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Restricting TV viewing at home may only lead teens to watch favorite programs at friends’ homes


Amy Nathanson

Teenagers who say their parents restrict their television viewing of certain programs are likely to watch the restricted shows at friends’ houses, a study suggests.

These teens also reported less positive attitudes toward their parents, according to the research.

“Unfortunately, parents’ good intentions in restricting television viewing may actually backfire and contribute to them watching more of the programs they shouldn’t see,” said Amy Nathanson, author of the study and assistant professor of journalism and communication at Ohio State University.

However, that doesn’t mean parents are powerless to mold their teens’ viewing habits, Nathanson said. Her research suggests that parents who discuss issues related to television with their older children – rather than just restrict viewing – are more likely to influence what their children watch. The key, she said, is to discuss without lecturing.

“When parents talk to older children by asking questions and inviting dialogue, and don’t talk to them in a condescending or threatening way, they are more likely to see positive outcomes,” Nathanson said.

Some of Nathanson’s research appears in the January 2003 issue of Human Communication Research. Other parts of the research appeared recently in the journal Media Psychology.

In one study, 159 college students were asked questions about their television viewing habits and relationship with their parents during their high-school years. They were asked about their attitudes toward their parents, their attitudes toward violent and sexual content in TV shows and how often they watched TV shows containing violence and sex with their friends.

In addition, 138 parents (mostly mothers) of these students responded to a survey asking about their role in controlling their children’s television viewing during high school.

Results showed that students whose parents restricted their access to objectionable television content had less positive feelings toward their parents than did other adolescents. These teens also reported viewing more of these objectionable television shows with friends than did other students.

“Adolescents sometimes resent being told what to do, and it can produce this forbidden fruit effect, in which the restricted shows seem even more appealing,” Nathanson said. “They just end up watching the restricted shows at friends’ houses.”

But in the study published in Human Communication Research, Nathanson and an Ohio State graduate student, Mong-Shan Yang, found methods parents can use to influence their children regarding violent TV shows.

This study involved 103 children ages 5 to 12. The children viewed a five-minute edited episode of a children’s television show in which three super-heroes engaged in justified violence against enemies.

There were four 10-second pauses in the program, during which one of the researchers watching the show with the children made comments about what they were viewing. These comments are what is known as “active mediation” and mimic what parents can do with children to get them to think about the programs that they watch, Nathanson said.

Immediately after viewing, the children completed a 15-minute questionnaire.

The results found that, among younger children, active mediation statements by the researchers discussing the violent nature of the program did lead children to have less positive views toward the program. These statements conveyed messages like “people in real life do not act like the people in the program.”

Among older children, though, statements about the violence of the program led to a backlash by actually increasing the children’s positive views of the program.

However, when the researchers asked questions about the violence in the program – rather than making statements – the older children showed a slight decrease in their positive orientation toward the show.

“Older children and adolescents may see mediation statements – particularly negative ones – as condescending to them,” Nathanson said. “But when parents raise questions and issues about the violence they see on television, older children pay attention. This seems to be more palatable to children who are developing their own ideas and who may resent hearing lectures.”

Contact: Amy Nathanson, (614) 247-7952;
Written by Jeff Grabmeier, (614) 292-8457;

Jeff Grabmeier | EurekAlert!
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