Why is children's television important?

Children's television gets a lot of bad press.

The media is full of alarming reports about how much television children watch, how much violence children witness through television, and how television advertising might be linked to the obesity crisis.

But it's important to look at the positives, too. Most adults have fond memories of the television programs they enjoyed as a child – programs that became part of a shared culture, like other forms of storytelling. Good television programs are a vital part of our culture; and it is important to encourage children to become discerning viewers with good viewing habits.

Hence, at the ACTF, our focus is on creating high-quality programs made especially for Australian children. The programs that we develop, support and distribute explore a wide array of themes that are relevant to children, such as:

  • Family and a child’s place in it
  • The fun, trials and tribulations of growing up
  • Being embarrassed by your parents
  • Relationships
  • The use of fantasy and imagination in kids’ lives
  • Superheroes
  • Sport
  • History

Children’s programs sometimes also deal with more serious issues such as depression of a parent, first love, puberty and grief. Our guiding principle is to look at these issues from a child’s perspective.

How much time is too much time?

Are your children watching too much television or spending too much time on screen based activities? If you're worried about how much time your children spend watching television, you're not alone.

Many parents and health practitioners advocate “daily screen time limits” to control the amount of time that kids spend in front of TV and computer screens. Such an approach might be helpful in families were screen time usage is particularly excessive, but many children aren’t watching anywhere near the recommended daily limits and still their families wonder if they are watching too much. All families and their timetables are different, and the real issue isn’t the television, or the computer, games console or tablet.

The real issue is what children are missing out on when they are consumed by screen based activities.

So rather than set screen time limits, we recommend ensuring that your children have plenty of opportunity for sleep (by ensuring they go to bed at a reasonable hour), active play and exercise, reading, school commitments and helping around the home. It is recommended that children and teenagers engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity for at least 60 minutes a day.

You might also want to ensure that you are a good role model. Most adults watch more TV than kids do! Encourage everyone in your family to actively choose the shows they want to watch, rather than just watching anything.

See our seven habits for effective moderation of television below.

Television and language acquisition
Television programs are often a young child’s first experience of the world outside their immediate family and neighbourhood.

Good quality pre-school programs can introduce all sorts of concepts to young children and inspire and stimulate play and activities beyond the program itself. However some parents are concerned that exposure to screen media harms children’s language acquisition and the development of traditional literacy.

The latest research suggests that by the time children turn 8, computer use and print literacy are mutually supportive activities, and that each promotes the development of the other. It also appears that co-viewing of television with parents promotes verbal abilities in children of all ages, including very young children.

In other words, it is not so much the “exposure” to media that harms language acquisition and development of traditional literacy, but the absence of any guided interaction and involvement by parents or carers in children’s media viewing.

The message is, what are young children missing out on if they are left in front of the television on their own for long periods of time? There is no substitute for a parent or care giver’s involvement - talking, discussing, watching and reading with children, even before they are able to talk, discuss and read themselves.

Making a complaint

If you want to complain about a children's television program, you should contact the broadcaster directly.

Information about lodging a complaint with a commercial television station is available on the Free TV Australia website.

If you want to complain to the ABC, you can send a letter to ABC Audience and Consumer Affairs, GPO Box 9994, in the capital city of your State or Territory, or by making your complaint through the ABC website.

If your complaint is about a pay-television channel, we recommend contacting the Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association to get appropriate advice and contacts for the complaint.

Once you’ve complained to the broadcaster, if you’re not happy with its answer, or you don’t receive a reply within 60 days, you can take your complaint to the Australian Media and Communications Authority.

Resources and books to read

  • Into the Minds of Babes: How Screentime Affects Children from Birth to Age Five by Lisa Guernsey, published by Basic Books, New York
  • Children, Media and Culture by Máire Messenger Davies, published by McGraw Hill Open University Press, United Kingdom

Seven habits for effective moderation of television

  • Don’t have the TV on all the time in your house - pick out favourite shows and tune in to watch those shows, then turn the TV off afterwards.

  • Don’t put TVs in children’s bedrooms. Ensure lap tops, tablets etc are not interfering with sleep.

  • Decide how much TV you are going to allow and let your children have input into when and what they choose to watch. It shouldn’t just be about the time, it should also be about the shows.

  • Avoid eating in front of the television - record programs to watch at a better time.

  • Watch television with your children when you can and talk about what you are watching - when you can’t watch with them, ask later about what they saw and why they did or didn’t like it.

  • If you are watching commercial television with your children, discuss the advertising and ask them what tricks they think the advertisers use to persuade us to buy their product. Have you ever been disappointed by something you purchased after you saw an advertisement? Tell your children your story!

  • Make sure that your children have time in their day for all of their other important activities such as reading, sport, homework, playing and helping at home - and then make the most of TV time as “cuddle time”.


www.cybersmart.gov.au is a website that provides activities, resources and practical advice to help young kids, kids, teens and parents enjoy the online world safely.