations in which parent-child interactions take place.
Two responses to
each situation were described and parents were asked to check the response
that was closest to how they might respond.
Results of the P-C Q yielded a
description verses prescription.
Parents who scored high on
the description end of the dimension indicated a preference for explaining,
pointing things out,
and allowing the child to participate in decisions; parents
who scored high on the prescription end of the dimension indicated a
preference for using moral judgment and discipline.
The authors reported
"our sample could be characterized as varying along a dimension
reflecting either a serious effort to discuss and explain the world to children
or one in which the primary modes of communication are
related to control or moralizing (prescriptive)"
(Desmond et al.
To assess parents' disciplinary style, a situation was posed (e.g.,
child talks back to parent) and parents were asked to indicate the likelihood
on a four-point scale ranging from "never" to "usually "of their taking 12
possible disciplinary actions.
Two styles dominated the parental response
patterns: a power-assertive discipline style and a love-withdrawal discipline
High power-assertive responders were characterized as preferring a
rule-oriented, authority-based discipline style.
responders were characterized as using the withdrawal of emotional support
as a discipline method.
child's ability to distinguish fantasy from reality
was negatively correlated with the child'
Descriptive mediation style
total hours of viewing television.
reality versus fantasy scores were related positively to their
IQ scores, their reports of television rules in the home, a power-assertive
parental discipline style,
and descriptive family mediation.
to discriminate between reality and fantasy was related negatively to amount
of weekly television viewing.
zooms was associated
positively with a power-assertive discipline style, descriptive mediation and
positively with the mother'
's heavy television viewing was associated
little discussion or explanation in
the family, and a large emphasis on psychological discipline.
comprehension scores (based on open recall of a movie they
were shown at the research center) were related positively to parent's
reports of their coviewing guidance and explanation, children's
mothers' positive comments in response to the projectile test family situation
reports of parents'
The type of family
environment associated with low comprehension included heavy child and
parent television viewing, low
and a love-withdrawal
form of discipline.
's general information drops as family discussion
lessens and viewing increases.
The best preparation for a child's
the role and function of commercial messages on television,
Results indicated that a family communication pattern of discussion
and explanation in
Year 1 was positively related to several measures of
television comprehension in
. When combined with positive-
assertive methods of discipline, descriptive style was related positively to
Descriptive style was related negatively to children'
hours of viewing and parental assessments of the child's
aggression in Year
The correlational and multiple regression analysis consistently indicated
that a parental style of description versus prescription proved the most
influential independent variable on both cognitive and behavioral dependent
Although this correlational study confirmed a positive association
between parental mediation in children's comprehension of the purpose of
commercials, claims for a causal relationship could not be made.
Data collected as part of this study also were analyzed to determine any
gender differences in relationships between parental mediation and
television comprehension, viewing quantity
, Singer & Singer,
In the sample of 66 children,
male and half female
Desmond et al.
(1987) found some significant gender
Relationships between parent-reported television-specific
mediation, general television comprehension, and comprehension of
commercials differed significantly between boys and girls.
The major finding
was that parental mediation correlated significantly more strongly with boys'
high television comprehension were receiving relatively high levels of
parental mediation and that the same was not the case for female subjects.
In addition, negative correlations between parental mediation and children
observed restlessness and aggression were greater for boys than for girls.
One explanation for this finding offered by the authors was that boys have
lower initial levels of television comprehension and therefore more to gain
from high levels of parental mediation.
Studies on Parent-Child Interaction about Advertisine
The relationship between young children's
comprehension and parental mediation of viewing has been demonstrated
(Desmond et al
Much research on the effects of advertising on
children was conducted during the 1970s, in response to public controversy
about the ethics of advertising to young children. Among the variables
investigated was the role of parental mediation (Adler et al.
1979; Robertson, 1979
Ward et al
(1977) conducted a study of children's
consumer socialization and television advertising by interviewing 615 parent-
child pairs about family situations related to consumer behavior.
looked to earlier socialization research and determined that "the family is a
more important influence on consumer socialization than television
They took a situational view of children's
combining questionnaire and observational data, provided evidence that
maternal mediation was the single greatest influence on children's
socialization (Ward et al
A laboratory experiment demonstrated that children
's toy purchase
choices could be influenced by prior parental discussion about the toy
(Corder-Bolz & O'Bryant,
An in-home observational study revealed
responses to television advertising could be influenced by
specific parental rules for television viewing behavior (Reid, 1979).
example, not allowing children to ask for products during commercials or to
mimic commercials seems to reduce product requests presumably because it
reduces recall (Reid,
In a review of literature about parental
mediation of television and advertising effects, Robertson (1979) concluded
that "the impact of advertising is a function of a complex set of family,
and situational factors" (p
responses to television advertising were found to be related to
parental discussion about consumption of goods and services (Ward &
parental approval of the advertised product (Atkin, 1978)
and differences in family environment associated with parental education
(Robertson & Rossiter,
A regression analysis suggested that for
mother-child interaction is the most important factor
contributing to consumer skill development (Ward et al.,
three progressive levels of comprehension are associated with
's understanding of television advertising, including the ability to
discriminate commercials from programming, an understanding of the selling
intent of commercials, and understanding that commercial messages have
the potential to mislead or deceive the viewer (Comstock & Paik,
Ability to discriminate between programs and commercials.
children have demonstrated the ability to discriminate between programming
and commercials, a skill that precedes the ability to define what a
commercial is (Levin et al.,
In one study
, subjects were
72 predominantly white preschool children from urban lower-middle class
The researchers showed children a video tape comprising a series of
, 10-second, randomly mixed segments including 7 adult commercials, 14
and 7 children's commercials.
Segments were separated
by 3 seconds of black. Children were asked to identify each segment as either
a commercial or a program. Children as young as 3 years old were able to
make the distinction between programming and commercials, and by the age
of 5 most children were able to identify commercials 77% of the time and
programming 67% of
No significant differences in 3- and 4-year-
old responses were found (Levin et al., 1982).
Although this ability appeared
fairly consistent by age 5 in most children, it did not
to articulate the intent of commercials.
than 8 years old lack comprehension of the selling intent of messages (Paget,
, & Bergemann,
Robertson and Rossiter (19
4) identified the
cognitive factors that precede a child's understanding of intention as the
ability to discriminate between commercials and programming, recognition of
an external source, perception of an intended audience, and awareness of the
symbolic nature of commercials--i.e.
, "the symbolic devises used to enhance
the presentation of the product like idealized settings or dramatized
character emotions" (p.
and experience of discrepancies between the
actual product and the product as advertised.
Robertson and Rossiter (1974) studied children
's ability to attribute
persuasive intent to commercials.
Their sample included 289 first,
fifth grade boys with social class backgrounds ranging from upper-lower to
Data was collected through child interviews using open-ended
The researchers stated that they were
"dealing with the child'
inferences about what the communicator intends" (p
A pilot study
revealed that children attributed two kinds of intent to commercial messages,
A child expressing assistive intent regarding a
commercial might say
"commercials tell you about things," whereas a child
describing persuasive intent might say
"commercials try to make you buy
Almost 53% of first graders and 99% of fifth graders recognized
determinant of persuasive intent recognition.
The results also supported the
conclusion that "the child who is able to discern persuasive intent is less
influenced by advertising in that he is less trusting,
and tends to make fewer consumption requests"
In a study using role-taking ability as a predictor of understanding
, Perloff, and Hawkins (1982) compared the effectiveness
of Piagetian logical operations and role-taking ability as predictors of
understanding the purpose of television commercials.
hypothesized that understanding the purpose of commercials requires social
cognitive skills more than physical cognition, the focus of logical operations.
The authors assessed first- and third-graders for both their level of
logical operations and their role-taking ability
For the latter they used
's (1971) tool for assessing role-taking ability
. Children were exposed
to television commercials and then assessed for their understanding of the
purpose of the commercials.
