Television, Violence, and Children
Author: Carla Kalin Master of Science, Synthesis Paper, June, 1997 Dept. Educational Leadership, Technology, and Administration College of Education, University of Oregon Copyrighted 1997 by Carla Kalin All Rights Reserved
INTRODUCTION The setting for my first four years of teaching was a school of 1,400 students in the inner city of Oakland, California. One of the many challenges I faced as one of the eight kindergarten teachers on staff was attempting to curb the violent and aggressive behavior of my students. During my first year of teaching, a kindergartner from another classroom shot his younger brother three times in the stomach. The following year a first grader was suspended for bringing a knife to school and using it to threaten children on the playground. Not only were these children violent, but they understood the language of violence. Students with underdeveloped oral language skills nonetheless could interpret the gangsta rap which bellowed from the cars that slowly drove by during recess. Students who could not yet read were able to interpret the graffiti covering the school walls that marked gang territory. My students lived in a violent world. I invested a great deal of time learning about how to combat this violence by teaching conflict resolution skills to my students. We practiced using our words instead of our fists, with some positive results. I soon realized that these nonviolent messages were in direct conflict with the lessons being taught by another influential teacher in my students' lives -- television. Although my students were improving and beginning to solve interpersonal conflicts with less violence, they spent recess pretending to be Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers. I determined that television programs served as a springboard for violent and aggressive recess behavior. I soon adopted a "no tolerance" policy about "pretend violence" which I believed often lead to the real thing: No pretend shooting, no pretend kicking, no Power Rangers, no using legos or clay to make weapons. Although the students' social skills did improve, I did not win my battle against the Power Rangers. It was a constant struggle and one which, looking back, I believe confused my students. What was so wrong with doing what they saw on TV? I took a two-year hiatus from teaching to pursue a masters degree, and began to research how to best teach conflict resolution skills to young children. During this period of exploration I enrolled in a course called "Children, Youth, TV and the Media" at the
University of Oregon. I began to learn about media literacy and decided to investigate ways I might use media literacy as a tool for reducing the aggressive behavior of my students. I framed some key questions upon which to focus my research: How much television do children watch? How much televised violence do children watch? Is there research evidence of a link between TV violence and aggressive behavior in children? If so, what can parents and educators do? The following are the results of my investigation, which took the form of library research and interviews with six elementary school teachers.
HOW MUCH TELEVISION DO CHILDREN WATCH? Typically, U.S. children begin watching television at a very early age, sometimes as early as six months, and are fervent viewers by the time that they are two or three years old (Murray, p.1). The amount of time that American children spend watching TV is astounding: an average of four hours a day, 28 hours a week, 2,400 hours a year, nearly 18,000 hours by the time they graduate from high school (Chen, 1994, p.23). In comparison, they spend a mere 13,000 hours in school, from kindergarten through twelfth grade (Chen, 1994). American children spend more time watching TV than any other activity, besides sleeping (Chen, 1994). By the time the average American child is six, she will spend more time watching TV than talking to her father in her lifetime...
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