Media Violence And It’s Effect On KidsMedia Violence and the Effects It Has On Children
The media clearly has an impact on our lives and especially the young, impressionable and weak-minded people in our society. Children become desensitized to violence when they see it everyday on TV, in theaters and even in video games. They are not becoming properly aquatinted with what is real, what is not, and the effects of it all. Even TV news deadens anyone’s perception of reality. People of all ages especially those who are at an impressionable time in their lives, need to know that murder, death and violence are real and that sadness comes with all of these.
The American media is the most violent in the world. Children in America are more likely to be shot than in any other country (AAP Committee on Communications, 1997; Derksen & Strasburger, 1997). With over 1000 studies supporting the causal connection between media violence and aggressive behavior in some children, we know the more life-like the violence depicted the more likely it will be learned. Yet 66% of children’s programs contain violence and one third have nine or more violent portrayals in each episode.
Much of the violence is presented as humorous and less than half of the violent interactions show the victims experiencing any signs of pain (Clarke-Pearson, 1997). Violence on television is frequent, inconsequential, effective, and rewarded. The heroes even use it as often as the villains do. Violence ends confrontation quickly and effectively, without a need for patience, negotiation, and compromise. Moreover, violence is an acceptable method to solve conflicts on television. Rarely are real-life consequences or the lingering psychological and physical effects of violence shown (Sege ; Dietz, 1997). Children, especially young children, do not know that actions portrayed on television, in the movies, and in video games are fantasy (AAP Committee on Communications, 1997; Sege ; Dietz, 1997; Spivak ; Harvey, 1998).
Constant exposure to the repeated depiction of violence on television also leads to blunt emotional reactions of the viewers. Such desensitization can lead to both hardened attitudes about violence directed at others and decreased interest in taking action on behalf of a victim of violence (Clarke-Pearson, 1997). A well-known example of this bystander effect is the New York City Kitty Genovese incident (Sege ; Dietz, 1997).
Exposure to television violence, both on fictional programs and news reports, makes the world seem like a frightening place and can lead to nightmare and sleep problems. Viewing violence can lead to children being afraid of becoming a victim of violence (Clarke-Pearson, 1997). It is likely that children who witness violence in their homes or communities are especially vulnerable to media influences, as each exposure validates the other and confirms the role violence plays in settling disputes (Augustyn, Parker, Groves, ; Zuckerman, 1998). There is little prosocial programming for children to consider alternative methods to violence and the consequences of violence (Sege ; Dietz, 1997; Spivak ; Harvey, 1998).
In our society, television is the main source of news and information, and the main source of entertainment as well. More than 99 percent of U.S. households have at least one television set, and about two- thirds of them have two, three, or more sets (Nielsen 1998). As the number of TV sets in a household has increased, family viewing has declined, and individual program selection and solitary viewing have increased. Cable programming is found in 68 percent of households, greatly expanding the number of networks and independent stations that can be accessed. In the United States, 54 percent of children have a television set in their bedrooms. About 87 percent of U.S. households have a VCR, and about $10 billion is spent annually on video rentals, double the amount spent at movie theaters (Mediascope 1998).
The average weekly viewing time has increased annually in American households, from 43 hours in the early seventies to 50 hours in the mid-nineties. In 1998, the average was 51 hours and 55 minutes per week (Nielsen 1998), which is close to 7 hours per day! Children spend an average of 28 hours a week watching TV. During prime time (7 to 11 p.m.), about 7 million teenagers and 9 to 10 million preteens are watching TV (Media Dynamics 1998).
The media industry does plenty of research on viewers. One can learn such details as who is watching, at what hour, and which programs. Comprehensive research is motivated by the advertising divisions of various corporations that buy and sell time on commercial TV to sell products based on audience profiles. Those business forces are clearly convinced of the power and influence of TV and now are beginning to monitor the sales power of the Internet as well.
