Social Learning Theory demonstrates that as children grow up they learn about the world around them through several sources such as parents, friends, and media. In modern times children are getting much of their learning and socialization through television. Another theory called the Cultivation Theory revealed that many children in the US learn how to talk to one another, to adults, and even to themselves through the programs they watch on TV (K. Drogos, lecture, February 11, 2015). There have been numerous studies on the effects that TV has on children. Studies that research about how aggressive TV makes children to how much a child can understand what they are watching. These studies have shown that excessive television watching can have a negative impact on children. The studies also demonstrated that TV can be instrumental in teaching children positive things like socio-emotional and cognitive skills.
Social Learning Theory
The Social Learning Theory, created by Albert Bandura, states that when a child sees a model act out behavior and then see the model’s behavior reinforced they are very likely to repeat the behavior themselves (K. Drogos, lecture, February 16, 2015). This is very important when considering the behaviors that actors and characters are performing on the programs that children watching. If children are spending hours and hours every day in front of the TV watching programs that are influencing their behaviors, we must consider what programs we allow children to watch.
At the time of some of these studies, from 1960 to the 1970s, there were very few educational shows. George Gerber’s longitudinal content analysis of TV programs from the 60s to the 80s revealed that about 90% of TV shows contained violence (K. Drogos, lecture, February 11, 2015). People got concerned when these studies were being published. To answer this dilemma the U.S. government stepped in and enacted laws that required television networks that use public airwaves to air a minimum of three and a half hours of educational and informational (E/I) programming geared towards children.
E/I programs are required to create lessons that teach children science, health, math, and social interaction. These lessons can be part of the plot, subplot, or dialogues. Formal features are also leveraged to help teach the lessons. Producers must consider the ages and comprehension levels of the children the show is designed for when creating E/I programs. The younger the child is, the more simple the show needs to be. Simpler shows much rely on formal features more heavily to teach children, not only the topic of the show but also how to understand media itself.
Piaget’s study revealed that children’s attention and comprehension are very limited. Children do what is called assimilation and accommodation to make sense of the world. This is when a child takes material into their mind from their environment which then makes it a part of their thought process. How well a child is able to do this and depends on the complexity and on their age according to Piaget. (K. Drogos, lecture, February 14, 2015).
Four Stages of Assimilation and Accommodation
Piaget categorized children’s ability to assimilate and accommodate into four stages. For 0-2 years old their stage is sensory-motor. In this stage, children begin to differentiate themselves from other people and objects. In this stage, children learn to react intentionally. Essentially, children are not able to discern the difference between real life and TV. From 2-7 years, children are in the preoperational stage. Children in this stage learn to use language and recognize words. Though they are developing language, they are not yet able to see things from the points of view of others. Children begin to understand that TV isn’t actual reality but they do tend to believe that what they watch on TV can or does happen, even things like flying superheroes (K. Drogos, lecture, February 14, 2015).
Concrete operational is the third stage. These are the 7-11-year-olds. During these years children learn to think logically about objects and what they are watching. These children know what they are watching is generally not real but in the moment they can believe some of it is possible even if it is unlikely to happen. The last stage is formal operational. This stage is for 11 years old and up. At that stage, adolescents can think in abstract terms, think about the future and hypothetical situations (K. Drogos, lecture, February 14, 2015).