‘Television and Child Development’ by Judith Van Evra

In the absence of other informational sources and without extensive experience, as is the case with young children, viewing large amounts of television for entertainment might also serve as an important informational function.  (Van Evra, 2004, p. 17).

Judith Van Evra’s book was very helpful for my dissertation. Although more on the sociological topics rather than theoretical ones, she introduces researchers, explores problems and makes suggestions which were all crucial to developing my essay. Moreover, her book gave me a wider understanding of how children might perceive and interpret television shows and films. I’m fairly confident that understanding the basics of children’s perception, at least of what is known, will help me create better films. I also think that being aware of things that might go wrong, will make me more cautious when developing concepts, stories, or whatever I might end up doing. Even though little has been scientifically proven in regards to children’s perception of television, it doesn’t hurt being aware of what might be true (p. 12).

Comstock and Scharrer (1999) identified three broad categories of motivation for watching television (p.12). Ranked by importance, these are:

  1. Escape, for spending time in an undemanding way and for relaxation.
  2. Self-evaluation, for keeping up with trends and measuring themselves with characters and celebrities.
  3. Information seeking, for keeping up with the medium and seeing how television handles the various topics.
Image source. Escape and relaxation.

Image source. Escape and relaxation.

Image source. Self-evaluation.

Image source. Self-evaluation.

Image source. Information seeking.

Image source. Information seeking.

Uses and gratification approach suggests that younger children lack experience of information, thus take television information more seriously. Brown, Steek and Walsh-Childners suggested that what a child learns while watching television depends not only on motivations, experiences and needs, but on the individual’s sense of identity. Life experience, like gender, race, socioeconomic stage and developmental stage, also plays a massive part (p.15)

If viewers already have a rich variety of informational sources and are viewing television simply for escape or mere entertainment rather than for information in itself, they are more likely to react emotionally to television content and with less of a critical impression (p.17).

Knowledge of the interactions among media components and content; viewer variables, perceptions, and motivations; and characteristics of the viewing contexts are essential factors in any efforts to understand children’s television experience. (Van Evra, 2004, p. 21)

Visual attention to television is relative. A child who spends 40 hours per week ‘watching’ television might only look at the screen for a few hours (p.36). Older children do not need the same level of focus to pay attention. They often multitask while taking in chunks of information (p. 37). One quote that really caught my interest, was the following:

The television content is highly varied and open to several levels of analysis, and the content that the child perceives may not be what the producer intended. (Van Evra, 2004, pp. 38-39)

This sort of matches the idea that no matter what content a film presents, someone is always going to find something to complain about. What information we take from television depends on our heuristic knowledge, and our identity, and our preferences, but also, I think, on imagery that is eye-catching. The quote also suggests an alternative answer to speculation theories regarding high profile films. In example, Kevin Swanson’s claim that Disney’s Frozen (2013, dir. Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee) was promoting homosexuality and beastiality, thus being the work of the devil. Swanson drew a connection between the protagonist’s magical powers being frowned upon, and society’s frown upon homosexuality, -and entertainingly enough: one of the male characters’ relationship to his deer, Sven. More of Swanson’s argument can be read in BBC’s article. What can also be read is Kathryn Skaggs, a mormon blogger, who claims that Frozen‘s soundtrack, Let it Go, was a deliberate attempt to turn young girls gay and drag them out of the closet. Other bloggers humored themselves on Skaggs article, suggesting the bigger concern might be Disney promoting incest, as the girls Skaggs claimed were lovers were also sisters. With articles like these going viral, it is tricky to get to the bottom of what is accurately cited and what is blown way out of proportion. As far as I can tell, Swanson and Skagg’s articles were accurately cited, because frankly, they were easy enough to mock without exaggeration. Though radical views, these two people have formed impressions based on their beliefs, their interests, and their identities. What humors me, and is also quite interesting, is that Anna’s fate, as the scene has been named where Anna sacrifices herself for her sister and turns to ice, was supposedly a tribute to feminism and to the love between two sisters who appear to be complete contrasts. Disney completely scratched away the animus of the story, stepping away from their traditional style. In return, you get people looking for the missing animus jumping to assume that there must me an anima instead. And for Sven and Kristoff (image below), their relationship carries Disney’s traditional style of having a human and an animal as friends. I suppose Their relationship was only meant to be charming and funny, as can be read in The Art of Frozen (Solomon, 2013).