One example of media business research is the detailed study on the media habits and interests of the 16 to 30 year olds known as Generation X. Those young adults make up the first generation to be fully raised on television. With an average weekly viewing time of 24 hours, they are quite specific about their preferences. They like nighttime comedies, adventure-dramas, those dramatic on-the-scene adventures, such as Cops and Rescue 911, and the daytime talk shows. Their favorite cable channel is MTV, followed by USA Network and ESPN. It was learned that radio is also a popular medium in this age group whose members listen an average of 3.9 hours on weekdays (driving time for most) and 3.8 hours on Saturday or Sunday. Generation Xers said they were fond of the television programs Beverly Hills 90210 and Friends. In interviews, they said that they found role models in the TV shows and that those shows were their main sources for fashion ideas and even for public information.
Psychological, sociological, and medical researchers have been scrutinizing the effects of television violence. They find that violent action attracts many viewers, including children. Studies of younger viewers who daily watch cartoons, police shows, and murder dramas with heavy doses of violence further relate to the potency of TV. Two large national studies of the contents of television programming that have been published in the last two years clarify the degree, quantity, and the various contexts within which network shows, movies, and cable programs present acts of violence for viewers, especially young viewers (UCLA Center of Communication Policy 1995; National Television Violence Study 1996). The majority of programs (57 percent) were found to contain violence, and often they included numerous violent acts. Not only are researchers concerned about the magnitude of violence in TV programs, but the public is beginning to express apprehension as well.
So, what can we do to prevent children from falling victim to the TV? As virtually all homes in the United States have a television, counseling needs to be directed towards appropriate viewing rather than eliminating all viewing. With programs like Telle-Tubbies now aimed at infants, appropriate anticipatory guidance should begin as early as the child’s first birthday (Strasburger, 1996).
Parents may be unaware of the impact television has on their child. Because television acts insidiously to shape viewers’ attitudes and perceptions of social norms (Strasburger, 1996), parents may underestimate this medium because they know that television is fantasy. They may not recognize that their children lack reasoning abilities and often view the television world as being real and shape their behaviors accordingly.
For many parents, realizing that their child spends more hours a week watching television than attending school, playing with other children, or in any other activity except sleep is enough to raise concern. General advice to families should include that there be no television sets in children’s rooms where parents cannot see what shows their children are watching. Parents should monitor their children’s viewing choices, limit the total amount of viewing time to no more that 2 hours a day; and if necessary, parents should obtain devices to block unauthorized television viewing (Sege ; Dietz, 1997).
Role modeling is the most important way to influence a child’s behavior. Parents’ views and behaviors will override what is presented on television. Therefore, parents should choose programming carefully and watch television with their children to help them learn the difference between television and their own lives and values. Parents can ask children questions such as: Is this real or pretend? Is this how we do things at home? What do you think would happen if you did that? (Sege ; Deitz, 1997). Parents need to actively avoid having the television on all the time or use it as their primary or only leisure time activity. While never using the television, as an electronic baby sitter may be impractical for some families, an alternative suggestion is to collect videotapes that are appropriate for their children’s developmental level and use these as necessary (Strasburger, 1996).
An appropriate strategy includes having all family members decide on how much television will be viewed and actively selecting the shows with all family members having input. These can be recorded on a calendar. Making deliberate choices about television viewing often reduces the overall amount of television that is watched. Children should receive parental approval for shows they choose. Selected shows that are viewed together as a family can be incorporated into later activities. For example, parents can suggest to younger children that they draw pictures of their favorite characters, write scripts for their favorite shows, or act out some of the scenes. Many shows have been drawn from children’s literature or other reading matter such as comic books, and children can be encouraged to read the original sources.
Monitoring television programs and writing letters to network executives, advertisers, and members of Congress is a positive way of advocating for media control on a community level (Story, 1990). On a personal level, however, it is up to parents, teachers, and the rest of us to lesson the amount of violence kids actually see. So let’s take such steps as have been discussed and put them into action. It just might prevent a tragedy from happening.