In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Television

  • Introduction
  • Commercialism and Advertising
  • The Future, the Internet

Childhood Studies Television
Máire Messenger Davies
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 March 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 March 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0106


Children’s relationship with television has been a major source of scholarship in the humanities and, more particularly, in the social sciences, since the first widespread introduction of the medium, in the 1950s, in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Europe, and later elsewhere in the world. Television is the main source of leisure-time activity for both adults and children of all developed countries and has been since its beginnings; this mass popularity has given rise to a series of “moral panics” among policymakers and media commentators about cultural decline and harmful effects, stimulating a great deal of academic research. Conversely, the universal accessibility of television, to all classes and ages, has given it considerable potential for more positive educational and cultural initiatives, which have also been investigated by researchers. The tension between the commercial goals of the television industry, particularly prominent in the United States, and the public service and educational potential of television, as evidenced by the United Kingdom’s British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), funded by a universal license fee, and with a remit to “educate and inform” as well as entertain, has stimulated much market and academic research, a high proportion of which is concerned with impacts on children. Systematically collected industry research (of considerable use to scholars), for instance, the audience statistics gathered by the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board (BARB), in the United Kingdom; Neilsen, in the United States; and regulators such as the Office of Communications (Ofcom), also in the United Kingdom, show that television continues to be widely popular in the early 21st century, despite the rival attractions of the Internet, social media, computer games, and other interactive and portable media formats. But scholarly interest in television has been declining, partly because of the rapid spread of Internet access, the study of which has attracted greater levels of research funding. For instance, whereas television was once the major concern of usage studies (how many children are watching, for how long), large-scale usage studies are focusing on the Internet. Major reviews, such as EU Kids Online (cited under the Future, the Internet), draw on the work of dozens of academics across several countries, all scrutinizing the behavior of children and young people in relation to the Internet. Hence, many of the classic TV television studies referred to in this article will be some years old. Nevertheless, television, both in live broadcast and in portable DVD or downloaded form, remains uniquely important in children’s lives; according to industry figures, children spend an average of eighteen hours a week with it. The ways in which children consume television are changing, however. Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report (Ofcom 2013, cited under Usage, Mass Surveys: United States) reveals that, whereas nearly all children aged five to fifteen (98 percent) “ever” watch television, the numbers watching on mobile devices are increasing, from 34 percent “ever using” a mobile device, such as a tablet, to watch television in 2012 to 45 percent using such a device in 2013. This article will introduce the reader to major issues, controversies, and discussions of children’s relationship with this powerful and culturally diverse medium, as explored in the main scholarly works produced since television research began.

General Overviews

This section consists primarily of overviews dealing with the specific topic of children and television. But it is also useful for television scholars to refer to authoritative standard works on the subject of television per se. So, listed first are publications on television, its history, and its audience, as with Barwise and Ehrenberg 1991, a still relevant audience analysis, and television’s place in the rapidly changing media environment, as outlined in the collection Olsson and Spigel 2004.

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