Matheos Viktor Messakh , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Fri, 12/12/2008 10:40 AM | Potpourri
Television is one of the most prevalent media influences on children and watching TV has become a daily activity for many, whether they are from the city or from remote areas of the country.
Many houses even have more than one set, and many parents are not aware that heavy exposure to TV can have negative consequences.
"Some busy parents put their kids in front of the TV because it is the easiest way (to keep them occupied). They think their kids are safe but really they are in danger," director of the Children's Media Development Foundation (YPMA), Boby Guntarto, told The Jakarta Post.
How much of an impact TV has on children depends on many factors, such as how much they watched, their age and personality, whether they watched it alone or with adults and whether their parents talked to them about what they watched, Boby said.
Research conducted by the YPMA involving 939 children in five elementary schools in Jakarta and Bandung in 2006 found that children in the country were exposed to TV for more than four hours a day.
"Normally a child should spend (no more than) 15 hours a week (watching TV). In fact, some spend more than 30 hours a week. They spent more hours doing that than studying," Boby said.
Meanwhile, a survey conducted by the Aesthetic Art and Technology Foundation (SET) in October and November of this year found that the AGB Nielsen Media Research rating had little to say about the quality of the country's TV programs.
The survey, which was took place in 11 cities, revealed that 15 programs which were rated highly by AGB-Nielsen Media Research were rated bad or very bad quality by the respondents.
About 89.2 percent of the 212 respondents said TV entertainment programs were the most aired programs, with 48.8 percent stating the quality of these programs was very bad.
The research found a relatively good response to news programs and talkshow programs, though it revealed that there were very few quality shows suitable for children.
About 69.3 percent said entertainment programs were dangerous for children; 61.8 percent said they provided bad role models; 48.6 percent said they were very bad in encouraging social empathy; 46.2 percent said the programs contained what they viewed as pornographic content and 61.3 percent said they failed to expose relevant social issues.
The survey was not aimed at discrediting the AGB Nielsen rating system but was done to provide an alternative perspective for the public, said Agus Sudibyo, SET's Foundation deputy director.
"The rating is still important but TV stations should realize that a program's rating should also take into account its quality and public impact," Sudibyo said.
Over the past two decades, hundreds of studies have examined how violent programming affects children and young people. While a direct "cause and effect" link is difficult to establish, there is a growing consensus that some children may be vulnerable to violent images and messages.
Researchers have identified three potential responses to media violence in children: Increased fear among children, also known as the "mean and scary world syndrome", desensitization to real-life violence and increased aggressive behavior.
The social learning theory states that people learn how to behave by observing others, including those in the media, said Santi Indra Astuti, a lecturer at the Bandung Islamic University.
"Just look at the media content, whether it is pro-social or anti-social. We need to be aware of the anti-social content. Like a virus, we need to prepare an anti-virus," Santi said.
Quoting a cultivation theory developed by George Gerbner, Santi said that television had long-term effects which were small, gradual and indirect, yet cumulative and significant.
Children who watch a lot of television were likely to be more influenced by the ways in which the world is framed by television programs than the children who watch less, she said. This can make children afraid of the world around them.
Another effect on children is desensitization to real-life violence. Some children's cartoons portray violence as humorous and realistic consequences of violence are seldom shown, Boby said.
"In a traffic jam, a child could easily tell his father to hit the car in front ... because of what he has seen on TV," he said.
It can also affect learning and school performance if it cuts into the time children need for activities crucial to healthy mental and physical development. Most of a child's free time, especially during the early formative years, should be spent in activities such as playing, reading, exploring nature, learning about music or participating in sports.
TV viewing is a sedentary activity, and has been proven to be a significant factor in childhood obesity. Time spent in front of it is often at the expense of more active pastimes.
Children are also exposed to sexual content on TV. While it can be a powerful tool for educating young people about the responsibilities and risks of sexual behavior, such issues are seldom mentioned or dealt with in a meaningful way in programs containing sexual and adult content.
There are many ways to minimize its potential negative effects. Knocking on the industry's door to push for safer program content for children during times of the day when they are watching can be a start.
Parents and teachers also need to take on a more active role, Boby said.
"The TV industry invests lots of money and they will do anything to make a profit. So, rather than facing them directly, we prefer to persuade parents to understand more about its negative impacts and how to deal with this," he said.
The YPMA conducts regular surveys on the media impact on children and teenagers as well as publishes Kidia (www.kidia.org), a regular guide on media content for parents and children.
In an effort to expand media literacy among the public, the YPMA has held media literacy education seminars in Jakarta since 2002. These have been held in 35 elementary schools in Central Java and East Java.
"We train teachers to include appropriate media literacy materials in their existing curriculum. We choose elementary school students because the watching habit is formed at these ages," Boby said.