Harvard Educational Review
  1. The Smart Parent's Guide to Kids' TV

    By Milton Chen

    San Francisco: KQED Books, 1994. 209 pp. $8.95 (paper).

    Milton Chen once broke his collarbone as a result of racing down the stairs to catch the latest "Huckleberry Hound" cartoon. Although an experience like this might have turned others off from pursuing a career in broadcasting, Chen never lost his enthusiasm for children's television. Indeed, some of the same energy that characterized his early relationship with television underlies Chen's present-day perspective on the subject as a parent and as director of the San Francisco Public Broadcasting Station KQED's Center for Lifelong Learning.

    Chen's intention in writing this parent-friendly book, which is refreshingly free of academese, is to bring the taboo topic of TV, children, and parental control "out of the closet." To this end, he organizes his book to supply background information on television and television research, as well as specific ideas about how to be involved proactively in monitoring children's viewing. According to Chen, watching television is the default activity in many homes. Parents have just cause to be alarmed by the content of many television programs and by the impact of advertising on children and families. Nevertheless, as Chen points out through both general principles and concrete examples, television can be used as a departure for discussions centering on racial and gender stereotyping and as a tool for presenting information to excite children's imagination. Chen describes how the commercial reality of television in the United States affects children's programming, and how television systems in other countries present children with a considerably different program diet.

    Three aspects of Chen's book are most striking. First, Chen's ability to integrate information from diverse sources — including academic research, the popular press, and letters from viewers — in a cohesive and entertaining manner makes the short chapters a pleasure to read. Second, Chen does not shy away from using personal anecdotes to illustrate his points, a technique that works especially well when he describes his own conversations with his daughter on the topic of ethnic stereotyping. Finally, Chen's suggestions for monitoring children's television viewing are concrete and placed in context, quite different than the tersely phrased recommendations often encountered in popular magazines and journal articles. In sum, The Smart Parent's Guide to Kids' TV succinctly describes the factors influencing children's television programming in the United States along with strategies for parents who wish to make their children's viewing experience more meaningful. P.S.
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