Dr. Warren Washington
February 14, 2006
Television Violence and Children
Does television promote violence and crime among children? Although most people look at television as an entertaining and educational way to spend time, some people think there is too much violence in television and it is influencing our youth into becoming aggressive in nature and to tolerate violence. Now scientists have discovered that all the violence in television can in fact mold a young innocent person into becoming a monster right under our eyes, just by watching television. It might sound absurd, but think about it. It is 5:00 pm and you feel in the mood to relax and watch a talk show after a stressful day at work, only to find out the topic is, “He killed my sister and I want REVENGE!” It sounds odd but most people like the thrill of violence. Why do you think “Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Friday the 13th” were so popular? What do you think goes through a young person’s mind when the bad guy is shot dead by the good guy and everyone applauds? The child learns that it is fine to hurt someone as long as they are bad, so if cousin Sam takes my toy, it is ok to hit him because he was bad. This type of behavior can promote a false idea in a child’s mind of how the real world deals with criminals.
All major television networks contribute to this problem. If you think about it, it is not uncommon to turn on the news or open a newspaper and find out someone was murdered because of the color of their skin or their face was slashed up because they were pretty and someone was jealous. Many of these senseless violent acts have been committed all over the country. Acts of violence are committed everyday by high school and even elementary school children. Psychologists and scientists have been trying to figure out what is causing these violent acts among our youth and how to stop it. Unfortunately, it is not that easy. They have been researching television violence and how it affects our children’s behavior for many years and know that the more violence a child watches, the more violent that child reacts. The recent increase of crimes committed by younger children has put a lot of pressure on researchers to find answers for our nation’s future. It has also put pressure on the government to pass new laws to protect our children from the violence. Many of the studies conducted point to television violence as the primary influence in our children’s aggressive behavior. Even though results from many of the studies point to the violence content which is present in today’s television programming, television networks have denounced any allegations against them (Abelard, 1999). We still have to consider that other factors such as the child’s environment contribute to their behavior; we must not ignore the researchers’ findings. They must be carefully studied and examined for validity. In this paper I am going to review some of the studies conducted, research their findings, and explain how the results on television violence relate to our children’s violent behavior.
Society is in an uproar due to the increase in violent acts by young people and the part television may play in these events. Among these, the killing of a New York principal while looking for a missing student. The New York Times states, “The killing happened around 9:40 am when Mr. Patrick Daly, Principal of Public School 51 was making his way through cold and rain to am apartment building complex in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn.” This is one of the most notorious crime-ridden neighborhoods of New York City. Mr. Daly was simply looking for one of his students who earlier that morning had left the school upset because of a fight with a classmate (Fried, 1993). “Mr. Daly was walking on a rain-slickened sidewalk of barren concrete, when the gunfire crackled shortly before noon, the authorities said. He fell to the pavement, shot once in the chest by a 9-millimeter slug. Thus ended the life of one of the city’s most dedicated principals whose 26-year struggle on behalf of his pupils had been featured in news articles and on national television,” the New York Times went on to state. On July 6, 1993, two of the three youths, both 18, involved in the death were sentenced to 25 years to life based on their convictions of second-degree murder. A third youth, age 19, was sentenced to 20 years to life because he had no previous criminal record (Fried, 1993). This was a sad but not too uncommon event and that is why today scientists are trying to answer society’s questions about children’s aggressive behavior. What makes them different and how are their lives related to other non-aggressive children are two areas of interest. They may never find all of the answers, but scientists are trying to explain how television violence promotes children’s temperamental nature, that continues into adulthood.
According to the Institute for Social Research, an aggressive behavior is a learned behavior which is being taught to our children by the media violence they are exposed to each day (Mortimer, 1994). Everyday we see crimes being committed through the cameras of our local news stations. Children in the United States watch television and average of 7 ¼ hours per day, 5,000 hours by the first grade and 19,000 hours by the end of high school (Mortimer, 1994). These figures are alarming considering that is more hours than our children spend in school, and that the United States has the most violent television programming among industrialized nations. These facts affect the younger children more, since their perception of what is real and unreal is not as acute as an older adult. Meaning that aggressive adults learned their behavior as children and the more violence children watch the better, the chances are for them to be violent as adults (Mortimer, 1994).
Scientists have been looking at the programs our children watch and have come up with some shocking results. Studies conducted by researchers have found that the behavior of hostile children in school was influenced by the shows they watched, especially if the youngsters were heavy watchers of violent programming. They also found that the most destructive youngsters strongly identified with warlike characters in the television, had combative fantasies, and expressed the attitudes violent programs portrayed (Hepburn, 1995). Consequently, programs like “Power Rangers” and “Yu-Gi-Oh” are teaching our children to fight and be aggressive, because in the case of the “Power Rangers,” the only option is to fight the enemies.
