This essay will look at how the representation of childhood on British television has changed and the part the media and new technology may have played in this change. It will discuss Postman’s (1983) concept of the death of childhood, and media manipulation, and compare it with Tapscott’s (1998) view of children gaining empowerment through the media. It will look at other forms of media and new technologies, how they impact on children’s lives and how they integrate to create intertextuality. Finally It will briefly discuss Martin Barker’s media case study and look at how children create their own media.
The images of childhood represented in television have changed in the past few decades. Gone is the view of childhood as a time spent making things and doing activities, where children’s main influences were their parents and where children were seen as un-knowledgeable, passive and accepting. Children are now seen as active and knowledgeable media consumers who spend more time on media related activities than any other activity. While parents are still heavily influential, television offers a perspective and influence previously unknown. Joshua Meyrowitz in his reading ‘The blurring of childhood and adulthood’ stated, ‘Television now escorts children across the globe even before they have permission to cross the street’ (M.J. Kehily & J. Swann, 2003 p217). The un-knowledgeable, passive child has been replaced by the media savvy, active, challenging child who commands entertainment.
Children’s television has changed dramatically in the last few decades, from a small number of programmes at specific times of the day, on only one or two television channels, to an abundance of programmes available at all times in many formats; terrestrial television, cable, satellite, video and dvd, and with whole channels dedicated solely to children’s entertainment. The content of the programmes has also changed. Children’s television in the fifties and sixties had very simplistic storylines, and used puppets and maternal-like presenters and was aimed at young children who were innocent of the activities of the adult world. Programmes for older children tended to be narrated stories or programmes with the aim of passing on knowledge and skills, and for both younger and older children the representation of the child as innocent was maintained. Nowadays many children’s programmes are aimed at a specific group, often relating to age or gender, such as the ‘Tweenies’ which is aimed at pre-school children, the ‘Power Puff Girls’ aimed at girls and ‘Power rangers’ aimed at boys. Even young children are aware of the distinction between programmes and may not admit to watching a programme that is seen as belonging to the opposite gender or a lower age group. While children’s programmes represent children as being knowledgeable, sophisticated and demanding consumers of the global media, the representation of the child as innocent and in need of protection is still maintained, most notably to generate emotional viewer responses in advertisements, dramas, and films.
As discussed in Multimedia childhoods (M.J. Kehily & J. Swann, 2003 p184) surveys have shown that for children in industrialized countries, accessing the media is the biggest leisure activity, with children spending more time interacting with the media than they do interacting with family and friends. This gives the media, and those behind it, a huge influence over children. Some people see this influence as the media manipulating children while others take the opposing view and see it as a tool for empowering children.
In his book ‘The disappearance of childhood’ (1983) American critic Neil Postman holds the electronic media responsible for the decline of modern civilization. He blames the increased access of children to adult information, and describes television...