Educational TV producers often include messages about good and bad behaviour in programmes for children, designed to help them learn about positive social interaction. But pre-school children don’t understand TV plotlines in the way adults do, and don’t make the connection between bad behaviour and consequences that occur later in the show. Instead, they see the bad behaviour and copy it.
Researchers from Iowa State University observed children’s playground interactions after watching educational programming and found incidents of aggression significantly increased. They also took reports from teachers.
Children’s didn’t display more physical aggression, but were more likely to socially exclude or attempt to control other children through threats.
Douglas Gentile, who headed the research, said the results don’t mean parents should stop pre-schoolers watching TV, but that they need help in interpreting the stories:
“Parents can watch with their kids and help them to understand the plot. Parents can comment along the way and then explain the message at the end. They can explain how the insulting behavior or the ignoring behavior was not appropriate. This will help children interpret and get the message and help them learn to watch it for those messages.”