A survey of American parents released today the day before Halloween, when children try to scare adults reveals that a growing majority of parents are scared for their kids.
The survey finds the usual parental concerns about the effects of drugs, alcohol, and violence on children, and the difficulty of instilling values in the face of pervasive media influence.
But this poll of 1,607 parents, conducted last summer by an independent research group called Public Agenda, puts a stark spotlight on parents' worries about the content of television programs that kids watch.
To be sure, parents are the first line of defense against TV's ills. In fact, the survey shows that 40 percent of 5-to-9-year-olds have a TV set in their room. How can parents control what kids watch if even toddlers have their own remotes?
For older kids, the figure is over 50 percent and, even more worrisome, 71 percent for African-American teenagers. Over half of American families now have three or more TV sets, while only 1 percent of parents say they have none.
Yet here's the paradox: 7 out of 10 parents are shocked shocked! by something they saw on TV in the past year. And 90 percent of them say that when it comes "bad language and adult themes, it seems like TV programs are getting worse every year."
And their worries are not just about sex and violence, but also about television's trance-inducing effect, which means vital family conversation stops when the tube comes on.
While parents can obviously do more to control the TV habits of their kids, they also want TV executives to do something. Half of parents say the industry would pay serious attention if "10,000 people were to call a TV network to complain about something that was broadcast." Yet, in the isolating experience of TV watching, few Americans think of their collective power in making such calls.
More people need to act on TV's worst influences. About one-quarter of parents have seriously considered getting rid of their TV sets, even though they find some programs provide good lessons for their children. But even families without TVs say the influence can spread via a child's peers.
TV is a fact of life in America. But if more parents act, the content can change.