Fatherhood Group Studies TV's Portrayal of Male Figures

By Cheryl K. Chumley | July 7, 2008 | 8:19 PM EDT


(CNSNews.com) - Children are adversely affected by television shows that portray fathers in a negative light, according to a study conducted of prime time broadcasts on six major networks.

"A large number of negative father portrayals is not healthy for the institution of fatherhood or for America's children," the National Fatherhood Initiative reported.

The NFI is a Maryland-based nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to promoting responsible fatherhood in hopes of decreasing crime, welfare dependency, and drug use, and of increasing the chances for juveniles to succeed in school.

"The combination of two factors make this report important reading for anyone concerned about the state of American society," said NFI President Wade F. Horn, Ph.D. "One, nearly 40 percent of America's children do not live with their biological father and two, television is arguably America's most powerful cultural institution.

"Thus," he continued, "for millions of American children, the only portrayal of what a father is and how a father should behave is found on television."

NFI rated 31 of 103 network situational comedy and drama shows that were all determined to have parent figures as "central, recurring" characters.

After watching at least two episodes of each show, analysts scored all using a one- to five-point scale on whether the mother and father were involved in various family activities; how often they engaged in conversation with their television children; whether they guided the children towards spiritual, emotional, mental, and moral growth, how competent the father and mother were portrayed; and whether the parents seemed to place their children as top priorities.

Shows that received between 20 and 25 points were "considered to offer a positive portrayal," NFI reported, while those with 15 to 19.9 points yielded a "mixed portrayal" rating and 14.9 points or less, a "negative portrayal."

"The average rating for mothers was almost 19.3," Horn reported, "which is a fairly positive portrayal. For fathers, the average rating was 17.6, very much a mixed portrayal."

More importantly, however, he continued, were those findings that indicated fathers were "eight times more likely to be portrayed negatively compared to mothers."

UPN and the WB network had the least number of shows with a father as a recurring character, but the highest rating for "quality of portrayal" in the few shows offering fatherhood themes. NBC's Daddio was rated the best, with a 24.9 score.

Fox network was noted in both best and worst categories for its broadcasts of Get Real (22.7 points) and Titus (7.4 points), respectively.

A spokesperson for Fox did not return a telephone call seeking comment on whether the network believed television shows could impact children's views of fatherhood.

But Robert Knight, senior director of cultural studies at the Family Research Council and author of a book that addresses elements of the NFI study entitled "Age of Consent: The Rise of Relativism and the Corruption of Popular Culture," agreed with the NFI assessment, that the profusion of negative father portrayals was "unhealthy" for America's youth.

"If there was [a plethora] of honorable dads on TV, then the occasional deadbeat dad wouldn't make much difference," Knight said. "But there aren't ... and the dads that are on, tend to be fools and are routinely humiliated by their wives and children."

For children without male role models in their lives, watching such shows can give them a skewed image of fatherhood, Knight continued, blaming Hollywood in part for its failure to "discern the impact of its portrayals on impressionable children."

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