Role-taking ability was correlated more highly
than logical operations with understanding the purpose of the commercials,
and both were associated more closely with understanding commercials than
was grade level. TI
his finding led the authors to conclude that the social
by role-taking ability may be more predictive of children'
understanding of commercials than age alone.
They also suggested that this
finding has practical implications for accelerating children
Understanding deceptive potential of TV commercials.
developmentally advanced level of children's
comprehension of commercials
is understanding the deceptive potential of commercial messages.
Recognition that the commercial message about the product may differ from
the product itself has been used as a criterion for determining understanding
of deceptive potential.
(1974) sample, only 11
Among first-grade boys in the Robertson and Rossiter
2.5% perceived discrepancies between the product and
message. Among fifth-grade boys, however,
discrepancies. This large difference suggest
78.7% realized these
that between the ages of 6 and
understanding that commercials can be deceptive increases
. This understanding has been linked with children
ability to engage in recursive thinking.
In a study of children's comprehension of commercials,
Bergemann (1984) employed the concept of recursivee thinking,
to the ability to think about thinking.
" which refers
This ability is particularly applicable
to children's comprehension of the deceptive potential of commercials.
Recursive thinking may simply refer to a 1-loop process of thinking about
thinking, or to the more complex process of thinking about someone else
thinking about your thinking,
referred to as 2-loop recursive thinking (Miller,
Paget et al.
(1984) propose that advertising
situations are "quintessential examples of recursive thinking in its true
advertiser can think about how to manipulate the viewer into buying the
by making the product look better than it is in real
Although an early study found that 40% of 11-year-old children could
demonstrate 2-loop recursive thinking (Miller et al.
, in general,
2-loop recursive thinking is not actualized until
adolescence (Paget et al., 1984).
In their experiment,
Paget et al.
(1984) showed children a commercial
portraying a 10-year-old who bribes his younger sibling into eating his
The authors wanted to discover how a third party observing
this interaction understands its purpose and implications.
At issue is the
ability to think about how others are thinking about
manipulating them, or 2-loop recursive thinking.
To measure their subjects'
recursive thinking ability, they tested each one individually after showing
them four versions of the cereal-bribing commercial described above.
Questions required subjects to think about the behavior portrayed and about
the thinking behind the portrayal of that behavior.
The authors found that recursive thinking scores were higher for each
successive grade level,
and that the main developmental changes occurred
between kindergarten and third grade for increments in 1-loop recursive
thinking and between sixth grade and college for 2-loop recursive thinking.
Paget et al. conclude that "the development of 2-loop recursive thinking is
strategies used in television advertisements of children's
understand the manipulative intent of the messages (Paget et al.,
Theories that Held Explain How Parent-Child Interaction Helps Preschool
The review of literature related to parental-interactions and children's
comprehension of advertising suggests that young children learn about
televised content through exposures to the medium and interactions about
that content within their social milieu.
, and developing social cognitive capacities are key proc
involved in children'
learning about television content, including
Each of these processes has been posited theoretically and
Social learning theory relates to how children learn
behaviors from watching television as well as to how they learn to watch
television from observing their social milieu.
Symbolic interactionism relates
, through social interactions, children learn to treat televised messages
as social objects that are interpreted through interaction with others.
cognitive theories relate to how children
's mental capacities develop and
facilitate their understanding of both vicarious (e.g
., televised) and real social
The human capacity for symbolization facilitates learning by observation
Even verve voun children learn pnmnlpx hphaviors from
televised content and the behaviors of others regarding television.
the advent of television has greatly expanded the range of models
available to children and adults alike
people today can observe and
learn diverse styles of conduct within the comfort of their homes through
the abundant symbolic modeling provided by the mass media.
A second source of observational learning is parents and other family
members mediating and interpreting the meanings of televised symbols
through verbal and non-verbal parent-child interaction.
itself becomes a source of observational learning for the child.
television parents watch and what they watch are highly related to children's
quantity of viewing and viewing selections (Murphy et al.
' tendency to discount television messages and discuss television
content provide children with models of text interpretation (Lull, 1982).
Social learning theory research portrays children as rapid learners of
behaviors they see on television; children can learn complex behaviors from a
single viewing of a televised model (Bandura & Ross, 1963; Friedrich & Stein,
Although children are seen as actively acquiring behaviors from
observation, their actual performance of these behaviors depends in part on
Performance of learned behaviors from television depends on
intervening social variables like how much the viewer identifies with the
actor and whether or not the actor is observed receiving reinforcements that
are salient to the young viewer.
When the child identifies with the actor,
performer of the behavior and sees the actor receiving rewards like affection
and material possessions rather than punishment like physical harm
identification with the characteristics like
, social class,
and age of a television model,
that carry strong implications of prior social
experiences, have been demonstrated to be a source of associations that
enhance learning from television (Newcomb & Collins,
interesting to note that these are the same intervening variables identified as
modifying the influences of motion picture viewing in the Payne Fund studies
1933) and in the Schramm, Lyle, parker's
Our Children (1961).
In addition, the child viewer'
Television in the Lives
tendency to be
influenced by the actors'
rewards and punishments, implies that the child
has had real experience with those vicarious reinforcers.
Social reinforcers rely on a complex system of internalized attractions,
and responses based on the individual's prior experience.
meanings that these intervening variables have for individual viewers are
implicit within their capacity to reinforce.
The audience brings to these
experiences an intricate history of associations that they have symbolized in
their thought processes.
For one child the image of a race car means going
, for another it may remind him of a tragic accident.
For one child, the
image is a positive vicarious reinforcer, for the other a negative vicarious
determining human behavior (Bandura, 1977)
influence of the individual's
He acknowledged that the
cognitive representations of consequences on
their future behavior could be more powerful than experienced consequences.
As Bandura altered his description of social learning from its operant
conditioning roots to a cognitive conception of learning,
embraced the importance of symbolic representation in the formation of
beliefs and actions.
elevation of the importance of
symbolic processes came later in his exploration of human learning, for other
scholars symbolic processes had always held a central role in how they
conceptualized the formation of human thought and action.
Mead developed a theoretical description of a process whereby the
meanings of thin
including people, objects and events,
interactions between people.
Mead saw people,
, and things as "social
objects" to be manipulated like objects,
and their meanings as "social
products," formed through the defining activities of people as they interact.
theoretical approach was coined symbolic interactionism by Mead's
student, Herbert Blumer (Blumer,
Mead based his theory on the
human beings act on the basis of meaning
learning is derived from interaction with one's
meanings can be interpreted and modified through interaction with
clf' and nthpre
bJL.tA t..X~ tV1 ~ U**1j LI.II1 L *S L't' LI _
social milieu, envisions individuals learning by interacting within
a social context.
This scenario describes children participating in family life.
The activities of family members occur predominantly in response to, or in
relationship to, one another.
a nonverbal level; i.e., "the c
Mead identified two levels of social interaction:
conversation of gestures," and a verbal level; i.e.,
"the use of significant symbols" (Blumer,
The former refers to
interaction that does not rely on the language's verbal symbols but rather
emphasizes actions like the "gestures"
program or turning off the television sf
of changing the channel from a violent
et. These gestures do not rely on
verbal interpretation, but they do convey powerful meanings.
learn behaviors regarding television viewing from parent's viewing selection
and quantity of viewing has been demonstrated repeatedly in studies
showing high correlations between parental and child viewing patterns
(Desmond et al.
1985; Timmer et al.
"that meanings can be interpreted and modified
through interaction with self and others," (Blumer, 1969,
p. 2) may be related
directly to parent's
verbal mediation of televised content.
interpretation as a formative process that uses and revises meanings as tools
for forming and guiding action.
The child who grows up within a social
where the meanings of television content frequently are
discussed will interpret that content not only based on exposure to the
interpretation and re-interpretation that occur during social interaction.
example, a television commercial's verbal text may declare that a pair of
shoes will enable you to jump higher and run faster, but the parent may
revise that intended meaning and interpret it as hyperbole.
