Critical Television Viewing Skills
By Nancy Hoene, WDSE-TV Duluth MN

Originally published in "A Parent's Guide to Public Television" and developed as part of  THE FAMILY: ALL TOGETHER NOW project of the Public TV Outreach Alliance. Funding for the alliance is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

What are Critical TV Viewing Skills? They are learned skills that give the viewer the ability to judge the value, truth or technique of a program, to analyze elements of a program and to appreciate a program's merit (or lack of it). Below are some examples that may help you. As you read these examples, remember to think about how your child reacts in these situations.


1. A critical viewer can recognize when he/she is watching too much television.

     WHAT TO ASK...
  • Is watching TV causing you to neglect homework, chores, exercise or other responsibilities?
  • Has socializing or cultivating friendships become secondary to watching TV? Do you watch TV to avoid communicating with other family members?

    WHAT TO DO...
  • Do some advance planning and use a TV schedule to select the programs you will watch each week. Avoid turning on the TV out of habit. Establish a " no TV night" during which the family finds something else to do together.
    


2. A critical viewer can identify how conflict is resolved on the programs he/she watches, and decide to agree with the solution or to find a better way to resolve the conflict.

     WHAT TO ASK...
  • Was violence used to resolve the conflict? If so, was the person involved in this violence portrayed as the "good guy?" Do you think violence is okay as long as the "good buy" performs it?

    WHAT TO DO....
  • During a program break or commercial, use the time to predict the outcome and then see if you are correct. Next, brainstorm other possible non-violent outcomes.
    


3. A critical viewer can recognize stereotypes being perpetrated on television.

      WHAT TO ASK....
  • Are children or women portrayed as helpless, needing an adult (or male) to rescue them?
  • Are senior citizens shown as forgetful, inactive or without anything worthy to contribute?
    What roles do Black characters, American Indian characters, Hispanic characters, Asian characters or other specific characters play?
  • Are they shown in a "slum" setting, or in the "bad guy" role?     
  • What kind of language is used in their roles?

    WHAT TO DO...
  • Avoid generalizing about a group of people by the examples you see on television.
  • Use negative examples from television as a starting point for discussing stereotypes.
       
    

4. A critical viewer can identify what else is being "sold" besides the product in TV commercials.

      WHAT TO ASK...
  • Do you think that using this product will make you as "cool" or attractive as the actor/actress in the commercial?
  • What words in this commercial try to make you believe it is a good product? Do you know what they really mean, or do they just sound good? (e.g. pH balanced)
  • What are they not telling you about the product?

    WHAT TO DO....
  • Pay attention to the music, sound effects, lighting, props or special effects that enhance the product being sold.
    

    5. A critical viewer pays attention to characteristics of the TV personalities with whom he/she identifies.

        WHAT TO ASK...
  • What is this TV character's occupation, family, role, and values? How does she/he dress, talk and behave? How is this character being treated by others?

    WHAT TO DO...
    Use the answers to the questions above as a means of clarifying your own values.
       
    

6. A critical viewer questions the reliability/bias of information sources on TV (such as news or documentaries).

      WHAT TO ASK...
  • Where did this person get his/her information? What do you know about obtaining information this way? Does this information conflict with that of another source, or with something you already know?

    WHAT TO DO....
  • Count the number of seconds/minutes given any one topic, and see how that compares to the time given topics of equal importance. Compare information from TV news or documentaries to reports in magazines and newspapers.
       
    

7. A critical viewer does not believe everything he/she hears and sees on television, nor does he/she necessarily accept the TV as representing "real life."

        WHAT TO ASK.....
  • On TV, complex problems are often solved in 30 minutes or less. Do you think that is realistic? If you house, clothes, car, family, etc., are not the same as those shown on TV, do you think you somehow don't measure up?

    WHAT TO DO....
  • Visit a production studio to see the sets and props used in shooting a scene. Observe a taping of a fight or other action scene to witness fake fighting, fake blood, etc.
       
    

8. A critical viewer understands there is a difference between reading a book and watching the same story dramatized on television.

        WHAT TO ASK...
  • When you know a movie is coming on TV, read the book first and then watch it on TV.
  • The next time, reverse the process.

    WHAT TO DO...
  • What differences did you notice between the book and the video version? Were the characters and setting as you had imagined them to be? Which did you enjoy more?
     


If parents help their children work at the above skills, eventually you will both become discriminating viewers.


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