Since the middle of the twentieth century, television has grown from a novelty to a fixture in 99 percent of American households. Over time, the character of the medium also changed dramatically. Once offering only three principal broadcast networks, viewers' choices now may extend to more than a hundred channels. By 1999, 78 percent of homes with children and adolescents received at least basic cable, enabling children to grow up with a wide variety of general audience and child-oriented programming.

Television's introduction was accompanied by excitement and optimism, followed almost immediately by criticisms and concerns about its impact on children's development. Critics linked television to every ill effect from hyperactive toddlers to violent youth, prompting consideration of regulations for children's television. Regulations have varied over the years and have come to focus on requirements for educational programming, limitations on commercial time in children's programming, and implementation of a content rating system. Changes in regulations have been fueled not only by political shifts but also by ongoing research on children's use of television and television's influences on children's development.

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