It is this revised
meaning, not the advertisers' intended meaning that guides the parents
her decision whether or not to purchase the shoes when her child
Meanings themselves are social products.
and everything has to be formed,
through a process of indication" (Blumer, 1969,
And like any object
indicated through the social process, this content can undergo change in its
Research on parental mediation of television viewing has shown
that pointing out prosocial interactions to children as they watch family
shows influenced what children believed about real world families'
(Buerkel-Rothfuss et al.
In a family milieu where television messages
are discussed and
meanings are interpreted by family members, the child will derive meanings
from family members' interpretation.
understanding of television
and ability to discriminate between reality and fantasy are enhanced by
critical discussions and interpretation of television content in concert with
restrictions on viewing amounts and selections (Desmond,
programming, parents may impart antisocial meanings to their children
(Desmond et al., 1990).
To better understand the influences of observing family behaviors and
parent-child interactions on children's responses to television viewing,
must go beyond the explanatory power of social learning theory and symbolic
interactionism to include theories that explore the processes whereby
children develop knowledge and skills about social
, a process
known as social cognition.
Social Cornitive Theories
Theories of social cognition share the assumption that individuals
develop sets of cognitive skills that are central to inferring what other people
and what they are like as a person
. Over the past two decades,
information processing and
cognitive models of knowledge acquisition have provided television
researchers with approaches to studying television
's influence on children.
stages of cognitive development were used to predict children
varying abilities in dealing with attention
and logical operations
relevant to television viewing (Bachen,
During the early
authors assessing the status of research into children's comprehension of
television called for the inclusion of social cognitive development constructs
in the study of how children understand television (Bachen,
Andrew Collins, one on the most prolific
researchers of children's
cognitive process and television,
Several questions should be addressed:
social information from typical shows?
How do children represent
What inferences, evaluations,
attributions, and expectations about persons and behavior are formed
Under what conditions are portrayals perceived as
relevant to self and/or others?
How do patterns of social inferences and
evaluations vary across
Collins generated this list after a long period of inquiry by
communication researchers who had examined behavioral and cognitive
outcomes from television exposure,
but who generally had not considered how
viewing television interacted with children's developing social reality.
Examinations of the impact of violent programming on children's
, began to yield evidence that effects were mediated by
past experiences (Newcomb & Collins, 1979).
aggressive behavior catalyzed by television has been documented (Singer &
it is children'
individual and social differences, not selective
that seem to mediate whether or not the child
television viewing will be followed by aggression. The research that evolved
from the cognitive approach suggested that children's comprehension of
television content is embedded in social experiences and cognitive
development "from which
knowledge and expectations about persons and
events are built" (Collins, 1983,
experience is their family interaction; thus the influence of family members'
This broader approach requires a framework for studying social
inferences from television in which responses to characters, actions,
events are examined as a function of viewers' knowledge and
within the general constraints imposed by developmental
individual capabilities for acquiring,
retaining, and retrieving
Thinking and knowledge about oneself and others as individuals,
between people, social customs,
and institution may all
be included in the consideration of
social cognitive development (Flavell,
, & Miller, 1993).
The ability to differentiate and coordinate one's
social perspectives and those of others,
both cognitively and emotionally,
develops from early childhood (Flavell et al.,
development among 1- and 2-year-old children tended to be ignored as a topic
for study (Dunn
Dunn attributes this omission to developmental
psychologists' past Piagetian bias.
the child develops.
Understanding becomes more explicit as
The more familiar the interaction, the more likely that
the child will be observed demonstrating understanding of the causes of
emotions in other family members (Dunn,
Just as new observations reveal that Piagetian descriptions of young
cognitive capacities may be underestimations (Dunn,
observations of children in relation to television viewing suggest that young
children can understand television with far greater
previously noted (Wolf, 1984).
At the age of 4 some children understand the
hn.icS orf tplpvi sinn ennvpntinn.q rpmarlcnhlv wpll- fnr ornmnlop nn 4-vpnr-nld
Shows things, something like who makes it and all that.
, they spell the names, the people we don't see,
we see on the show
By school age,
You can see all
but the ones
children's prior experiences accumulate,
and they begin to
understand that television reality differs from the real world (Wolf, 1984;
Woolley & Wellman
Their experience with the conventions and
messages of televised content, like advertising, have also accumulated.
understanding of television advertising reflects a
progression of comprehension from the simple ability to discriminate between
commercials and programming,
to understanding the purpose /intention of
, to understanding advertising'
prerequisite for understanding intent and deceptive potential is that the
child grasp that another person has thoughts and that these thoughts may be
different from her own. This capacity is referred to as theory of mind.
Having grasped this concept, the child can understand that the people who
make the televised message may have some intent,
and that intent may be to
influence her behavior.
Any understanding of television must involve understanding the nature
of symbolic representation (e.g
., that a moving picture may represent the real
while not being the real thing).
This capacity is referred to as the
ability to make an appearance-reality distinction.
understanding of television commercials.
As the child acquires these
, they are able to apply it to all aspects of their environment,
including the source of symbolic images that typically commands their
attention three hours a day--television.
When a child combines the understanding of the difference between
appearance and reality and the understanding that other people have
and feelings different from their own
they may begin to
understand that the people who make the commercial messages have
intentions that may affect them (the children).
Then, as children grasp the
more complex theory of mind development--that others can have thoughts
about their own (the children's) thinking (i.e.,
two-loop recursive thinking)
and that these others can manipulate reality to deceive the viewer--children
may come to understand the deceptive potential of commercial massages.
Studies examining young children's
theory of mind help elucidate how these
A basic development in a child'
theory of mind is a capacity for
understanding that one stimulus may be understood in more than one way
e.g., that an image represents a thing but is not the thing.
image on television of a horse may be thought of as a real horse,
coveted, or as a television image to be turned off.
Flavell and his associates
static objects like a balloon and popcorn in a bowl,
all seen on a television
would come out of the television if the top were removed.
majority of 3-year-old children said "y
es" to the questions about what things
can do (affordance questions),
the majority of 4-year-old children said
Children also were asked if these objects could be touched and if they were
pictures or real.
The majority of 3-year-old children said that the image on
the television set was a picture rather than real.
In their discussion
, Flavell et al. (1990) claim that almost all 4-year-old
children gave clear and consistent evidence of understanding that the things
they see on television are not actually present as solid 3-dimensional objects
inside the set.
This difference is thought to be due to a cognitive development
during which the child shifts from seeing a represented object as isolated
from any referent to their gaining understanding of mental representation.
By mental representation it is meant the ability to understand that images in
the mind refer to objects in the real world.
When the child has the capacity
for understanding the representational nature of the mind, she understands
that the representation is not real,
and she can talk about it.
A further sophistication of the capacity to understand mental
representation is the ability to understand that something can be
represented in two ways that may be contradictory
. This capacity has been
child to understand that there can be more than one interpretation of how
things are (Flavell,
The child comes to comprehend not only that representations exist but
that what is represented may not correspond to what is real.
They also come
to understand that the way something is represented in one person's
may not be the same as the way it is represented in someone else's m
's emerging ability to think of a single referent in more than
one way has been demonstrated in empirical studies involving a variety of
These include understanding that another person'
different view than one's
own (Flavell, Everett,
, & Flavell,
1981), that the same person who appears mean in a photograph may be very
nice or visa versa (Flavell,
that a person
may hold a belief and act on a belief that is false (known as false-belief)
(Wimmer & Perner, 1983),
that a physical object may appear more than one
a glass of milk may appear red through a red gel,
but is actually
Role-taking is another aspect of understanding that a single stimulus
may be seen more than one way.
