Lessons from children's television: The impact of the Children's Television Act on children's learning
The 1990 Children's Television Act (CTA) requires broadcasters to provide educational and informational television programs for children. A multimethod, multidisciplinary approach, utilizing both cross-sectional and longitudinal designs, was used to investigate the degree to which the CTA has had an effect on children's viewing experiences and learning. Second- to sixth-grade children's preferences and comprehension of content from prosocial and academic programs broadcast by the four major commercial networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX) were compared to those for similar programs broadcast by PBS and Nickelodeon. Overall, girls and younger children liked educational and informational television programs more than boys and older children did. Girls and older children understood the programs best, particularly the prosocial ones. Over the course of 9 months, however, viewing educational and informational television programs declined, particularly for older boys. Nevertheless, lessons were reported more often after viewing favorite educational than favorite entertainment-driven programs. Results suggest beneficial effects of many commercial educational and informational children's television programs as well as the value of protections, such as requiring broadcasters to provide 3 h of educational and informational programs each week, to ensure that educational television programs survive in the competitive market place. Such policy decisions provide our children with access to quality television programs that can improve their social, emotional, and cognitive well-being.