Often thought of as one of the most fascinating inventions of the Twentieth Century, television has undoubtedly become a major part of our lives, providing us with entertainment and information. However, much of what is on the television today involves violence. Why? Because viewers want to see action and excitement, which usually involves something being blown up, or someone being shot. The only problem is that many of these viewers are children. They watch so much violent television throughout their lives, one must wonder if it has any effect on them at all. After reviewing all the evidence, it is obvious that violent television viewing does affect children in a negative way.
By the time a child becomes an adult, he has witnessed over 144,000 acts of violence on a television screen (APA, 1997). These acts of violence are absorbed by a child's mind, and the child learns about violent acts, and how to commit them, through television. But does this mean that just because a child watches violence on TV, they will commit these acts of violence in real life? There is evidence to prove that yes, children do imitate what they see on television. By the age of three, children often imitate characters they see on television (Ledingham, 1993). Oftentimes, what a child is watching on television involves an act of violence, and therefore a child, at some point or
another, will commit an act of violence in real life, due to what he learned from TV (Ledingham, 1993). When a child watches violent actions that are either rewarded or not punished on television, the probability of imitating the behavior increases (Ledingham, 1993).
As a child ages, they become more mature and begin to understand that what is on television is not what reality is like. By the time they are teenagers, most have learned right from wrong, and they are less likely to imitate violent acts which they learned from television. However, this does not mean that violence on television does not have a negative impact on children and young teenagers. A 1993 study by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that "viewing violence increases desensitization to violence, resulting in callused attitudes towards violence." What this means is that as a child grows, they begin to accept violence as a normal aspect of their lives. At first, mild acts of violence are considered normal. But as a child continues to watch acts of violence which get more and more violent in nature, they begin to see these acts as part of their everyday lives, which can lead to problems (Leone, 1995). Because of this desensitization towards violence, a person getting beat up or an animal being hurt may seem normal to the child, who may even participate in these acts of violence.
Another fact to point out to prove that violence on television has negative effects on children is that violent programming increases the viewer's appetite for becoming
involved or exposing themselves to violence (APA, 1993). This is a scary fact, because it means that after watching violent acts on TV, a child wants to see more violence, and even be involved in some type of violent act. This fact goes hand in hand with the fact that violent crimes have increased substantially since the introduction of the television, rising more and more as shows become more and more focused on violence (Josephson, 1995).
Many people have realized that violence on television is changing the way children act and express themselves for the worst. One solution is to keep children from watching violent shows, and therefore the child will not be affected by the violent acts on TV. This is the main reason why the "V-Chip" was created, a device which blocks out shows that contain violence, sex, drugs, etc. However, the V-Chip can only do so much. It is obvious that children will always be able to access violent television shows, whether at a friend's house, or in a home without the presence of a V-Chip.
Another solution that has been implemented is to "create conflict without killing" (Leone, 1995). Michael Landon, star and director of the hit television show "Little House on the Prairie", managed to include moral lessons into his shows. While violence was sometimes present, the focus was not on the actual violence, but rather its consequences (Leone, 1995). This solution is probably a very effective tool in reducing the amount of violence on television, the only problem is that most shows do not and will
not reduce the amount of violence in their TV shows. Violence sells, and as long as it continues to do so, violence will always be a major part of television programs (Ledingham, 1993).
There are many people who believe that violent acts on television have no effect on children. Many parents often use their own kids as evidence, saying that their child has watched many violent programs with no ill effects. While this may be true, it does not mean that every other child out there who watches violent television will act the same way that the one boy did.
Still others believe that violent programming has positive effects on children. A child releases built up anger while watching violent acts, and therefore a child is less likely to commit violent acts in real life (Leone, 1995). There is no actual evidence to prove this theory; rather, there is much evidence against it, such as the fact that violent crimes occur more and more as violence in television rises.
It is obvious that violence on TV has a negative effect on its viewers, especially children. While the V-Chip and television shows like Little House on the Prairie do reduce the amount of violence seen on television, there will always be a show on television that portrays violent acts. The best way to combat violence on television lies in the parent of the child (Ledingham, 1993). It is their duty to monitor what a child watches, and be aware of any potential effects that violent programs might have on their
children. A parent who talks about violent shows with their child is a very effective way to reduce the chance that violent programs will have adverse effects on their children. Violence on TV is occurring more frequently than ever before, and therefore the parent's job of keeping an eye on their child's television viewing habits is more important than ever.
1)American Psychological Association (APA). Violence on Television, APA Public Communications, May 1997. Internet Site: http://www.apa.org/pubinfo/tv/violence.html
2)Josephson, Wendy L. Television Violence: A Review of the Effects on Children of Different Ages, Canada: Minister of Public Works and Government Services, 1995.
3)Ledingham, Jane E. The Effects of Television on Children, Ottawa: National Clearinghouse on Family Violence and Prevention Division, 1993.
4)Leone, Bruce. Violence in the Media, San Diego: Greenhouse Press, 1995.