Role-taking ability is defined as "the
activity of and/or ability to take the position of another person and thereby
infer his perspective"
1) described role-
taking as understanding the nature of the relation between one's
programming and advertising, particularly to inferring motives of characters,
causes of action (Durham, 1984),
and the intentions of advertisers (Faber et
The child's developing theory of mind includes coming to understand
that a person may hold a false belief. This understanding is central to the
concept of deception (Chandler & Hala,
A controversy exists over
when children begin to understand deception with suggestions ranging from
2 1/2 (Chandler and Hala, 1991) to 5 to 6 years of age (Wimmer and Perner,
Chandler and Hala devised a hide-and-seek game that allowed young
subjects actively to misinform their opponents if they wanted.
lay down false footprints leading to hidden treasure and wipe away the
tracks to mislead their opponents as to where a treasure was hidden. C
50% carried out a deception,
and 20% verbalized the
Further experiments confirmed that the young children
understood that their deception would lead their opponents to erroneously
thinking about where the treasures was hidden (Chandler & Hala,
Determining whether we are being told the truth or a lie simply from
observing the communicator requires abilities more complex than the
demands of Chandler and Hala's
Children and adults alike have great
difficulty in determining whether they are being told a lie simply from
addition, they must be able to entertain a mental representation of others as
holding false beliefs (Rotenberg, 1991).
Despite preschool children'
ability to carry out and understand the
consequences of their own deliberate deception, most children do not seem to
understand the deceptive potential of a television commercials until much
later in their development (Robertson & Rossiter,
This may be
because commercials are constructed with every effort to convey the
appearance of the truth.
Until children's prior experience includes repeated
opportunities to verify advertising claims against reality or to experience
interactions among their family and peers that question and discredit the
, they have insufficient cues that the message is not
to Encourage Parental Mediation
Although constructive mediation of children
's television viewing appears
to be strongly associated with desirable outcomes for children, the results of
encourage parents to mediate their children
mixed at best (Greenberg,
Abelman & Cohen
In one of the more successful interventions, a self-selected sample of
64 elementary and 43 middle school students were interviewed at school
about their viewing preferences and behaviors.
Parents of these children
were interviewed by phone about their rearing practices,
their perceptions of
Parents were randomly assigned to one of three experimental conditions
or a control grot
Parents in the experimental groups were sent a television
One group received a guide listing only programs with only
large amounts of violent content or other antisocial programming.
Recommendations to forbid children to watch these programs were included.
Another group received a guide with only prosocial programming along with
recommendations to encourage child viewing of these programs,
and a third
group received a guide with a mix of antisocial and prosocial programming
that encouraged prosocial and discouraged antisocial viewing.
mailed to parents once a week over a six-week period.
Parents were not
aware that two months later children would be interviewed to determine
their viewing during the experimental period.
When interviewed, children indicated that parents in the treatment
conditions made significantly more programming recommendations than
parents in the controlled condition.
Parents who received the antisocial list
discouraged antisocial viewing more than parents who received both
antisocial and prosocial lists.
Parents who received the prosocial list only
discouraged antisocial viewing more than either of the other groups.
Other attempts to help parents increase mediation have been less
Parents who received television guides that included reviews of
the programming and recommendations of good viewing selections for
mailed information to parents about the content of each lesson.
materials included suggestions for implementing strategies to regulate and
mediate their child
A comparison of responses on a questionnaire
parental mediation and family communication patterns between
control subjects who were not mailed the material and experimental group
parents who were mailed the material showed no differences on measures of
knowledge about effective parental strategies and self-reported parental
mediation carried out during the experimental period.
The most essential element of preparing children to succeed in school
has been identified as responsible parents and a health-nurturing home-life
Moore 1990; Wikeland, 1990).
Although most everyday
interactions between parent and child are not explicitly instructional,
children constantly seek the meaning,
and connotation of everything
around them (Rogoff,
Studies in a variety of cultures reveal that
adults spontaneously guide children
's participation by building on the child'
perspective and adjusting adult concepts to reach children's
Vygotsky saw this type of social interaction as central to
development and described intellectual development as a process of
learning to use intellectual tools through social interaction.
interaction and guidance provided by people who have achieved some skill,
- .. .- n *. .
Similarly, parents are well positioned to guide and nurture their child's
acquisition of skills as active, interpreting,
selective television viewers.
The "zone of proximal development" describes children
abilities that lend themselves to enhancement through parental or adult
interaction or apprenticeship.
Social interaction and guided participation are
central to enhancing those abilities in the zone of proximal development.
's skills may build rapidly through routine "guided participation in
ongoing cultural activities" as they (children) observe and participate with
others (Rogoff, 1990, p.16).
An effective method for facilitating the
is to respond to the child'
point of focus and then
engage the child in dialog relevant to their immediate point of interest.
Studies have demonstrated that this approach leads to greater skill building
than a didactic one (Rogoff,
Cognitive processes that occur initially on the social plane and then
through interaction with others are eventually internalized.
in "intersubjective communication" appears to be key to this process (Rogoff,
. Cultural activities become internalized after children have practiced
thinking and problem-solving in a social context.
Social interaction with a
parent or older sibling enables the younger child to participate in skills she
could not handle on her own.
With exposure to this shared process the young
child begins to internalize the interaction she had with more skilled
which has traditionally been thought of as passive,
does not connote the acquisition of skills.
But the possibility of developing
active viewing skills through a parent-child apprenticeship emerges when
television viewing is conceptualized as involving active processes like
selection and interpretation.
The active child viewer selects and uses
television for her own purposes (Shramm et al.,
1961) and processes
narratives according to her own preexisting cognitive structures drawn from
her prior experiences (Collins,
the active child viewer
engages in the
"intensely active process"
of interpreting and re-interpreting
verbal and visual televised texts (Hodge & Tripp, 1986,
Through an apprenticeship process,
parents and older siblings may
scaffold younger children's
ability to view television actively
apprenticeship may be conceptualized to include three components,
which is related to a theoretical approach:
Children model parental behaviors like viewing selection and
. This behavioral modeling is described by social learning theory.
Parents and children treat televised messages as social objects and
interpret/reinterpret their meanings.
This process of interpreting symbols
and deriving meaning through this interpretative process
is described by
(3) Through social cognitive proc
, children develop a theory of mind;
comprehension and interpretation of televised content is
enhanced by interaction with adults (Buerkel-Rothfuss et al.,
encouraging parents to develop interaction with their
children about televised content supports the idea that benefits of social
interaction derive from shared thinking in intersubjective communication
But parents do not necessarily engage in this type of concept-
enhancing dialog with their children (Desmond et al.
They may never
have observed this type of interaction with small children.
, African-American populations,
one of the general barriers to parent
involvement in children's learning has been identified as limited views of
parental involvement (Moore, 1989).
For parents to carry out television mediation strategies
requires not only
that they gain specific knowledge but also that they transform that
knowledge into action.
The transformation of knowledge into appropriate
action may be described by a model for self-efficacy (Bandura, 1986).
tend to avoid tasks and situations that they feel they are not capable of
handling successfully (Bandura
Seeing oneself as capable actually
increases one's participation in activities that help one become more
, seeing oneself as inadequate leads to avoidance of
activities in which one could develop competencies (Bandura,
cautions that despite a perception of being able to perform a task
The mechanism for transforming knowledge to action first involves a
process of verifying the validity of one'
thoughts about what to do.
several avenues by which this verification occurs,
's thoughts about what to do with one's
what others do--this includes vicarious experiences like watching a video,
(c) listening to what experts say about what to do.
process refers to formulating beliefs.
The thought verification
What people believe shapes and
determines how they behave, how they think, and their emotional response to
difficult situations (Bandura,
Parents who believe that television
programming is harmless are less likely to mediate their children's
than parents who see televised content as potentially harmful (Bybee,
Surveys of low income parents whose children were enrolled in Head
Start revealed high levels of knowledge about appropriate viewing selections
for preschool children and the desirability of regulating young children
viewing (Matthews, 1991,
Lack of performance may not be due to lack
of knowledge but due to a lack of resources (Bandura,
study of family ecologies and television viewing revealed that in families with
more family stress,
young children viewed less
programming and in families with less child care, children watched more
cartoons and other children's entertainment programming (Murphy et al.,
*1 -*1 1
Although parents may feel that they know how to mediate their
S1 1 1 f'* i 1 P J .... -" .... .. .