Several decades ago, a few psychologists hypothesized that viewing violence in the unreal television world would have a purgative effect and therefore reduce the changes of violent behavior in the real world. However, other psychologists began to doubt this notion when their research with children revealed that most action on the television screen is perceived as real to children (Vodus, 1996). L. Rowell Huesmann and Leonard Eron, who studied the effects of media violence on 875 youngsters in grades first to third, found that children’s behavior was influenced by television, especially if the children were heavy viewers of violent programming. Television violence, according to the researchers, provided a script for the children to act out aggressive behavior in relationships with others. These children were also likely to perform poorly in school and be unpopular with their peers (Vodus, 1996). Even though aggression was found in children who watch television, realistically it is not the only factor related to children’s violent behavior, however, the studies have found that it is a major factor because it affects us so young. Huesmann and Eron stated that television is not the only variable involved, however, their many years of research has left them with no doubt that heavy exposure to media violence is a highly influential factor in children and later in their adult lives. In 1971, they found about 500 of the original 875 surveyed children. They were now 19 years old and the results were just as powerful. The relationship of violence viewing at age 8 and how aggressive the individual was at 19 was higher than the relationship between watching violence at age 8 and behaving destructively. Huesmann tested the children again in 1981 when they were 30 years old. Many of these subjects had children of their own and still exhibited an aggressive nature. The research also showed that the 30 year olds who were more violent at age 8 had more arrests for drunk driving, committed more violent crimes, and were more abusive to their spouses. In addition, the 8 year olds who watched more violent television had been arrested more often than the others and they self-confessed that they had more fights when consuming alcohol. The most frightening results found were that their children also showed the same if not more signs of aggression as their parents (Vodus, 1996).
After these findings, some of the television networks must have started feeling the pressure and conducted studies of their own. The television networks found more evidence that television violence does affect our children. In a study commissioned by the ABC network, a team at Temple University surveyed young males who had been imprisoned for violent crimes. Results of these studies showed that 22 to 34 percent of the young males, especially those who were the most violent, said that they had ultimately imitated crime techniques learned from television programs. It concluded that these males watched an average of six hours of television per day, about twice as much as children in the general population at that time. A study by CBS was conducted in London at the same time. In the study, 1,565 teenage boys were studied for behavioral effects of viewing violent television programs, many of which were imported from the United States. The study revealed that those who watched above average hours of television violence before adolescence committed a 49 percent higher rate of serious acts of violence than did boys who had viewed below average quantities of violence. The final report was “very strongly supportive of the hypothesis that high exposure to television violence increases the degree to which boys engage in serious violence” (Zuckerman, 1993). Five types of television programming were most powerful in triggering violent behavior in the boys in the London study: 1) TV plays or films in which violence is demonstrated in close personal relationships. 2) Programs where violence was not necessary to the plot but just added for extra effect. 3) Fictional violence of a very realistic kind. 4) Violent “westerns.” 5) Programs that present violence as being for a good cause (Zuckerman, 1993).
Some researchers are turning heads with some shocking new results stating that television networks are showing positive signs of reducing violence in their own prime time series and in made for television movies. However, serious problems persist in the theatrical movies they broadcast in some children’s shows and in promotional spots. Most of the violence that was shown on television in the past year was from films that were previously viewed in theaters. Finding that about 42 percent of them had explicit bloody killings and shootings from the “heroes” raised a great deal of concern. The networks are able to take out the worst parts, however most action movies would then have nothing left. Problems were also raised about the increasing use in children’s programming of what it calls “combat violence” which has characters fighting at the slightest provocation (Mifflin, 1995).
Violent television creates violent children and later in life, they become violent adults, but the media and other people are still not convinced that there is too much violence on television and why should they? How can we compare data with other non-violent children? Can parents in today’s two-income, in some cases single parent society prevent children from watching violence all the time? Moreover, how can we prevent children from watching television at all? Some of the changes the government is implementing to stop television violence include the V-Chip, which allows parents to block unwanted shows from their television. In addition, there is the television show rating system now in effect that alerts parents to the content at the beginning of each show. However, these attempts have been criticized by the television media and Hollywood, calling them unconstitutional.
Since the invention of the television, families have gathered around the television set to watch their favorite shows for decades. What might have been great movies and shows have now become the cause for controversy. I grew up watching many of the great westerns where the good guy always gets the bad guy. Like many boys, I always wanted to be a cowboy and get the bad guys. I do not know the affect these movies had on me or on the general population, however the studies have proven that television violence is affecting the way our children grow up and behave. The acts of violence and the number of violent youngsters have risen not only in the big cities, but also in the suburbs. This leads me to believe that even though the child’s surroundings are usually the most influential part of a child’s development, television violence has created another problem for today’s youth. In conclusion, studies have been made, the results are calculated, and many new studies complement the findings of the old studies. There should be no doubt in anybody’s mind that television violence changes children’s behavior and causes other long lasting effects as adults. In my opinion, television violence not only changes children’s behavior, but also changes society in general because children eventually become the adults of today.
(1999). Retrieved Feb. 8, 2006, from Children and Television Violence Web site: http://www.abelard.org/tv/tv.htm
Fried, J. (1993). Youths guilty of slaying of a principal. New York Times, Retrieved Feb 8, 2006, from http://www.nytimes.com/
Hepburn, M. A. (1995). TV violence: myth or reality. Social Education, 59.
Mifflin, L. (1995). Study of TV’s violence points to films. New York Times,. Retrieved Feb 8, 2006, from http://www.nytimes.com
Mortimer, J. (1994). How TV violence hits kids. The Education Digest, 60, 45-48.
Vodus, M. W., & Van Der Voort, T. (1996). Learning about television violence: the impact of a critical viewing curriculum on children's attitudinal judgments of crime series. Journal of Research and Development in Education, 29.
Zuckerman, M. B. (1993, August 02). The victims of TV violence. US News and World Report, pp. A4.