What Are Your Children Watching? Parent-Child Interactions in Adult Cartoons Lori J. Klinger, Elizabeth V. Brestan, Henry Park, and Jill Star Auburn University. INTRODUCTION
What Are Your Children Watching? Parent-Child Interactions in Adult Cartoons
Lori J. Klinger, Elizabeth V. Brestan, Henry Park, and Jill Star
Numerous research studies have addressed the influence of violence in children’s television programming with the general conclusion that heavy exposure to television violence is a significant contributor to violence in society (Kunkel, Wilson, Donnerstein, & Blumental, 1995, Report of APA’s Task Force on Television in Society, 1993). Beyond the topic of violence, little research exists on other behaviors portrayed in the media, such as parent-child interactions.
In Bandura’s view, the television is a “superb tutor” as the media allows social learning to extend beyond real life models to symbolic ones (Bandura, 1971). Huesmann (1986) further elaborates on the social learning theory by proposing that a child can develop cognitive scripts of behavior he or she sees on television. When an environmental stimulus is similar to what the child observed during the cognitive encoding, the child may act out the cognitive script in real life.
Many popular cartoons are centered on family life and display how cartoon parents and children communicate and behave with each other. Although cartoons are often considered to be child programs, adult audiences have recently become the target for animated programs with adult themes (Richmond, 1996). These adult-targeted cartoons broadcast in the evenings, however, they are often viewed by children.
The Dyadic Parent-Child Interaction Coding System II (DPICS II; Eyberg, Bessmer, Newcomb, & Robinson, 1994) is a coding system developed to analyze verbal and physical interactions of parent-child dyads during play in a clinical setting. Foote (2000) used the DPICS II to compare the parent-child interactions of families who had children seeking clinical services for conduct disorder with the interactions of non-referred families. The DPICS II has also recently been used to investigate parent-child interactions in child-targeted cartoons (Klinger, Brestan,Park, & Denholm, 2002).
The purpose of this study is to investigate the types of behavior – prosocial versus inappropriate – portrayed by parent and child characters in adult-targeted cartoons. We hypothesized the following:
1) Cartoon children will display more occurrences of inappropriate behavior than non-referred children but less than the clinic-referred children.
2) Cartoon children will display the same amount of prosocial behavior as both the clinic and non-referred children.
3) Cartoon parents will display prosocial and inappropriate behavior similar to non-referred parents.
In comparison with previous data collected on parent-child interactions using DPICS-II (Foote, 2000), the cartoon child characters from this study displayed less inappropriate behavior than a non-referred community sample and a clinic-referred sample of families (see Figure 5). Additionally, the cartoon child characters in the adult cartoons displayed less inappropriate behavior than child characters in child cartoons (Klinger, Brestan, Park, & Denholm, 2002). Contrary to the child characters in child cartoons, the child characters in adult cartoons displayed slightly more prosocial behaviors relative to the children in clinic-referred and community sample families. This suggests that child viewers of child cartoons are exposed to cartoon role models who act more inappropriately than child characters in adult cartoons and children with conduct disorder. Additionally, the cartoon children in adult cartoons display as much prosocial behavior with their parents as do the referred or non-referred children. The child characters in adult cartoons also display much more prosocial behavior than the child characters in child-oriented cartoons
Our results indicate that the parent-child interactions displayed in our sample of adult cartoons have parent characters acting, for the most part, in prosocial ways, but the mean rate of their prosocial behavior is not as high as the parents in child cartoons and the referred and non-referred parents As such, the parent characters in adult cartoons under represent the amount of appropriate, positive interactions occurring in real families, regardless of their referral status, and in child oriented cartoons.
According to the social learning theory, viewing inappropriate cartoon behavior could lead children to engage inappropriately with parents in real life. Although the adults cartoons reviewed for this study depict a range of prosocial and inappropriate behavior, our preliminary data suggests that parents need to monitor child viewing habits. All cartoon programs are not child oriented. Even when the network cartoon programming is child oriented, parents should not assume that children watching television are exposed to appropriate models. By becoming familiar with specific cartoons or cartoon characters, parents can limit exposure to inappropriate television role models by redirecting their children to programs that depict more prosocial parent-child interactions.
One limitation of this study is that the DPICS-II codes were developed to assess clinic-referred parent-child dyads rather than cartoon dyads. As the DPICS-II observations were intended for the clinic setting, the codes are not designed for interactions that involve more than two people, interactions that occur over various settings, or interactions that last longer than 30 minutes. Another limitation is that the normative data currently available for the DPICS-II codes are for children between the ages of 3 and 7 years. Although it was not possible to determine exact ages for the cartoon characters, it appears that only one of the cartoon children fall within the DPICS-II normative age group.
Adult cartoons were defined as cartoons created primarily for adult audiences. Six adult-targeted cartoons (The Simpsons, King of the Hill, Family Guy, South Park, Home Movies, and Baby Blues) were originally identified as depicting parent-child interactions. All episodes of these programs were recorded for three weeks. Of the original six cartoons, three cartoons contained at least five minutes of cumulative parent-child interactions over one or more episodes. Only one parent-child dyad was analyzed per cartoon.
Parent-child interactions were coded using the Dyadic Parent-Child Interaction Coding System-II (DPICS-II; Eyberg, Bessmer, Newcomb, Edwards, & Robinson, 1994). Each tape was observed by an undergraduate research assistant who had previously demonstrated interrater reliability of at least 80% (calculated using Kappa) on these codes using a criterion tape prior to viewing the tapes of the mother-child dyad in this case study. Additionally, coders participated in ongoing training on all DPICS II codes using the DPICS II workbook quizzes and discussion of videotaped parent-child interactions. Overall kappa for this study was X.
The primary coder for this study had an overall reliability of *** (Kappa) with a second coder. The primary coder’s reliability for the Prosocial or Inappropriate codes was *** and *** respectively.
The following definitions for Prosocial and Inappropriate parent and child behavior were obtained from Foote (2000):
Prosocial child behavior was defined as the frequency of Acknowledgements, Answers, Behavioral, Descriptions, Praise, Laugh and Physical Positives used by the child.
Prosocial parent behavior was defined as the frequency of Acknowledgement, Answer, Behavioral Descriptions, Praise, Reflection, Laugh, and Physical Positives used by the parent.
Inappropriate child behavior was defined as the frequency of Whine, Yell, Criticism, and Smart Talk used by child.
Inappropriate parent behavior was defined as the frequency of Criticism and Smart Talk used by the parent.
Figure 3. Inappropriate Behavior Across Cartoons
Figure 4. Prosocial Behavior Across Cartoons
Figure 1. Distribution of Gender Across Dyads
Figure 2. Parent-Child Prosocial and Inappropriate Behavior
Figure 5. DPICS II Summary Variables Across Samples