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Home > Research Articles > Little Couch Potatoes May Be More Switched On Than We Think

The Age

Friday, July 26, 2002

Little Couch Potatoes May Be More Switched On Than We Think The Age - July 24, 2002

Television has long been blamed for turning children into zombie couch potatoes but a university study has found certain TV programs and videos stimulate their imagination and are positive for their development.

The two-month study of 314 Melbourne mothers with children aged three to six found they were not zombie viewers but active participants who interacted with shows by singing, dancing, solving problems and mimicking characters.

Chief researcher Helen Skouteris, an expert in developmental psychology in La Trobe University's school of psychological science, said shows that stimulated the imagination led to pretend play, which was ``critical for development'' in fostering social skills and building confidence and self-esteem.

The TV programs that encouraged involvement were Hi-5, Play School and Blue's Clues, and the videos were The Wiggles, Hi-5 and Shrek.

Buena Vista Home Entertainment initiated the idea for a study on video viewing and chose La Trobe University to conduct it. Dr Skouteris designed the study and it was conducted independently.

Dr Skouteris, a mother of two young children, said she believed the study was the first in the world to examine the three-to-six age group's television and video-viewing habits, and their behavioural responses during and after viewing.

She said she was interested in the video component of the study because there was already abundant research on television.

The study, Our Children's Media Diet: a Mother's Perspective, found 58 per cent of children watched TV several times a day, and 44 per cent watched videos several times a week.

Dr Skouteris said Australian children watched as much TV as American children - two to three hours a week - but Americans watched more videos.

``Age-appropriate, good programs that provide some sort of educational or entertainment value are good. But you wouldn't want your kid watching TV from morning to night,'' Dr Skouteris said.

The long-standing debate remains about whether violence on television leads to violent behaviour, and whether children are exposed to too much violence on TV.

The study found only 10 per cent of mothers reported that their children's favourite programs or videos portrayed violence, such as Digimon and Pokemon. ``But children who watched those shows were more likely to engage in `boisterous play' afterwards.''

The national president of the Australian Family Association, Bill Muehlenberg, said not all television was good for children - even shows that were promoted as educational.

``Even with Sesame Street, which is supposed to be good, educational TV, some have commented on its potential negative effects,'' he said.

Mr Muehlenberg cautioned against TV's often ``mind-numbing and socially isolating'' programs taking the place of relationships. ``I think all parents know that TV becomes a substitute playmate and it can curtail social relationships.''


1 Play School

2 Hi-5

3 Blue's Clues


1 Shrek

2 Toy Story 1

3 The Wiggles


1 Hi-5

2 Play School

3 Blue's Clues


1 The Wiggles

2 Hi-5

3 Shrek

Copyright of John Fairfax Group Pty Ltd