Image source. Human Kristoff and reindeer Sven.

Image source. Human Kristoff and reindeer Sven. A friendship interpreted as beastiality.

Image source. A sister relationship interpreted as a lesbian relationship.

Image source. Elsa and Anna’s sister relationship interpreted as a lesbian relationship.

 

Pulling together earlier studies, Van Evra states that children by the age of five to six years old have a rough sense of what is real and what is not. Their major continuing tak is to understand exactly how much is real and how much is staged (p. 45). Young children’s difficulty in separating real and accurate information from the fictional may cause further distortion to their perceptions of reality. If they pick up information by inattention, this information is linked to previous knowledge. In a way, the information they pick up will depend on what makes sense to them, from what they already know. More frequent television watching and identifying with characters is associated with body dissatisfaction, acceptance of stereotyped body ideas, and more involvement with diet and exercise. Correlations are stronger for girls than for boys, and girls are more likely to diet to improve their bodies (p. 152).

Newer research suggests that younger children have a basic understanding of much television information, but it is incomplete, frequently distorted, and often largey forgotten, although highly salient visual images may be remembered for a long time. (Van Evra, 2004, p. 54)

Hofschire and Greenberg found a relation between exposure to the media and idealization of certain characteristics, along with body dissatisfaction, dieting and exercise. They found an important link between the amount of television viewed and a person’s preference for thinner bodies. The desire to look like idolized characters and identify with them was associated with body dissatisfaction. Children with learning disorders or emotional disorders tend to watch more television, and also take the content more seriously. These children often have poorer social skills and less social experiences to provide information to counter television messages. Therefore, they would be more vulnerable to television’s influence in their lives (pp. 152-169).

Bandura’s (1977) social cognitive theory suggests that model behaviour is acquired either through direct experience or through inactive observation of models. Observational learning is split into four sub-categories:

  1. Attention, which determines what is observed and what information is extracted.
  2. Retention, which allows the viewer to restructure the actual information to their preference.
  3. Behaviour production, where the absorbed television information is translated into behaviour.
  4. Motivation, which occurs when the individual observed personally valued rewards or feared punishments being given for a specific action performed or attribute possessed.

Bandura suggested that television influence depends more on what is being watched than the amount of content watched. In contrast, cultivation theory suggests that heavy television viewers are more likely to use television as a valued source of information, since they are missing out on other informational sources. Thus for these viewers, television is likely to form their impressions of several topics, depending on the topics viewed (pp. 4-6).

Potter (1086, 1988) discussed the importance of identity establishment through television: the degree of similarities between people and situations observed on television, and people and situations experienced in real life. People who relate to characters or who accept fictional characters as real, will most likely be more open to taking television seriously (pp. 8-9). I suppose that is the danger of creating good characters. A good character is a believable character, but to establish an attachment between the audience and the character, the character must also be likable. -Or the audience must feel sympathy for the character to establish an emotional bond (The Illusion of Life, 1989, Ollie Johnston & Frank Thomas).

Image source. The Powerpuff Girls (1998-2013, dir. Craig McCracken).

Image source. The Powerpuff Girls (1998-2013, dir. Craig McCracken).

Image source. The Powerpuff Girls costumes.

Image source. The Powerpuff Girls costumes.

Image source. The Powerpuff Men at Comic Con.

Image source. The Powerpuff Men at Comic Con.

Gerbner (1994) suggested that television helps establish predispositions that would affect later media influence, and that television does not simply create or reflect images and beliefs, but actually shape points of views. There is an interaction between indicidual viewers’ characteristics, television content, messages and different contexts (p. 9).

After a long session of serious, I think we need some laughs. But mimicking behaviour is no joke. As you can see, anyone could be influenced by their idols:

Image source. Mimicked behaviour.

Image source. Mimicked behaviour.

Image source. Mimicking behaviour.

Image source. Mimicking behaviour.

Image source. Mimicking behaviour.

Image source. Mimicking behaviour. Note: this image link is well worth checking out. 

One more, for shame’s sake:

Image source. Mimicking behaviour.

Image source. Mimicking behaviour.