Just as ideas have consequences, so do TV entertainment programs have an influence, most directly and sometimes perniciously on children. Who says so? Children themselves do, in the immediate case the 750 between the ages of 10 and 16 in an ethnically balanced nationwide sampling by an independent polling group financed by Children Now, an advocacy group.
The influence the kids cite is anything but socially benign. By compelling majorities, they say TV depicts too much sex before marriage, too much disrespect for parents, too much dishonesty and aggressive behavior, all of which can encourage copycat behavior among impressionable youngsters. No, TV is not the cause of all of today's social ills. But trash programming, and there's a surfeit of it, clearly does send the wrong message about responsibility and other essential values.
As it happens, this latest survey on how TV affects youthful behavior comes at a time when some in Congress and elsewhere are attacking public television as "elitist" and a needless luxury. One of the critics' favorite arguments is that anything public television offers can be found on commercial channels, particularly cable. To some extent, maybe, at least for those who want or can afford cable. But what helps set public TV apart from commercial programming isn't just what it provides but no less significantly what it doesn't. Public TV's children-oriented programs don't depend on vulgarity, inanity and moral emptiness to draw an audience. That alone makes it worth saving.