"child inform ative"
No matter what a person believes about the action he or she should take,
if the person does not have the subskills and resources necessary for
successful performance he/she will not be successful (Bandura, 1986).
Perhaps parents report that they favor regulation of their children
and also report low levels of regulation because they actually lack some
subskill or have not associated an existing subskill,
the ability to interact
with the type of parental mediation that has been demonstrated to
be most effective (Desmond, et al.
Lack of incentives and resources
also may reduce performance (Bandura
Both of these deficiencies
may be addressed through an educational process.
resources like alternative stimulation, child care,
high family stress (Murphy et al., 1991), which al
Meanwhile, lack of
re side-effects of poverty
deeply rooted problems that relate to United States society'
and probably will not be ameliorated through educational interventions
Rationale for an Intervention
Are parents' long-established parental mediation patterns and
discipline styles the determinants of whether or not children can be educated
by their parents about the medium?
television viewing be influenced by train
mediation of their
ring? If parents are
provided with opportunities to enhance their self-efficacy concerning their
ability to mediate their child
's television viewing,
a workshop format was selected because Head Start parents are
familiar with this method of receiving information.
workshop setting is conducive to incorporating elements of Bandura
efficacy model (e.g.,
the benefits of individuals observing each other's
The workshop was designed to include these components from
(1986) model for fostering self-efficacy.
(1) Vicarious experience via
(a) Viewing a video featuring a mother--whose demographics are highly
concurrent with the majority of participating parents (i.e.
African-American mother)--successfully mediating her children'
(b) Observing other parents role-playing the behavior being learned
Self-efficacy appraisals are partly influenced by vicarious
Seeing or visualizing other similar people
perform successfully can raise self-percepts of efficacy in
observers that they too possess the capabilities to master
comparable activities (Bandura,
(2) Verbal persuasion via
(a) Credible expert sources presenting information about the
benefits to their child of mediating television viewing; i.e.,
discussing developmental issues re: children and television
(b) Discussion from other parents
Social persuasion alone may be limited in its power to create
enduring increase in self-efficacy
, but it can contribute to
En active attainments provide the most influential source of
efficacy information because it is based on authentic mastery of
The success of an intervention of this sort would imply that family
mediation patterns may be modified to improve children
understand the nature of television content.
Parent training may increase
' ability to convey their interpretations and their values vis-a-vis
television content to their young children.
These interactions could help their
children become active viewers; i.e., able to treat television content as social
objects to be interpreted and reinterpreted rather than as messages or
sensations to be received passively
As discussed earlier, this active
interpretation renders children less vulnerable to content that promotes
values and behaviors that are objectionable to parents and ultimately to
society (Desmond et al.,
Only within a controlled experimental framework could the effectiveness
of an intervention of this nature be adequately assessed. In light of this
requirement and the previous discussion,
the following research questions
Survey and observational data confirm the relationship between
parents' mediation of children
comprehension of content. Pa
television viewing and children
rents and other significant adults may engage
child's grasp; i.e., in their zone of proximal development.
viewing is not generally considered a skill that must be taught to children,
active viewing does require skill and knowledge.
These skills and knowledge
may be imparted to children through a parent-child interaction that takes
advantage of several relevant learning processes.
Observational learning acts as a building block of this active viewing
knowledge and skill.
Children model parental viewing habits and
interactions about television.
In addition, the child
learns that television
messages can be treated like objects--social objects to be manipulated
through a process of interpretation and re-interpretation.
interpretative process meanings are constructed and assigned.
example and with active parental mediation, children not only learn new
ways to frame televised content but also learn to model an interpretive rather
than a passive approach to televised content.
The parent also may take advantage of the child's
cognition when teaching active viewing to their child.
child learns that others have thoughts that may differ from his or her own,
parents can point out television characters and the thoughts they express.
Thus, theory of mind concepts may be advanced by parents who employ
television as a source of social experience.
Parents also may challenge the
ideas conveyed on television and demonstrate to young children that the way
A practical test of the notion that parental mediation can increase
's knowledge and skill as active viewers requires choosing one area of
television content to influence.
In the case of this investigation,
understanding of televised commercials has been chosen.
This test also
requires that the occurrence of parental mediation not be left to chance.
Parents must be prepared for mediating and encouraged to engage in this
activity with their child.
To test the effectiveness of these circumstances the
following hypotheses are advanced.
On measures of children
's abilities to distinguish commercials from
programming, children whose parents attended the experimental workshop--
i.e., received training and encouragement in mediating their children's
television advertising viewing--will demonstrate significantly greater time 1
to time 2 increases on measures of children's
ability to distinguish between
programs and commercials than children whose parents attended the control
Children whose parents attended the experimental workshop--i.e.,
received training and encouragement in mediating their children's
advertising viewing--will demonstrate significantly greater time 1 to time 2
increases on measures of children's
ability to understand the intent of
commercials than children whose parents attended the control workshop.
Children whose parents attended the experimental workshop--i.e.,
potential of commercials than children whose parents attended the control
Given the importance of parental mediation in advancing these
hypotheses as well as evidence from earlier survey research linking parents
with a discussion-oriented mediation style and a power-assertive discipline
style with their children's
high comprehension of television (Singer et al.,
1988), the question must be asked--
preexisting tendencies to
discuss and explain televised content to their children and to assertively
regulate their children's television viewing interact with their training in
television mediation? And will the effect of this interaction be evidenced by
's larger pre- to posttest increases on the dependent variables
To answer this question,
the following hypothesis was advanced.
Children whose parents' are assessed (via self-report measures) as
having a mediation style characterized a
"descriptive" and a disciplinary style
characterized as "power-assertive" will demonstrate a significantly greater
increase in scores from time 1 and time 2 on the dependent variables than
children whose parents have a "prescriptive" mediation style and a "love-
withdrawal" disciplinary style.
In another related study,
researchers found an interaction between
parental mediation and the child's gender (Desmond et al.,
this earlier study found that television-specific mediation is more effective for
gender to demonstrate the highest television comprehension scores (among
boys) for boys whose parents are frequent mediators.
indicated that the same will not be true for girls. Ba
The previous research
sed on this earlier
finding the following hypothesis is advanced.
Boys whose parents score high on a measure of descriptive
mediation of television with their child will demonstrate significantly larger
pre- to posttest increases in scores from time 1 to time 2 on measures of
television advertising comprehension than girls whose parents score high on
a measure of descriptive mediation.
Rationale for this Study
In the current study
an experiment was devised to investigate if low-
with encouragement and training in mediation of their
child's television viewing, could influence their preschool children
understanding of television advertising.
The children in this study were
approximately 5-years old and were enrolled in Head Start,
program which bases eligibility on low family income. Pare
occurred in special parent workshops.
In addition to examining the effect of
parental exposure to specific training on their children's
the researcher explored the influences of
individual parental mediation and disciplinary style differences on children
The content targeted for parent mediation was advertising.
of television advertising was based on the practical need to narrow the focus
of parent's mediation efforts for experimental purposes.
chosen because they are a discrete, distinctive content with an explicit
purpose and less
ambiguity than general programming content with its
Evidence of parental concern about the negative effects of children's
exposure to television content, the potential positive influence of parental
mediation on children
and the documented lack of that
activity suggested the need to determine whether or not efforts to increase
parental mediation of children
comprehension of television content.
viewing could improve children
Although ethnographic methods
employing naturalistic in-home observations to establish a baseline of
parental mediation may be ideal, a less time- and resource-consuming
method was desirable.
The current study attempts an intervention approach.
A parent workshop brought parents together to learn specific strategies for
mediating their children's television viewing and specifically their children
understanding of television advertising.
