How long do they spend watching?
On average, primary school children spend approximately two hours a day watching television. Playing games on the PC, Playstation or Gameboy takes another 30 minutes a day. Children today spend significantly more time on the media than children of previous generations.
Two and a half hours of television and computer use a day is an average. This will differ from child to child. Pre-school children generally spend less time watching television than older children. They also spend less time playing computer games.
The difference between boys and girls is seen primarily in time spent at the computer. Boys spend considerably more time per day playing computer games than girls.
What makes the screen so attractive?
If children like to spend so much time engaging with media, they must have good reasons for doing so. Like adults, children have at least three such reasons:
1. Media offer relaxation. After a day spent concentrating on school and homework, it is nice to get carried away by an entertaining programme or computer game and empathise with the characters from the story or game.
2. Media are a major source of information. Children get to know a lot of things through watching children’s news and educational programmes. However, they also learn from many other types of programmes. Series can give an impression of life in other countries, how people fall in love, the latest fashions, what music is popular, or how the police catch criminals. Children also `learn’ all kinds of things from computer games and the internet.
These are all things that are not taught at school, like language and arithmetic, but which children nevertheless find important.
3. Children like to engage with the computer or television, as they can do so together with others. They enjoy laughing together at a funny series, or scampering to the safety of mummy’s or daddy’s lap if the television gets a bit scary. Playing games on the computer is also something children like to do with others. Seeing who can score the most points is an important way for children to test their skills and compare themselves to others.
Whatever the reasons, however, it is simply not easy for children to avoid the television or games computer. In many households, the TV is switched on in the morning or afternoon as a matter of routine. Many older children have their own television set and (games) computer. It is not surprising then, that for many children, modern media are a part of everyday life, all day, every day.
What do they watch?
There are programmes all children watch, or so it sometimes seems. But every parent will tell you that children do not just watch indiscriminately. They find some programmes too childish, too silly or too responsible. Children have their own tastes, and these do not always correspond to their parents’ opinions on a particular programme.
Children in the first years of primary school prefer to watch programmes specially aimed at them: simple cartoons and easy-to-follow infants’ programmes such as Sesame Street or The Tweenies. This does not mean, however, that these young children do not also like to watch soaps, quizzes and shows with others. As long as these are in their own language and their parents give explanations from time to time, young children like to watch along, even if they don’t understand everything.
Slightly older children, up to around the age of nine, also watch a lot of real children’s programmes, such as cartoons and short documentaries about other children. However, they are also increasingly interested in exciting young people’s drama series and foreign programmes with comic situations or romance or action. They like to watch these together with their parents or with children of the same age.
From the age of roughly nine, children also increasingly like to watch programmes primarily intended for the whole family. By this time, they may be able to read the subtitles in foreign programmes. Boys in the higher classes of primary school particularly like to watch exciting adventure programmes and sports programmes. From this age onward, girls show a preference for romantic films and soaps. Both boys and girls also like to watch game shows on television, humorous films and series and find these really ´great´. And of course programmes featuring pop music are very popular.
What are the most popular genres?
For generations, cartoons have been one of the most popular types of programmes with children. One of the reasons for this is that children are well aware that most of what happens in cartoons can’t happen in real life. Cartoons are also easy to follow and have a simple, recognisable narrative structure, which is important for children.
Advertisements and music videos seem to be almost as popular as cartoons. These `mini-programmes’ fulfil children`s` most important needs. The narrative structure is short, simple and clear and there is a great deal of humour, imagination, colour and tempo.
Comedy series, police series and soaps are also popular with children, preferably in their own language. Children like to compare themselves to the main characters. Young children like to see characters of their own age, or fantastic stereotypes such as Bassie & Adriaan. Older children also like to see stereotypes, but somewhat more realistic ones, such as policemen, doctors, detectives and absurd comic family members. Only when they have reached secondary school age do they become interested in less stereotypical television characters.