December 9, 2000
NEGATIVELY PORTRAYED ON TV
Nearly four of ten children in America live in homes without their
biological father, reports the National Fatherhood Initiative. ''When
children grow up without an involved, committed and responsible father, not
only are they at greater risk for a myriad of educational, health, emotional
and psychological problems, but they also lack an important role model as to
what a good father is and does.''
widespread fatherlessness, ''For millions of children the only portrayal of
what a father is and how a father should behave is found on television,''
says NFI President Wade Horn.
image of fatherhood is being projected? It is not ''Honor thy father and
find out, NFI taped and reviewed every prime time TV show on the six major
networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, UPN and WB) during March and April, 2000 for a
report, ''Fatherhood and Television: An Evaluation of Fatherhood Portrayals
on Prime Time Television.''
major finding is ''an overabundance of bad dads.'' Fathers are eight times
more likely than mothers to be portrayed negatively (26 percent of TV dads
vs. 3 percent of mothers). Dads are shown to be involved with their kids,
but incompetent. They spend time with children but are ineffective in what
sociologists call ''authoritative parenting,'' who provide emotional support
for their children, praising them for their accomplishments and disciplining
them for misbehavior.
the plus side, fathers are usually married to the mothers, and there are
shows that are very positive, such as NBC's Daddio, Get Real by Fox, and
Diagnosis Murder, on CBS. The most positive motherhood portrayals were
Freaks & Geeks on NBC and ABC's Once & Again and Lily.
Compared to mothers portrayed, dads were negative on such programs as Family
Law and Third Watch which feature divorced dads. The majority of negative
views of fathers are comedies, particularly such cartoons as Family Guy,
King of the Hill, and the Simpsons, where fathers are hopelessly
incompetent. Homer Simpson's bumbling attempts at fatherhood are often
hilarious. These shows are often satirical, depicting what not to do as a
cartoons have a negative impact?
Aletha Houston of the University of Kansas reports, ''Children who watch
violent shows, even funny cartoons, are more likely to hit out as their
playmates, argue, disobey class rules and leave tasks unfinished and are
less willing to wait for things than those who watched non-violent programs.
Horn said that ''By portraying fathers as involved but incompetent,
television may be undermining responsible fatherhood as a cultural ideal.
If, for example, a father is portrayed as a goof who places low priority on
his children, it become easy to conclude his absence would be no great loss
to the family.
example in one episode of Dharma and Greg, the show's young married couple
adopted a baby. In a conversation between two of the mother's friends, one
asked the other, ''Now that she has the baby, why does she need him?'' This
message of ''fathers-as-superfluous'' is all too prevalent on television and
all too harmful to our culture.
course, with 24 million children being raised in America without their
fathers, too many real parents concluded the father's absence was not
important. (The fault is not always with the dad in these cases, since women
initiate two-thirds of all divorces.)
Television can reinforce this trend, giving the image that fathers do not
matter, which is wrong. (Research shows that fathers are very important in
adding stability and positive role models for children.) ''If fathers do not
contribute anything all that important to the well-being of children, what
is the rationale for telling young males that they ought to stick around
after fathering a child?'' asks the Fatherhood and Television study.
American Family Association Journal in October gave this summary of a
ridiculous Titus episode which revolves around Pop Titus who has
stopped drinking. Christopher, the son, gathers other family members to have
an intervention to try to get Pop to start drinking again. He says, when Pop
is drinking, he's a ''lusty, lustful'' man but since he's stopped, he is
''lustless'' - that he was a stud and used to have three women every
is not asking for TV to renounce its role as providing entertainment, or to
halt comedies centered on fatherhood, or expecting all fathers to be
portrayed as Father Knows Best.
However, ''If we want more children to grow up with involved, committed and
responsible fathers, promoting responsible fatherhood should be on the
agenda of all social institutions. Television can - and should - do its
Copyright 2000 Michael J.