Parents received support to increase
their knowledge and skills in mediating their preschool child's
The subjects for this study were drawn from a sample frame of students
and their parents/caretakers enrolled in the Head Start program of Alachua
, during the 1993-1994 academic year.
located in north central Florida, has a population of approximately
The county is made up of rural towns,
unincorporated areas, and one
metropolitan area which includes the city of Gainesville (population 85,587).
Head Start is a federally funded preschool program designated to serve
low-income children between the ages of 4- and 5-years with pre-
kindergarten education during the academic year prior to the child'
Head Start classrooms may be located in both private and
Teacher training, curricula,
classroom logistics, supervision,
classroom size, and parent involvement criteria are all regulated by federal
guidelines and administered by local school boards.
Alachua County Head
tart enrollees are drawn from low-income
A screening committee places children in the program based on
special needs, tho,
A high priority is given to single parents,
se who have teenage parents,
and those living in isolated
areas of the county.
Eligibility is based on the severity of financial need as
determined by United States poverty and free/reduced lunch guidelines.
71% of the 739,
4-5 year old children in the program are of
and the remaining 33% of students are of European,
and Asian descent.
Approximately 77% of the
children are from single-parent families.
Schools for this study were selected by the Alachua County Head Start
Six of the classrooms, three per school
were located in two public
elementary schools located in Gainesville.
Two additional classrooms were
located in the public elementary school for the town of Hawthorne, a rural
The potential participants of this study were comprised of 152 students-
parent/caretakers combinations from eight Head Start classrooms from three
Alachua County public elementary schools.
The Head Start administration
provided initial arrangements to use these three schools of their choosing.
the total 152 student-parent/caretaker combinations from these eight Head
,45 participated fully in the study
In order to fully participate,
parent/caretakers had to sign and return consent forms for their child to be
pre- and posttested.
The child had to be pre- and posttested, and the
parent/caretaker had to attend a specially scheduled workshop at their
In addition to the 45 students whose parents/caretakers did
attend a workshop,
27 students for whom parental permission was obtained
but whose parents did not attend a workshop were also pre- and posttested
and formed a group of nonrandom controls; their responses were included
with the responses of children whose parents did attend workshops in survey
from pre-test only results.
A total of 80 children were pretested.
, eight were eliminated
from the study
four due to their difficulty in responding verbally during the
three due to their lack of knowledge of English,
additional child because a teaching assistant accompanied her in the testing
This subject was the only student who was tested with a teaching
According to the interviewer,
the teaching assistant's
years of age) with a standard deviation of 4 months. Of
whose parent/caretakers participated in the workshops,
the 45 children
were female and
Of the parent/caretaker workshop participants there were 35
mothers, 3 fathers,
2 mother-father dyads,
Head Start parents/caretakers were introduced to information and
techniques about mediating their children's television advertising viewing via
parent workshops; i.e., the intervention.
The difficulty of ascertaining
differences in parental mediation before and after the workshops without
naturalistic observation and without relying on parental self-report was
overcome by measuring changes in children's
cognitive skills regarding
television advertising before and after the parent workshop.
measurement was accomplished through pre and posttesting/interviewing
with the children about their understanding of television commercials.
In order for Head Start students to participate in the study,
to sign and return an informed consent form. This consent form complied
with the requirements of the University of Florida's Internal Review Board.
Teachers were given forms to be sent home with children two weeks prior to
the week targeted for interviewing.
Two additional notices were sent home
Children were pretested at their school.
Children at each of the three
schools were interviewed during respective two-week periods. Pretest
interviewing of children at School A occurred between February 15 through
Parents of School A children attended a workshop at their child'
on February 26.
During the third week after their parents attended the
workshops, children from
School A were posttested.
Children from School B
were interviewed from February 22 through March 3
attended the parent workshops on March 5.
their parents attended the workshops, child
Parents from School B
During the third week after
Lren from School B were
After the completion of the workshops at School A and B,
determined that the number of parent participants was not high enough to
adequately carry out the intended statistical analyses for this investigation.
, a third school (School C) with two Head Start classrooms was
added to the study
. This was a school located in Hawthorne, a rural
community in Alachua County
March 28 and April 13. Paren
. Children at School C were pretested between
ts attended the parent workshop on April 26.
Children from School C were posttested during the third and fourth weeks
subsequent to their parents attending the workshop.
Parents who attended the workshops were assigned randomly to
number, the research assistant proceeded vertically down the column.
the number was an even number, the parent was assigned to the
experimental workshop; when it was an odd number,
assigned to the control workshop
the parent was
As the time approached for the workshops
the research assistant made sure that the numbers of participants
in each of the two workshops was even within three individuals.
numbers of participants in each workshop appeared off by more than three,
the random number assignment method was replaced by the method of
assigning incoming parents alternately to each of the two workshops.
Parents self-selected to attend the parent workshops.
were sent home to parents via their children encouraging t
attend the workshop.
;he parents to
Many of the Head Start teachers spoke to parents on
the phone and in person to encourage them to attend.
and food were offered to facilitate attendance.
Approximately two to three weeks after the completion of protesting at
each of the three schools
, two two-hour parent workshops,
on three respective dates.
The workshops at School
A and Bwere held on a Saturday mornings and at School C on a Tuesday
Times for the workshops
were determined by informally polling
some parents and teachers about preferred days and times.
coordinator with responsibility for supervising several Head Start teachers.
This individual frequently interacted with Head Start parents as part of her
duties and contracted independently with the researcher to conduct these
She was chosen on the basis of her experience in communicating
with the target population. She received instruction from the researcher on
the format and content of the experimental workshops.
In addition to the workshop leader,
the experimental workshop was
attended by the researcher who delivered information about research
findings that related to strategies for parental mediation and helped
emphasize the importance of parental meditation of children
The experimental workshop introduction.
At the same time parents
were assigned to a workshop by the research assistant,
she gave them a
group of questionnaires which were preceded with the parents' identification
This number corresponded with their child'
Then parents were instructed to enter the designated classroom.
settings for both experimental and control workshops were Head Start
classrooms, which are by design highly similar in size and layout.
A food buffet was provided for the parents in each workshop.
workshop leader pointed out the food and asked parents to work on their
questionnaires as they entered the workshop classroom.
The food was
arrive and the workshop leader introduced herself and asked parents to
Presentation of background information.
The workshop leader began
the program by giving basic background facts about children's television
This information had been prepared in advance by the researcher
and rehearsed by the workshop leader.
The following script outlines the
material covered by the workshop leader.
Do you worry about TV? Children watch almost 20,000 hours before the
end of high school.
What can parents do to protect their children from the
violence and other bad influences of TV?
It's very important to be selective about what the)' watch, and it
important to put limits on their viewing--but let' s face it, children will
things on TV that we wish they didn 't--if not at your own house, at the homes
of friends and relatives.
Good family communication works like a vaccination against what the
things kids see on TV. Research shows that telling young children about
television is the single best thing parents can do to protect their children from
negative TV influences.
That love and warmth, and the time you take to sit
down and talk about what they have seen, protects them.
Telling your child your views about what is on TV is the inoculation
which protects your child from harmful effects of TV.
At this Head Start age they are just beginning to understand things
which are very important to understanding just what TV is all about.
Developmental background presentation. Denise will talk about why 4-5
years is such a good age for child to begin to understand what TV is all about-
-that it is not always real and that what you see on a TV commercial is not
always what you get.
The workshop leader then turned the presentation over to the
researcher who presented information about the developmental
appropriateness of talking to 5-year-old children (the average age of the Head
Start children) about television advertising.
The following is the script she
At four and a half, most children are just learning that what you see is
not always what you get. In other words, up until four or five years children
have a hard time believing that what they actually see with their eyes and
hear with their ears can be different than what they see and hear, whether
different to someone else who sees and hears it differently, or is different when
its on television than in real life.
Until they are around four and a half, it
hard for them to understand that the toy on television may look better on
television than in real life. But now at this preschool age, they are beginning
to understand that just because something looks one way to them it may not
really be that way. For example, they see a three-colored yogurt on television.
Before the ages of four and five, most children cannot really understand that
one thing can be two ways--look good and taste bad.
