Children and television

October 08, 1990

Couch potatoes come in all ages. But the youngest ones are often those most pummeled by television advertising. They are also the most susceptible to the lures of snappy advertising and least able to distinguish commercials from real programs.

Children in this country simply watch too much television -- 25 hours a week on average -- and since 1984, when the FCC rescinded guidelines limiting commercials during children's shows, kids have been subjected to more than their share of commercials -- including whole shows designed around specific toys, making them, in effect, program-length commercials.

After a 22-year effort by Action for Children's Television, Congress has passed a Children's Television Act which would restore reasonable limits on advertising time during children's programs and require the Federal Communications Commission to consider a broadcaster's record in providing educational and informational programming for children when the station's license comes up for renewal. Actually, this is the second such act Congress has passed. Ronald Reagan vetoed a similar bill in 1988, and since then children's television has continued its abysmal descent into mediocrity and worse. Surely President Bush -- the education president -- will take a more sensible stand.

In 1984, as part of the Reagan administration's anti-regulatory drive, the FCC rescinded guidelines that placed times limits on advertising during children's programming. The grounds? It claimed that the marketplace, not FCC guidelines, should take care of children's needs. Of course, what the marketplace has taken care of is advertisers.

Frankly, we agree with the Nickelodean network, now the most-watched network among children, which has taken out ads urging parents to limit the time their children spend in front of the tube and giving them suggestions for ways to do that. But since television even in small doses is a major influence in children's lives, we also think that the president would be making a grave mistake not to sign this bill.

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