Children And Television Violence
This article looks into the issue of television violence in order to determine its effect on our children.
Littleton, Colorado; Springfield, Oregon; Jonesboro, Arkansas; Pearl, Mississippi. These previously unknown suburban cities will forever be branded into our minds. These cities are linked by one devastating factor: young students firing upon fellow students and educators. What causes these young people to "snap" causing the violent shooting sprees? Although the events are too recent to fully understand their causes, we can try to understand what led to the disastrous situations.
The impact of television violence on youth behavior has been an issue for many years. Television stations and their executives tend to deny television's contribution to youth violence. In the following paragraphs, I will use various examples to demonstrate the impact television has had on youth violence. This will be accomplished by: discussing the problems associated with television viewing, identifying violence on television, portraying the effects of television violence on younger people, and revealing ways to reduce violence on television. This paper explores these topics by using multiple statistics, by incorporating the views of several public officials and authors, and through my own views as well.
In 1939, at the World's Fair, television first came into our lives. In 1938, author E. B. White told Harpers Magazine: "I believe that television is going to be the test of the modern world, and in this new opportunity to see beyond the range of our own vision, we shall discover either a new and unbearable disturbance of the general peace or a saving radiance in the sky. We shall stand or fall by television, of that I am sure." ( Murray, 1) E. B. White foresaw the problems associated with television when TV first arrived, but I do not believe he figured television would have such an impact on American society. Television has become standard in many homes. In 1949, only two percent of homes had a television. Today, the opposite is true; only two percent of homes do not have a television. (Murray, 1) Television is used to inform, entertain, and educate the public. Children make up a large part of television viewers. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) states that "American Children watch an average of three to four hours of television daily." (American, 1) Unfortunately many children are left home alone after school, thus their television viewing is not restricted. Opinions concerning parental and governmental restriction will be covered later in this paper.
Violence on television has notably increased in the last 25 years. William Goodwin stated "A five year study by the American Psychological Association found that the average child witnesses 8,000 murders and 100,000 other acts of violence on television by the seventh grade." (45) John Murray acknowledges this statement and adds that 5 violent acts per hour occur during prime time and 20-25 violent acts occur during Saturday morning children's programming. (Murray, 5) Therefore, some children could be watching 95-125 acts of violence on television every week! War cartoons, like GI Joe and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, would bring the total up even higher. Elaine Landau contends that "a typical war cartoon show averages 41 acts of violence per hour, with an attempted murder every two minutes!" (36)These violent acts can pose a threat to the mind of our young children. These effects may be noticeable in the early stages of life or may remain unnoticed for many years, even into adulthood.
Various government officials have addressed this problem. In 1994, Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders said "By portraying violence as the normal means of conflict resolution, the media gives youth the message that violence is socially acceptable and the best way to solve problems. After 10 years of research, we know that a correlation exists between violence on television and aggressive behavior in children." (Goodwin, 47-48) Research results in two different studies strengthen Elders' statement. One study shows that "two years after television was introduced to the remote city of Notel, Canada, physical aggression in children in the area increased 160 percent" (Goodwin, 48) Once televison arrived in South Africa, the homicide rates among whites, which had been in the decline, increased 130 percent in twelve years. (Goodwin, 49) There may have been other factors which contributed to the increase in violence, but, these studies show that television does have an impact on youth behavior.
There have been other studies which also demonstrate the effects of violence on youth. For example, a study by AACAP found that as a result of TV violence, children may: become immune to the horror of violence; gradually accept violence as a way to solve problems; imitate violence they observe on television; and identify with certain characters, victims, or victimizers. (American, 1) As a member of The Children's Broadcast Institute, Toronto child psychiatrist Dr. Arlette Lefebrve was actively crusading against the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (a show which was eventually taken off the air; but not necessarily due to violent content). She found following examples of the impact the show had on younger viewers: "A six-year- old boy wearing a turtle costume stabbed a friend in the arm for not returning a borrowed toy; A three-year- old boy picked up the family cat and swung it around his head like a Turtle hero wielding a weapon. When his mother tried to intervene, the boy said " It's just like Michelangelo".(Miller, 59-60)
In addition, "Aletha Huston- Stein and her colleagues assessed the effects of viewing violent or pro- social (nonviolent) television programming. In this study, about one hundred preschool aged children enrolled in a special nursery school at Pennsylvania State University were divided into three groups and were assigned to watch a particular diet of programming. The children watched either a diet of Batman and Superman cartoons, a diet of Mister Roger's Neighborhood, or a diet of neutral programming (programs designed for preschoolers that contained neither violence or pro-social messages). Huston-Stein and her colleagues observed the youngsters on the playground and in the classroom for two weeks to assess the level of aggressive and helpful behavior displayed by these children. Then, the children viewed the program diet one half hour a day, three days a week, for four weeks. They watched 12 half hour episodes of the diet to which they were assigned. Researchers found that the youngsters who watched Batman and Superman cartoons were more physically active, both in the classroom and on the playground. Also, they were more likely to get into fights and scrapes with each