Also this is the age when they are beginning to understand that someone
can intentionally fool them or that they can intentionally lie to someone else.
They are just
beginning to get
the idea behind lying for a purpose.
is important for them to get before they can understand what television
commercials are all about. It is hard for them to grasp that someone may try
to make the toy seem better than it really
it or have their parent buy it for them.
This is a complex idea for a pre-K child, but
being able to understand.
they are just on the edge of
That is why we asked you to come here today--
because they are ready to learn this
But they need help to learn and that
help has to come from you at home.
Also, young children are often very frightened by things on television
which they cannot understand; and if we don't talk to them about
we may not know that they are very scared.
Movies, adult movies, and horror
movies are really bad for kids
Some adults report that they were
terrified by movies like the Fly when they were little.
Maybe you remember
being scared by something you saw on television when you were real little.
One very interesting research study showed that kids whose parents
received more than one movie channel did not do as well as other children on
in order to make them want to buy
Viewing the video.
Today we are going to learn how to talk to our kids
about television--how to become active viewers and
show kids how to be active
so they won't be
harmed by television.
by watching this video made just for this workshop which
into all of this.
a seven minute video
The purpose of
this video was to model parental mediation of television viewing.
featured in the video was comprised of a mother, a 5-year-old male child with
an 8-year-old female sibling and an 11-year-old male sibling.
The video tape
showed the whole family participating in choosing television programs they
wanted to watch together by looking at a TV Guide.
They then viewed a
segment of televised violence which the mother and older siblings challenged
as being an unrealistic portrayal of violence.
commented on a toy commercial. The older s
about the intent of the commercial. Then th
"Reading Rainbow" together. The tape concl
Then they watched and
siblings quizzed the 5-year old
ey watched a segment of
uded with the family playing
music together to portray family activities as an alternative to TV viewing,
and a visual review of the major points made regarding mediating children's
Appendix A for "Family Vie
, the workshop leader initiated a group
discussion which followed this outline.
Discuss importance of showing your child how to
be an active
c. Discussing what your child sees on television with them.
The workshop leader emphasized that television can be used as a source
of experience which you can talk to your child about.
She also emphasized the importance of teaching your child what a
commercial is by (a) making sure that when a commercial comes on the child
knows that the commercial is telling them to buy something (i.e.. cereal,
or a toy)
(b) pointing out how commercials make things look better
than in real life; and (c) explaining why the people who make the product
may want to make the product look better on television than in real life.
The workshop leader also emphasized that you can talk about television
anytime, not just when you or your child is watching television.
urged parents to contrast television violence with real violence--to continually
teach their children the differences and to use examples from real life when
they or someone around them was hurt or in pain.
, the workshop leader introduced a group
activity to the participants.
Parents were shown two toy commercials.
each one they were asked to find a partner and to role play either being a
parent was charged with refusing to buy it by explaining why this was not a
or a realistic portrayal of the toy.
The second commercial showed a young white female with white triplet
In the role play parents were charged with pointing out that this toy
would be too expensive for their family to purchase and would be a waste of
Parents were also encouraged to challenge values portrayed in both
commercials if they did not agree with them.
Parents were given time to
rehearse their role plays and then were asked to repeat them for the group.
At the completion of the role play exercise, the workshop leader gave a
to encourage parents to mediate their preschool child
over the next two weeks.
She also passed out "TV Diaries"
and asked parents
to write down daily entries of any interactions they had with their child
about television during the two-week period.
Incentives for participating in the workshop differed
between the first two workshops and the third workshop.
For the first two
parent names were put into a bag and drawn for door prizes at
the end of the workshop
Parents could also be eligible for
prize of a 100 dollar Sears gift certificate by submitting their "TV diary" at
the end of the two week period. A dr
occurred subsequent to the two week
awing for the 100 dollar gift certificate
"parental mediation" period and a
They were encouraged to return their "TV Diaries"
in two weeks
when they would receive an additional five dollars upon returning the diary
Procedures concerning the random assignment,
and incentives were identical to the procedures followed in
the experimental condition.
The workshop leaders of the School A and School
B Control Workshops were,
like the Experimental workshop leader,
employees for Head Start who held positions as teaching coordinators with
responsibility for supervising several Head Start teachers.
The leader of the
School C Control Workshop was not employed by Alachua County Head Start
program and did not work regularly with this parent population.
the School C leader had extensive experience conducting workshops for a
wide range of professionals about issues related to children in Alachua
Different leaders were used for each of the Control Workshops due
to scheduling conflicts.
All three Control Group Workshop leaders reported
an enthusiastic response from participants,
and no significant differences on
posttest scores were found between the three Control groups.
Control workshop content.
The content of the Control Workshops
differed in content from that of the Experimental Workshops.
and facts derived from the research on the effects of television viewing on
children were presented.
The emphasis was on acts of violence in television
child was mentioned but not emphasized (See Appendix B for background
notes for Control Workshop).
At the conclusion of the presentation of basic facts,
the workshop leader
showed a video tape of short program segments including many violent acts
depicted in children'
As these clips were shown,
among the parents was generated.
Parents were encouraged to discuss their
experiences with violence in the television programs their children watched.
After viewing the violent programming clips,
break into small group
parents were asked to
(numbers depended on total number attending the
Parents were then asked to look
, as a group, at TV Guides which
were provided and to create a four hour per week viewing schedule for a
Head Start-aged child which was comprised of positive viewing selections and
another weekly viewing schedule which was comprised of negative selections.
Parents were given ten minutes to complete this exercise.
Upon completion of the exercise, participants from each group reported
on their group'
scheduling choices for both the
"good" and "bad"
Discussion generated by these reports was encouraged by the workshop
The completion of the Control workshops followed the same format as
that of the Experimental workshops.
For parents in both experimental and control groups,
Another instrument to measure parental disciplinary orientation
(PDO) was also self-administered by these parents during the workshop
, a general questionnaire to ascertain parent and family
aspects of media use,
behavior were self-administered by parent/caretakers.
Data from this
questionnaire were not included as independent variables in the current
but will be reported on as survey data.
The P-C Q (Parent-child Interaction Questionnaire) (see Appendix C).
This instrument was developed in conjunction with The
Family Research Center and as been used in previous studies including
, and Colimore, 1985 and Singer,
, Hirsch, and Nicol, 1988.
The instrument consists of multiple
descriptions of family situations.
The current study used two situations
describing family life in which parent-child interactions take place.
situation described a parent taking a child to visit relatives, the other
situation described a parent responding to their child's
viewing violence on
For each situation, 5 forced-choice items offered possible parental
responses to the situation.
Parents were asked to check the choice which was
closest to how they might respond to their child in the situation.
By analyzing the data gathered from 91 families, Desmond et al.
concluded that the P-C Q yielded a bipolar factor for parental mediation
scored high on the prescription dimension preferred using moral judgment
and discipline .
P-C Q Instrument 1 posited the situation "Imagine that you are going on
a visit to relatives with your child.
Which of each of the pairs of things below
are you more likely to do?" (see Appendix C, Part 1).
P-C Q Instrument 2 posited the situation
"Imagine that you are
watching a television program with your child which has turned out to be
(see Appendix C,
were scored as either making a descriptive (discussion-oriented)
response or a prescriptive (moralizing) type of response.
PDO (Parent Disciplinary Orientation) measure (for PDO instrument,
see Appendix D)
An earlier study by Singer and Singer (1981)
in which a
relationship between disciplinary styles and television viewing had been
found, formed the basis for the development of this instrument by those
authors and their associates.
situation was described; i.e
., "If your child
talks back to you what do you do?"
the situation were listed. Parents
they were to take this disciplinary action:
Twelve possible disciplinary actions to
were asked to respond as to how likely
"never," "rarely," "sometimes," or
A value for parents' power-assertive disciplinary tendency was computed
by calculating a mean score from three items.
