Violence in Audio-Visual Media: How Educators Can Respond
Over the past 20 years there have been numerous studies and frequent warnings about violent television programs and movies arousing young people to act violently. Of course, other social factors can increase the likelihood of violence by youth: lack of interaction with parents, brutality in home life, exposure to violence in neighborhoods, and easy access to guns. Nevertheless, researchers have pointed to many hours of viewing excessive violence as a potential contributor to violent behavior by youngsters. This Digest examines evidence of violence in TV programs, movies, and video games; its possible impact on the behavior of youngsters; and what educators can do about it.
TV Shows, Movies, and Video Games in American Households
Nearly 100 percent of households have television, and the total number of sets is increasing; 87 percent of households have two or more television sets. Over 60 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds have a television set in their bedroom. Cable TV is found in about 77 percent of American homes, greatly increasing the number of channels and programs available (Stanger and Gridina 1999). Children readily learn the TV-viewing lifestyle from the adults around them. Within households viewing time may total up to 59 hours a week (Nielsen 1998). In addition to extensive viewing of programs and movies on television, children at home have access to other on-screen entertainment, including video games and the Internet. Stanger and Gridina (1999) found that 67 percent of homes with children had video game equipment. Slightly over 68 percent of homes with children have computers and 41 percent have access to the Internet. Boys are more than twice as likely than girls to play video games and are more likely than girls to use the Internet. While Internet use is increasing widely throughout society, television is still the main source of entertainment and news for the majority of Americans.
The Extent of Violence in Television Programs
Recent studies indicate extensive violence in television programs. The National Television Violence Study, for example, found that 57 percent of programs contained violence, usually numerous acts of violence in a single program. In approximately 75 percent of these programs, the violence seemed to be sanctioned, with no punishment of the perpetrators. Violence was depicted as humorous in more than a third of the programs. Only 4 percent of the violent programs offered a strong anti-violence message. Premium cable programs, often showing movies, had the highest percentage of violence. A study of children's programs showed that they were 10 percent more violent than adult programs (Seawell 1998).
For over three years, the UCLA Center for Communications Policy (1997) conducted studies monitoring violent content of TV programs and other home media. The UCLA studies point to specific programs and video games in which persistent acts of violence are portrayed, including "The X-Files," the "Duke Nukem 3D" video game, and the kind of "sinister combat violence" found in Saturday morning programs for children.
There has been some improvement in recent years, especially in the television networks. But youngsters are still seeing and hearing a great deal of violent behavior during their usual viewing hours, and there is evidence that increasingly they are watching programs during later hours and seeing more graphic shows that combine sex and brutality (Seawell 1998).
Reprinted with the permission of the Education Resources Information Center.
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