Television Violence on Children
In the 78 years since the invention of television, it has gone from a luxury item to a common household appliance. However, with an average of two televisions per household, its effects on children and society at large have transformed this household appliance into a virtual weapon of mass destruction. With the increased level of violence shown on television each day, children have become immune and insensitive to violence and are more aggressive verbally and physically than ever before. While this is a serious problem, it is not one without a solution. Parents need to take a proactive role and monitor what their children are watching as well as discuss what is being viewed on television rather than rely on television as an electronic babysitter for their children.
This paper will examine: the use of television as an electronic babysitter by parents, the effects and consequences of television violence on children, and the various ways that we can protect our children from the effects of prolonged exposure to television violence. These are important issues that should be dealt with quickly. As television violence increases and more parents spend time at work and away from their children, the problem is not one that will go away by itself. Instead, it is something that will continue to grow, and the only way to avoid this is to take measures to stop it now.
Studies have indicated that watching more than three hours of television every day during adolescence contributes to more aggressive behavior during adulthood (Blakey, 2002). The study discussed by Blakey (2002) used a mean age of 14 years and tracked 700 participants, both male and female, for a period of 17 years. In attempting to ensure that the most accurate information possible was obtained, the researcher also looked at factors that could affect violence, such as psychiatric disorders, childhood abuse and neglect, and the income of the family. Even when these factors were all accounted for, the instances of violence or aggression toward others were still much higher when it came to those participants that watched more than three hours of television per day on average, as opposed to those that watched one hour or less (Blakey, 2002).
Also interesting to note in the study, was that the editorial that accompanied it thought that the effect of television on violence in later years was probably still underestimated, and that 14-year-old males were more likely to be aggressive than their female counterparts, but by the age of 22 that role had switched, and females were actually more likely to be aggressive toward others than males of the same age, given the same television watching habits. It was also suggested, however, that further study into the issue was needed in order to confirm the findings. One theory as to why this may be the case was that females usually begin to watch violence on television at a later date than males and therefore the violence and aggression that they direct toward others is also delayed (Blakey, 2002).
Those that work in the television regulation and promotion industry spoke up about the study and stated that responsible viewing, not less viewing may be the key. In other words, the amount of television that an adolescent watches is not nearly as important as the content of what that adolescent sees while watching television. For every hour of television viewing, four or five acts of violence are usually seen. Programming that is geared toward children, such as cartoons, usually has 20 to 25 acts of violence every hour, and not all children appear to understand the difference between real life and make-believe. After all, the characters in cartoons get back up again, no matter what is done to them. If the amount of violence in cartoons is added up, it appears that an average child, by the time he or she leaves elementary school will have witnessed 100, 000 acts of violence and 8,000 murders on television (Blakey, 2002).
The Kaiser Family Foundation has also compiled statistics about television viewing and children, and some of the most compelling include that fact that two out of three programs on television contain violence of some kind and that less than 5% of the programs available feature any kind of message about being non-violent. When this is added to the ideas that children’s programming is much more violent than other programming, children see about 10,000 violent incidents on television every year, and violence on television is increasing every year, it is easy to see how children can become desensitized when it comes to violence and violent acts. This can carry over from television into their ‘real’ life as well and cause them problems in school and at home (Henry J. Kaiser, 2003).
Studies have also shown that children are more likely to imitate dangerous or violent behavior in play if they are exposed to it frequently. One study discussed a video clip that children viewed. In it, someone repeatedly struck an inflatable doll. Most of these children then mimicked that action during their play time, while children that did not view that video clip had no such desire to engage in this type of activity. This indicates very strongly that children that are exposed to violence on television may then exhibit violence in their play times and other normal activities, where children that are not exposed to violence on television do not seem to see the need or interest in ‘pretend’ violent behavior (Henry J. Kaiser, 2003).
There are several things that happen to many children when they watch violence on television. However, it should be emphasized that not all children that witness violent television become violent, just as some children will be violent without witnessing these kinds of programs. What is shown in studies and discussed in the literature cited here involves a generalization of the way children and adolescents behave, while backed up by sound research. Regardless of this, there are exceptions to every rule. However, there have been hundreds of studies that have been done on the issue, and they have shown that children that watch this kind of violence on television often:
Become somewhat immune to the horror that violence often brings
Gradually begin to accept that violence can be used as one of the ways to solve problems
Begin to imitate the violence that they see on television
Find themselves identifying with characters including victims and victimizers alike (Children, 1999).
Studies have also shown that even a single violent event on television can increase the aggressiveness of the individual, and this is especially true for children that already have behavioral, learning, emotional, or impulse control problems. They are especially vulnerable when it comes to dealing with violence that they see on television and how they react or respond to it. Sometimes this violence will show up right away, and other times it will not show up for years. This has been found to be the case even if the home that the child grows up in has no tendency toward any kind of violent behavior (Children, 1999).
Here are some facts that are important to consider: In the year 1950, 10% of homes in this country had a television set. Today, there are televisions in 99% of American homes. Over 50% of children also have a television in their bedroom. Various countries that have been studied have shown that homicides doubled within 10 to 15 years of the introduction of television, which would indicate that the violence that is seen on it has to play some part in the violence that is seen in society as well (Nisbett, 2005).