The items related to the
1. Say you'll spank him/her if you ever hear talk like that again.
2. Spank him or her.
3. Make him/her stay home or take away a treat or privilege.
A value for parents' love-withdrawal tendency was computed by
calculating the mean for 4 items. The it
child talks back to you what do you do?"
ems related to the question "If your
Possible responses to the following
alternatives of disciplinary action ranged from never
, and usually
The items were
Say you don't like children who don't show respect for their parents.
Don't say much
but he/she can tell your feelings are hurt.
3. Look angry and walk away without saying a word.
4. Give an angry look and ignore her/him for a while.
Earlier factor analysis by Singer and Singer (1981) and their associates
had indicated two distinct patterns of response, one categorized as power-
assertive and the other as love-withdrawal.
emphasized coercion and physical punishment while love-withdrawal
emphasized parents withholding affection as a punitive response (Desmond
Pre and Posttestine the Children
The dependent variables consisted of items assessing children
to discriminate between programming and commercial video segments,
's understanding of the intent of television advertising,
understanding of the deceptive potential of television items.
children at their school by interviewers during an approximately
pretest and posttest interview session with each individual child.
Three college student interviewers were selected to
conduct the child interviews.
Two interviewers were recruited from an
undergraduate anthropology class and one from an undergraduate
They included two females,
both with extensive experience
with young children as mothers and in day care settings.
interviewer was a male who had experience as a day care teacher's aid for a
university on-campus day care facility
. Two of the interviewers received
independent study credit for their
participation in the investigation,
of the interviewers participated on a volunteer basis.
The interviewers were trained in four sessions.
initial session, the trainer showed the interviewers a video tape of herself
interviewing a child of the target age and demographic background using the
instrument developed for this study
. The instrument was then distributed,
and the interviewers were asked become familiar with the instrument.
The next three sessions were held at a public elementary school with
children from a Head Start classroom not included in the experimental stage
of this investigation.
During each of the three sessions, each interviewer
interviewed at least one child in front of the trainer and the other
During this training,
interviewers were instructed to conduct
At the end of each session the trainer and interviewers reviewed
instrument items and revised the order of items and wording of items to
make the instrument easier to administer to the preschool children.
Prior to conducting the interviews,
visited each of the eight participating classrooms and were introduced by the
teachers to the children.
In many cases the interviewers had the opportunity
to assist in the classroom and play with the children during their 10 to 30
This preliminary introduction to the interviewers was
conducted so that children would not consider the interviewers as strangers
when they came to interview the children.
Prior to the interviews, children were assigned randomly to the three
The random assignment was conducted by picking a number
from a random list of numbers and locating the child whose subject number
corresponded with this random number.
From this point on,
assigned from master class lists to each of the three interviewers
alternatively (e.g., the first child went to Interviewer 1
the second child to
, and so forth).
Interviews were conducted during a different two-week period at each
In the three schools, the rooms used for the interviewers included a
small library reference rooms located in the school's
media center, media
supply and storage rooms,
teacher office/work rooms,
and an empty
and a candy bar were also prepared for use in the testing situation.
addition, the interviewer set up an audio tape recorder to record the
Each interviewer went to the child's classroom and asked the teacher for
a child who had been randomly assigned to them. All teachers were familiar
with the study and were prepared to allow children to go with the
The interviewer introduced her/himself and brought the child
from their classroom to a private interview area where each child was
interviewed in a room alone with the interviewer.
During the course of the interview the interviewer,
the video stimuli as necessary
At the end of the interview the child was
returned to their classroom and another child was brought to the media
center for testing unless the interviewer was finished for the day.
The Pre/Posttest Instrument (see Appendix E)
Distinguishine between programming and commercials.
used to measure children's ability to distinguish commercials from
programming was adapted from a method used by Levin, Petros,
These authors found that reliance on young children
made it difficult to determine whether or not preschool children can make
this distinction (Levin et al., 1982).
In studies that relied on children
articulation of the definition of a commercial
, most children younger than 6-
asked to say whether each one was a "program" or a "commercial" the
majority were able to make the correct distinction and their accuracy
increased with age,
even among the youngest subjects.
In the current investigation,
during a one-on-one interview situation,
each child was shown a series of 6, 12-38 second cuts of programming and
commercials edited together as they would appear if one were grazing with a
remote control through basic cable channels available in the Alachua County
region on a Saturday morning.
All the programming and commercials were
selected from one continuous 3-hour time block (with the exception of a
Headline News clip which was recorded from a later time block) and then
edited together to simulate channel grazing on a Saturday morning.
are going to watch
some things on TV.
I want you to tell me
whether we are watching a program or a commercial.
commercial is when they are
you something on TV that people can
buy." (Note that the definition of a commercial was introduced only after all
's understanding of intent had been completed earlier
in the interview.)
The following video clips were shown in this edited order: Barney
program clip (38 seconds); Cocoa Puffs animated commercial (2
Wild Racers toy car commercial (1
CNN Headline news
Once the child labeled the segment as a program or a commercial
were asked to identify what the segment was about.
correctly identified the segment as either commercial or program received a
, and responses which were incorrect received a score of 0.
were posttested using the same stimuli,
14 to 25 days after the initial
Understanding intent of commercial
's understanding of the
intent of commercials was measured by 4 items which required verbal
responses including two open ended questions and two multiple choice
questions with the choices being
and don't know
which did not require a verbal response from the child was included at the
end of the test.
The first item relating to understanding the intent of commercials
by the interviewer was "Sometimes on TV you
see a new toy or cereal or
Why do they show you these things on TV? "
mentioned buying the product received a score of 2,
and responses which
mentioned getting attention or showing the product received a score of 1.
Responses that were patently false or don't know,
received a score of 0.
The second item which probed understanding of the intent of
was "What is a TV commercial?
Do you know what it is
you know why they have TV commercials?"
The answer to this question was
being something between programs received a score of 1,
and any other
response which was patently false or don't know received a score of 0.
In addition to these open-ended questions, children were asked two
The first was
"Does a TV commercial show you
something that someone could buy?"
Interviewers read children the possible
and don't know.
Response choices were
counterbalanced from item to item to avoid response pattern bias.
were scored as
responses of maybe were scored as 1,
of no or don't know were scored
The second closed-response question was:
"Are commercials trying to get
something?" Interviewers read children the possible responses of
no, maybe and don't know.
Response choices were counterbalanced from
item to item to avoid response pattern bias.
were scored as
responses of ma.be were scored as 1,
and responses of no or don't know
were scored as 0.
The inclusion of a multiple pictorial choice item to
understanding of the intent of commercials was suggested by the research of
The child was shown a 28 second commercial for a
preschool-age game-toy "Crocodile Dentist."
the product being advertised.
The child was asked to identify
Then the interviewer took out four individual
you to buy
screen and one of a child sitting on a couch with a though balloon, and one of
a child shopping in a store (see Appendix G).
Two pictures showed a male
child and two pictures showed a female child.
The interviewer said "Now I am going to show you some pictures"
allowed the child to help place the pictures on the table.
the following situations:
The pictures were of
In each, the toy product from the previously shown
commercial was prominently featured.
The scenes showed
Female child watching TV with product on screen
Male child with thought bubble above his or her head,
with toy in bubble
Male child at store with mother who is reaching for toy
Female child playing with her back to TV
Product is on TV.
The interviewer asked the child what was going on in each picture and,
once the interviewer felt the child knew what each picture represented, then
asked "Can you show me which picture shows why the people who make the
toy want you to see the toy on TV?
As the child made a choice
interviewer removed that picture and asked,
which is the next best reason"
a score of 4 points,
"of the pictures that are left,
etc. The choice of the shopping image received
of thinking received a score of 3 points, of watching
television received a score of 2 points,
and of playing with back turned to the
television set, a score of 1 point.
Understanding of deceptive Dotential.
Five items were included to probe
understanding of commercial's deceptive potential.
children were shown a candy commercial and then shown the same candy in
They were asked their opinion as to whether the candy looked better