Write to save your kids

Editorial - October 2005

It’s tough to find a parent who hasn’t, at some time, used TV as a babysitter to occupy younger children while trying to take an uninterrupted shower. It’s even tougher to find a parent who hasn’t at some point argued with older kids about how much TV they are watching and what shows they choose. It’s true this is a private concern. We as parents have the ultimate responsibility to know what our kids are watching and to ensure it is healthy—and limited—TV viewing.

But it’s also a public concern. Television pervades our culture. It influences what we say, how we dress, how we behave. Even if your kids haven’t watched a show, their friends have, maybe even while your child was there for a play date. There’s no escaping its influence or the commercials it delivers. So it’s important for us as parents to take a public stand in favor of quality children’s programming. Plus, we, the people, own these airwaves.

This month we have a rare opportunity—one that only comes every eight years—to tell people what we think about the shows that come into our homes. Every broadcast television station license in Illinois is currently up for renewal. The Federal Communications Commission will begin issuing new eight-year licenses on Nov. 1. OK, we know a few letters from viewers are unlikely to cause the FCC to deny a license, but a few letters are likely to cause the general managers who run the local television stations to listen.

So if you have concerns about the quality or quantity of children’s programming in Chicago—and what parent doesn’t?—write to the general manager of the station and forward a copy to the FCC. Visit our Web site, www.chicagoparent.com, for a list of the local stations and their addresses. (Don’t forget praise for shows you think work. As parents, we know praise is more important than criticism.)

And while you’re writing, send a letter to Cartoon Network about its new Tickle U block of programming aimed at very young children. It is a cable network, and therefore not subject to FCC licensing, but it should still want to hear from concerned parents.

The network, whose audience is mostly 8- to 14-year-olds, is going after preschoolers with two hours of programs each morning. The shows are supposed to help preschoolers develop a sense of humor. We don’t know about you, but the 2- and 3-year-olds we know and love happen to naturally be some of the funniest, most entertaining people we know. They didn’t need Tickle U.

Cartoon Network officials claim the programs are based on research. But it is general research about how children develop a sense of humor, not research that shows television viewing helps children develop a sense of humor. There is no research on that.

But there is research showing television viewing can be harmful to preschoolers. A study published in 2004 in the American Academy of Pediatrics’ medical journal, Pediatrics, found a strong correlation between the number of hours spent watching television at ages 1 and 3 and the chances of a child developing attention deficit disorder by age 7.

So, apparently, the joke is on our kids—and it’s not funny.

How do we stop it? By refusing to let our kids watch and by saying something to network executives.

A letter has power. Every letter a TV station receives tells station officials hundreds more viewers are thinking the same thing.

And when they hear nothing, it also carries weight. Despite a public campaign to stop Tickle U, led by the National Head Start Association, International Reading Association, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Commercial Alert, Dads & Daughters, the American Medical Association Alliance and TV Turnoff Network, Cartoon Network has gotten zero letters of complaint about Tickle U, a spokesman says.

So if you agree commercial TV aimed at preschoolers is wrong, let Cartoon Network know. Write to Alice Cahn, Cartoon Network, 1050 Techwood Dr. NW, Atlanta, GA, 30318.

We can’t guarantee that your letters will stop Tickle U or bring immediate change to local broadcast stations. But we can guarantee that if you don’t write, stations will continue doing exactly what they have been doing: harming our kids.


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