There are three specific issues that television violence seems to cause. Aggression and desensitization have already been mentioned. The third issue, however, is fear. When individuals are exposed to a great deal of television violence, they often perceive their chances of becoming a victim as much higher than they really are, and therefore they are uncomfortable in many areas and setting that should not really be a problem for them (Murray, 2001). This is especially true of women, as more women are portrayed as victims on television than men are, and women are traditionally seen as being weaker and incapable of fighting back. There are also, however, more shows recently where the woman is the heroine or where the woman is the villain, which could be showing a shift in the way women are perceived.
One of the main problems with violence on television today is that parents seem to be concerned about only that which is very gory or bloody, and this is not necessarily the worst kind of violence for children to see. Instead, the worst kind of violence seems to be violence that is rewarded somehow as being justified. When it is seen in a positive light, it makes it appear as though there are types of violence that are acceptable and even appreciated, which can easily give young and impressionable children the wrong idea (Dittmann, 2003).
Two of the most important things that the industry is doing now is making sure that all television programs are rated, and using v-chips to keep children from seeing programs that contain violence (Szaflik, 2000). Neither one of these ideas are foolproof, however, and therefore more must be done. Unfortunately, not that many parents and educators are aware of what else can be done to help, and therefore television violence continues to grow. This can also lead to the idea that violence in the real world is increasing and that people are in more danger, regardless of what the actual facts are (Gerbner, 1994).
There are, however, things that parents can do to help their children when it comes to protecting them from excessive violence on television. These include:
Paying attention to what kinds of programs their children are watching and watching some of the programming together
Setting limits on how much time their children spend in front of the television, including not allowing the child to have a television set in their bedroom
Pointing out that the violence that they see on television is not real, and that in real life such actions would result in extreme pain or death
Refusing to let their children watch shows that they know to be violent, or changing the channel or turning off the television set when violent programming comes on, with an explanation as to why that program is not acceptable to watch
Disapproving of violent programming in front of their children, and stressing the belief that violence is not the way that problems should be resolved
Contacting other parents and agreeing to enforce the same or similar rules regarding how much time their children can watch television and what kinds of programs they can watch, to help offset some of the peer pressure that their children may be feeling when their television is limited (Parenthood, 2005).
Naturally, there are other suggestions as well, and this will not stop all children from seeing all violent programming. It is a good start, however, that will help both parents and children keep violence out of their homes. Even though television violence is certainly not the only factor in violent and aggressive behavior by young people and young adults, it is one of the more significant contributing factors (Children, 1999).
Parents should also look at the violence that might be in their child’s life in other ways, and work to reduce it, since it all contributes to aggressive behavior. Another way to help children and to deal with the fear angle that was mentioned earlier is to help children learn ways to avoid being victimized. There are various ways to do this, but they can include discussing safe areas of the neighborhood that they can walk and play in, teaching them to walk or play only with at least with one other person, instead of alone, stressing the importance of reporting crimes or emergencies, making sure that they should know what to do if someone approaches them, touches them inappropriately, or otherwise makes them feel uncomfortable, and make sure that they understand never to go with someone that they do not know and trust, and never to open the door for a stranger, regardless of what that person tells them (Raising, 2005).
When parents take the time to work with their children, the schools, and other parents on what their children are watching and how much violence they are actually seeing on television, there is much that can be done to help children grow up in less violent environments. Many parents, however, use the television as a sort of electronic babysitter for their children instead of actually spending time with them and when they do this they often do not pay attention to what the programs that their children are watching are really like.
While many people blame the media for having such violent content, and there is certainly merit to that argument, there should also be blame placed on the parents that simply park their children in front of the television and make no effort to interact with them or to stop and see what they are actually watching and how it may be affecting their behavior. What these children are seeing on television, and the amount of television that they are actually watching, may be influencing them more than their parents realize, and the consequences of this in the future could end up harming more than just those children.
Blakey, Rea. “Study links TV viewing among kids to later violence.” CNN/Health on the Web
28 March 2002. 28 January 2005. http://archives.cnn.com/2002/HEALTH/parenting/03/28/kids.tv.violence/.
Children and TV Violence.” American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. April 1999. 27 January 2005. http://www.aacap.org/publications/factsfam/violence.htm.
Dittmann, M. “Childhood exposure to televised violence may predict aggressive behavior in adults.” American Psychological Association: Monitor on Psychology 5 May 2003.<
Gerbner, George. “TV Violence and the Art of Asking the Wrong Question.” July 1994.
31 January 2005. http://www.medialit.org/reading_room/article459.html.
Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Key Facts: TV Violence. Spring 2003. 27 January 2005. http://www.kff.org/entmedia/loader.cfm?url=/commonspot/security/getfile.cfm&PageID=14292.
Murray, John P. “TV Violence and Brainmapping in Children.” Psychiatric Times October 2001. 26 January 2005. http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/p011070.html
Nisbett, Michael John. “Facts About Media Violence and Effects on the American Family.” The Christian Resource Centre 19 January 2005. 25 January 2005. http://www.nisbett.com/child-ent/facts_about_media_violence.htm.
Parenthood.com “Children and TV Violence.” 2005. 4 February 2005. http://www.parenthoodweb.com/articles.html?article_id=247.
Raising Children to Resist Violence: What You Can Do.” American Psychological Association
2005. 30 January 2005. http://www.apa.org/pubinfo/apa-aap.html.
Szaflik, Kevin. “Violence on TV: The Desensitizing of America.” 3 May 2000. 31 January 2005. http://www.ridgenet.org/szaflik/tvrating.htm.
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