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Half a century of television in the lives of our children

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The quintessential image of the television audience is of the family viewing at home—sitting together comfortably in front of the lively set. Accompanying this happy image is its negative—a child viewing alone while real life goes on elsewhere. This article reviews evidence over five decades regarding the changing place of television in children’s lives. It argues that, notwithstanding postwar trends that have significantly changed adolescence, the family home, and wider consumer society, there was time for the 1950s family experiment to spawn the 1960s and 1970s family television experiment, thereby shaping normative expectations—academic, policy, and popular—regarding television audiences for years to come. At the turn of the twenty-first century, we must recognize that it was the underlying long-term trend of individualization, and its associated trends of consumerism, globalization, and democratization, that, historically and now, more profoundly frame the place of television in the family.

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