Violence in the Media (page 3)
Turn on the television set during prime time, and, unless you select your programs carefully, you’re likely to see an act of violence within five minutes and several more not too long afterward. Saturday morning is even worse. Eight of 10 programs contain violence, with prime-time programs averaging five violent acts per hour and Saturday morning cartoons averaging about 20 per hour. The average child in the United States has seen 8,000 murders and 100,000 other violent acts during childhood (Bushman & Anderson, 2001). The American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and other major associations warn parents to keep their children away from mass media violence. Video programs, televison programs, and the nightly news all contain content that’s not good for children. Why so much violence and sex? Those things are interesting—and interest sells products—so we get exposed to a good deal of it. The question is: What does all this do to children?
For one thing, research shows that viewing violence influences children in a way that makes them more likely to become violent (Anderson et al., 2003; Singer & Singer, 2005). Watching violence eventually desensitizes us all. If it didn’t, how could people sit and eat a meal while watching people in living color be tortured, mutilated, shot, and even blown sky-high before their very eyes? That’s enough to turn one’s stomach, yet children get used to it by watching television, DVDs, and playing video games.
Years of studies show that television watching and aggression go together. Children who watch more television are more aggressive. However, it’s hard to tell whether television causes the aggression or whether children who are more aggressive just tend to watch more television. However, some experimental studies show that children who are exposed to a violent televised episode are more aggressive when they are put immediately into a real-life anger-provoking situation. These children show more physical aggression than children who watch something nonviolent before being put into the same situation. In a classic study by Bandura and Walters (1963), children modeled the behavior of adults they saw on films punching an inflated “knock-down” figure. Many other studies since have shown similar results.
Television viewing of violence and real-life violence are connected. A long-term study followed 300 boys for 30 years. The boys who watched more TV violence at age 8 were involved in more espousal violence and more criminal violence by age 32 (Huesmann & Miller, 1994).
One way to discover the effects of television on children is to study a group of children who have not been exposed to television and then observe them after television comes into their lives. Such a study was done in northern Canada in a remote place where television hadn’t yet penetrated. Then, when television was introduced, researchers were able to make comparisons. They found that violent behavior increased in both boys and girls (Hirsch, 1997).
If we want to confront violence in our society, we must pay attention to these kinds of studies. We must regard television as the dangerous device it is and bring it under conscious control. We must not let it continue to influence children in negative ways. The children slouched in front of sets today are the ones who grow up to be tomorrow’s citizens. What kinds of citizens will they be?
This is not just a concern for families, but also for the community, for the society. Violence affects all of us. There was a time when the society took charge of protecting children from the media. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) put regulations into effect in the 1930s, regulations that were strengthened enough by the 1960s to protect the first of the television generations. These regulations allowed intervention in cases where children were exposed to commercial exploitation or other forms of abuse by the media. The idea was to ensure that television provided for social good, rather than increasing social ills. When the FCC deregulated television, that protection disappeared; the protection is now left up to families, many of whom are not aware of the problems with unmonitored TV watching by children. It’s time now to reinstate those regulations. We allow other regulating bodies to protect our children from unhealthy influences. It’s time to allow the FCC to continue to do the good work they started. When children watch TV violence they see that violence is acceptable, and some of them begin to use violence themselves as a way to solve problems and deal with conflict (Bushman & Huesmann, 2001). Television is a strong social force. It needs to be used in growth-enhancing ways (Carlsson-Paige & Levin, 1990). If you have a parent or group of parents in your program who are emotional about this subject of mass media, maybe they can become advocates (if they aren’t already) and help change things.
Television is a powerful teaching tool because it is in virtually every home across the nation. Whether you’re focusing on the negative or the positive effects, or both, it’s easy to see that television viewing influences the knowledge, behavior, and attitudes of children. If the lessons are to be beneficial, the positive aspects of the medium must be emphasized and attention must be paid to the negative, because unmonitored watching can teach racial and gender stereotypes, ideas about sexual relationships, and aggressive sexual behavior (Signorelli & Morgan, 2001), as well as general aggression and violence—all while commercially exploiting young children. When adults concern themselves with what children are watching and for how long, TV can be a teaching tool. The tool works best when adults watch with children, explaining to the children what they don’t understand and putting a moral light on what children watch. To be an effective early teacher, television must increase developmentally appropriate and growth-enhancing options for children. In addition, parents must become aware of its potential—both good and harmful. A strong campaign of parent education is needed. Imagine the good that could come of a national conference on children’s television that could provide opportunities for media representatives to talk with children’s advocates, educators, parents, and sponsors about television strategies to work for the good of children and society (Boyer, 1991).
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