Television and Your Child: A Guide for Concerned Parents

Carmen Luke

Parents have feared television's effect for a long time, but most of the efforts of academics to understand television have not addressed parents' pragmatic concerns. In Television and Your Child, though, Carmen Luke explores some of the things parents can do to deal with those effects.

Luke writes primarily for the non-academic in a readable and jargon-free style with which the layperson might feel comfortable. She doesn't assume the reader is already familiar with the research on television, taking instead a comprehensive look at the major issues that may be of interest to parents, e.g., the effect of television on gender or consumer socialization or on performance at school. Rather than take an extreme anti- or pro-television view, Luke is more concerned with giving the reader the information from as many sides of the debate as possible so that the reader may make his or her own informed decision about television.

About half the book is devoted to an overview of the field, with apparent attempts to make the book relevant to Canadian readers as in the case of a chapter on "Canadians as TV Minorities." The same readers also will find the content familiar because it is quite faithful to the situation on Canadian airwaves, although references to Canadian programs are rarer than to American counterparts.

Luke next turns to what parents can do to minimize "negative" effects of the medium. Her goal here is not to reform the whole system or to eliminate television, but to show parents they can and should try to make the best of the situation, including mediation in their children's television viewing. Children have to be taught how to watch television like everything else, she maintains, and parents are responsible for much of that education. The remainder of the book suggests a variety of ways to do this, such as spending time with children in front of the set, talking about programming, and structuring activities around television that will encourage a critical attitude toward it.

Some of Luke's suggestions, especially those concerning family discussion about programming, are useful and often commonsensical. Most parents should find these relatively easy to implement. However, others are less practical for most. For example, many may not be able to afford a personal videotape library of alternatives to everyday television fare. As well, not everyone has or wants a video camera, even though it is useful for showing how television constructs reality. Some may also find it more difficult than Luke believes to establish rules to limit family viewing time.

Luke tends to be optimistic about television, since she assumes that the "bad" product delivered may be manipulated towards socially- and educationally-constructive ends and its negative effects mitigated or eliminated. She also believes children are intelligent enough to learn how to watch television critically and see how television reality is constructed. Consequently, she feels television's effects need not be as bad as they are often made out to be.

However, the book will not have revolutionary effects on television-viewing habits in Canada since it seems to be written for an audience that may not need it the most. Although readable, it targets an educated layperson, who is motivated or wealthy enough to be able to create an environment for his or her children that is rich in alternatives to television. One of the book's premises also seems to be that at least one parent has enough time to watch television with the children whenever they do. Luke suggests the occasional "lesson" or shared-viewing time is not sufficient.

These are the families that are least likely to have "heavy" TV-viewing children, though, and least likely to have television as the only leisure activity available to the children. That part of the audience that might most need the information in the book might not benefit from it or be able to act upon it.

Nonetheless, Luke's book is a worthwhile addition to the work done on television and children. Its synthesis of that work and its efforts to bridge the gap between academic research and the "real world" are especially useful.



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We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.

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