Single Parent Households
With more single parent households due to divorce, more parents are using the technology (i.e. television and computers) as a babysitter.
Is a woman's place in the kitchen? 50 years ago many people might have said yes. In today's society not only is that concept insulting, it is very impractical. This change in attitudes between the 1950's and the 1990's has had a huge impact on the children raised today. When attempting to discern the differences between children growing up with working mothers, one major factor is that of divorce.
There have always been families that ended up in divorce, but the numbers have taken off in recent years. In fact, between 1970 and 1995, the percentage of married couples with children dropped by a third while single-parent families nearly doubled. In 1970 for example, 40 percent of the population consisted of married couples with children. By 1995, this number had dwindled to only 26 percent. Government estimates state that approximately 40% of all marriages today end in divorce. This number is also higher in African American families, holding at around 60%.
In a single parent household, it is typically a requirement for the mother to work. With a staggering number of 73% of divorced women winding up in financial hardship, children often find themselves spending less time with their mother This leads the parent to a difficult problem. Who or what is going to supervise their child while they are at work, or recuperating from a hard day? While some may be able to afford maids or nannies, a large majority cannot afford such measures, and leave their child in front of a television set.
Television being substituted for parents is an unfortunate example of how technology is replacing a vital part of a child's education. Many studies have been performed that substantiate that children are now spending countless hours in front of the television every day. Leonard Eron, a scientist at the forefront of how television is damaging our young, details this in documentaries such as "Is TV Killing Us" and "Does TV Kill?" His studies and research show a direct correlation to divorce and increased television watching among children. Consider this, the number of viewers aged 12 to 24 has risen so highly in recent years, that entire networks such as Warner Brothers, Universal Paramount Network, and the Fox Network, along with periodicals like TV Guide has heavily shifted their programming in that direction for advertising revenues.
This leads to a very important question. How are the parents insuring that their child is watching proper content? Unfortunately, statistics show that they are not. While they claim to, most refuse to spend any money to insure that their child is protected. More than 70% of surveyed parents said they would not buy a new television equipped with a V-Chip to filter unwanted content. And of those parents who said they would consider it, 35% of their children admitted that they would try to bypass the security measures. This is hardly surprising at all. In fact, Albiniak feels it is safe to assume that this 35% number is rather low, as some children will deny any wrong doing. To make matters worse, children are revealing that these ratings actually encourage them to watch improper television content. This is called the "forbidden fruit" syndrome, where people always want what they cannot have, and children are exceptionally vulnerable to this.
What about the influence all this television viewing has on children? Most research shows that the constant viewing is performing negative conditioning. The wide spread uses of satellite and cable technologies allow for particularly gruesome news and fiction to be brought into the living room. Without parental supervision to explain concepts that might be difficult for a young mind to understand, children are creating their own impressions based on what they see and hear. There are studies that show a large percentage of children who watch the news develop a strong, fearfully violent view of the world. They also develop much more aggressive tendencies, and have a higher chance of spending time in jail and abusing alcohol.
There are other interesting changes in todays young. While not directly linked to television, during the same time that the divorce rate and child television usage has gone up, student reading scores have gone down. The change is not overly dramatic, with only around a 3% drop on average between 1994 and 1997. However, the National Assessment of Educational Progress considers the change to be statistically significant. Middle school testing has remained about level while both elementary and high school level results have dropped approximately 5 points.
Where will children go from here? Becoming more prominent in the late 90's and beyond, television is actually starting to take a back seat to the latest tool of the bored, the Internet. The Internet, while a wonderfully powerful educational instrument, is also a favorite of children when needing to pass time. Using it as interactive television, a child will sit online for hours at a time playing games, reading about their favorite celebrities, or chatting with their peers. Internet popularity among the 8-24 crowd has become so widespread that many networks that are known for television programming are moving onto the Internet to maintain their advertising audiences. Many "Gen-X Havens" such as MTV are at the forefront of this revolution. Also, because those that are online represent a higher income and educational level of consumer, these children appeal even stronger to advertisers.
Unfortunately this all leads to the ideas being molded in a child's mind by marketing specialists rather than the child's parent. With the increasing difficulty of economic situations of single parent mothers, they have little choice but to leave their child alone more than ever before. Hopefully more parents will realize how important it is that their children learn values from them rather than the child's entertainment systems. With latchkey kids flocking to television, the Internet, and video games for entertainment, an important parent/child relationship is being compromised in exchange for dollars and cents.