"THE HEART OF THE MATTER"
a special program of the National Emergency Medicine Association (NEMA)

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Transcripts: 512-1 to 512-3

Week: 512.1 Guest: Annamarie Pluhar, M. Div. Topic: The Television Project- Part One Host: Richard Roeder Producer: Ed Graham

NEMA : This is a three part series on children and how they are affected by television. My guest is Annamarie Pluhar, Executive Director of the Television Project in Wheaton, Maryland.

NEMA : Ms. Pluhar, your organization is called the Television Project. Why is there such a thing as a Television Project needed and what do you do?

PLUHAR: What we do is we help parents understand how television affects their families and the reason this is so important is because I believe that there has been a blind spot in our society to how deeply impactful television is on the family.

NEMA : And how does television impact a family? Most of us would think that's obvious but maybe it's not so obvious.

PLUHAR: Some pieces of it are obvious. We've all been talking about heightened aggression and shortened attention spans and things like that but the other things that I think happen in the family are that believe it or not children who watch a lot of television aren't as nice to be around so it increases the stress of parents in handling their children.

NEMA : And to what do you attribute the fact that they're not as nice to be around? Is it something that translates like the violence they see on television or is there in fact something else going on?

PLUHAR: There's a lot of different things going on and it's very complex and complicated to describe and I'm not sure that we really know how to measure any of this. Some of it has to do with the violence. Some of it has to do with the way that the children don't interact with the television. When they're looking at television, they're absorbed. Lots of parents talk about that kind of effect where nothing else seems to matter in the room and the children don't even look up when somebody walks into the room. I think that the children are kind of storing up energy and when you turn the television off, all that energy just has to spring loose and it makes it harder to be a parent and to be around those children. Every parent talks about when they turn the television off, the child is cranky.

NEMA : So almost like a withdrawal?

PLUHAR: Yes. Something like a withdrawal, some of being so completely absorbed in something and then having it stopped. Yeah. It's a withdrawal.

NEMA : Now there have been lots of studies through the years and I think they've sort of been held in limbo because you get opposing studies coming out of different organizations but one of the questions that always comes up is do children imitate what they see on television? Do they in your opinion?

PLUHAR: Oh absolutely. For people who work with children, that's almost a no-brainer. As soon as they see something on television, they imitate it and this is natural for children. This is what children are supposed to do. Piaget said that the work of children is to play and what they do is they see the adult world and they try it out so without television, children get involved in playing Mommy and Daddy, in playing doctor, in playing I'm going to cook dinner, in tea parties, in all the things that they see adults doing and they, through play, learn what those activities are.

NEMA : Join me for part two on The Television Project with Annamarie Pluhar.

Transcripts:

Week: 512.2 Guest: Annamarie Pluhar, M. Div. Topic: The Television Project- Part Two Host: Richard Roeder Producer: Ed Graham

NEMA : This is part two in a three part series on children and television. My guest is Annamarie Pluhar, Executive Director of the Television Project, who conducts workshops and publishes a newsletter for parents. I asked Ms. Pluhar about children imitating what they see on television.

PLUHAR: When they see stuff on television, they imitate that and there are a number of pre-schools which have had to ban Power Rangers, for instance, because that's all the children would do on the playground. They'd do the Power Ranger kicks.

NEMA : Is it programming that is geared predominantly towards children such as Power Rangers or cartoons in general that seem to create the greatest reaction in children or is it adult programming or do they seem to absorb the energy from all of these different things?

PLUHAR: I couldn't categorically tell you which one was. I think they absorb it from all these different sources. They get it from the news. They get it from the children's programming. They get it from the rushes, the previews of movies and shows that are going to come on later. The content is very powerful for them and children are very impressionable.

NEMA : An interesting statistic that you sent to me when we talked about doing this program says "66% of Americans eat dinner while watching television." Talk about what that means to you and why that's significant.

PLUHAR: I think that that's so significant since I think every culture has seen that eating together is a ritual of community. Thanksgiving dinner, for instance or Christmas Eve dinner - we use eating together to build who we are and create memories of history together and so I think that the family dinner table should be a place where people and family members have a chance to say to each other, "What happened today? What's important in my life? What am I happy about? What am I sad about? What do we care about together as a family?" It's a place for jokes. It's for storytelling. For planning future together. For imagining. And it's a ritual. And I think most of us, when we look back on our childhood, one of the things we will see in our heads is we see the dinner table so when families aren't eating together on some regular basis, and I know families are busy and stressed out and going in many different directions, but I think that children are really losing a central experience of who they are as a family.

NEMA : When you get feedback from the parents you're working with, how do they respond to the idea of moderating their children's watching television? Are they fearful of the idea of having to approach their children about this or are they relieved to hear that it's verified by a professional who's studied the subject?

PLUHAR: I think people could leave my workshop with all kinds of different ideas about what they're going to do as result. The workshop is really designed to help parents understand and to make their own decisions. Most of the time, they tell me that they are going to reduce the amount of television they watch and they are not apprehensive about what will happen with their children. One of the things I say to parents that's important to help children understand is that the reason that they want to limit the television is because they love their children.

NEMA : Join me for part three on The Television Project with Annamarie Pluhar. Transcripts:

Week: 512.3 Guest: Annamarie Pluhar, M. Div. Topic: The Television Project- Part Three Host: Richard Roeder Producer: Ed Graham

NEMA : This is part three in a three part series on children and television with Annamarie Pluhar from The Television Project in Wheaton, Maryland. I asked Ms. Pluhar about the difficulties parents face in trying to regulate their children's television habits.

PLUHAR: One of the things I say to parents that's important to help children understand is that the reason that they want to limit the television is because they love their children and they want their children to explore who they are or to have time to do other things and to have fun together. And I think that that really helps. We need to think about reducing television use not as punishment or as a withdrawal but rather as making space for a better thing to happen.

NEMA : Now there is a movement in Congress to produce a piece of electronic equipment that is put into television sets called a V chip which enables parents to make selections or thresholds about the amount of violence, the amount of sex, the amount of anything they want portrayed on their television set. How do you feel about the V chip? How do you feel about the argument about the First Amendment and - you tell me. You must be a fan.

PLUHAR: I have a lot of ideas about this. What we've already been talking about are some of the things I'm concerned about in terms about what's happening for the family. I do not think that a device inside a television set that blocks out violence is going to make much of a difference. Children will figure out a way to overcome it if they want to. Parents will decide not to use it and on top of that, the broadcasters - nobody has explained adequately yet how they are going to encode this chip so I think it's not really a feasible solution. I would much prefer to see an internal control coming from within the family about who it is we want to be because the issue with television is it's not just what's on. It's all the activities that television is replacing. Children are watching 27 hours a week by some statistics and getting 38.5 minutes a week of meaningful conversation with their parents. That's seriously out of balance. And everybody who has reduced television use or turned it off entirely is shocked and surprised by how much more they get done at home and how much more fun they're having. Assess how much television the family actually is watching. Look at it for a week. Keep a record and that usually surprises people. They don't realize how much they're watching. I think that when you have children under the age of five, it's completely possible to just establish a rule. It's going to be one hour a day and no more and children will get whiny about it initially. There is a withdrawal phase but they recover within three or four days and they start playing imaginatively. Older kids feel a little bit more of the deprivation so you need to encourage them to engage with them and why it is you want to be doing this and help them make a list of all the other activities that they could be doing.

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