other, play roughly with toys, break toys, snatch toys from others, and get into little altercations. No mass murders broke out, but, they were simply more aggressive and had more aggressive encounters. The other group, the group that had watched Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, was much more likely to play cooperatively with their toys, spontaneously offer to help the teacher, and engage in what might be called "positive peer counseling." ...In this instance, the focus of the Mister Rogers' sessions was similar to " peer counseling"-- being kind, being sensitive to others needs, and being concerned about others feelings. For example, Fred Rogers might suggest that if someone looks sad, you could say, "Gee, you look sad today, are you feeling okay? Do you want to go play or do something" The group that watched the neutral programming was neither more aggressive nor more helpful. However, what is more interesting about this study is that it shows both sides of the coin: What children watch does affect how they behave both positively and negatively." (Murray, 4)
Finally, a study by Leonard Eron began in 1963 and was one of the longest termed studies to take place. "...Eron began his study by assessing the development of aggression in third graders, eight year olds, in a small upstate New York Town. In the course of the study, he asked children to report on their television viewing and other things they liked to do, as well as their ratings of aggression of other children. He also interviewed teachers and asked them to indicate in the classroom, who was more aggressive or less aggressive and he obtained information from parents about children's television viewing and home discipline and family values. He conducted that study hen these youngsters were eight years old and wrote a report about the aggressive behavior of the eight year olds noting in passing that there was a relationship between children's level of aggression and their television viewing. Children who reported, or whose parents reported, that the youngsters preferred and often viewed more violent programs were more likely to be the ones nominated by their peers and teachers as more aggressive in school. He followed up on these youngsters ten years later, when they were 18 years old, and again found a relationship between TV viewing and aggression. However, the most interesting, and strongest, relationship between television viewing at age 8 and aggressive behavior at 18. He concluded that there were some long-term effects of early television viewing on later aggressive behavior. In the 1980's, Eron again followed up on these children as young adults, at age 30. Now, he found that there was a relationship between early television viewing and arrest and conviction for violent interpersonal crimes; spouse abuse, child abuse, murder, and aggravated assault. This study is not without controversy, but there is sufficient evidence to convince some researchers that there is a long-term effect of early violence viewing on later aggressive behavior". ( Murray, 4)
The above studies provide a direct correlation between television viewing and violence. If the Eron study had been performed in another area with a different group of children, in addition to the previous study, and produced similar results, the correlation between violence and television viewing would be even stronger.
A relationship has been established between youth violence and television violence in the above paragraphs. Now we must ask how can we reduce the impact of violence on television. The easiest way would be through parental limitation of their children's television viewing. Parents can limit television viewing by reducing the number of hours children are allowed to watch. This will limiting the number of violent acts they see. This will also free up more time for more beneficial activities such as reading, socializing, playing sports or developing other hobbies. Unfortunately most parents work outside the home, and since no one is home to enforce the limited viewing some children will not follow. In 1996, President Clinton signed a Telecommunications Act into law. This act required any television thirteen inches or larger to contain a V-Chip. (DeMoss, 67) This chip allows parents to block material which the Parental Advisory System (PAS) considers inappropriate for children. The PAS sorts television programs into six groups according to their amount of violence, foul language, and sexuality. (See exhibit 1)
In April 1995, the Federal Communications Commission announced a rule making procedure (FCC, 1995) that would enhance the implementation of the Children's Television Act of 1990. In the proposed rules, broadcasters would be required to air three hours of educational programming for children each week. Thus, we have moved from the "vast wasteland," to "the toaster with pictures," to the " New Social Compact" (Murray, 6) Increasing the number of educational shows will improve the quality of education our children receive from television. Children's shows like the Teletubbies, Mr. Rogers, or Sesame Street improve children's social skills and do not surround them with violent images. It is too still to early to assess the impact of this "New Social Compact" on youth behavior. Since 1995, I believe more television stations are attempting to limit violent programming. The number of nonviolent programs has increased over the last four years; but many violent programs still exist. Programs, such as the Power Rangers, still amuse our children with various violent acts. Fortunately programs, like Arthur, The Big Comfy Couch, Wishbone, and The Puzzle Place, been on the increase and have taken over many of the early morning time slots. The FCC's ruling has helped station operators realize the problem and take steps to improve children's programming. Now that more programming is pro-social, hopefully the juvenile crime rate will go down in the years to come. Unfortunately, we will have to wait and see what happens.
In the above paragraphs, I used various examples to demonstrate the impact television has had on youth violence. By discussing the problems associated with television viewing, identifying violence on television, portraying the effects of television violence on younger people, and revealing ways to reduce violence on television; I have established that television violence has some effect on youth behavior. The statistics used in the above paragraphs, as well as the views of former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders several authors and my own views, have contributed the belief that television affects youth violence. Now that you have the necessary information, it is up to you to make your own choices on this matter and take your own steps to solve the problem.
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Volume 4, Number 3, pp 7-14