Violence And Media Essay, Research Paper
Television programming today can be a powerful influence in developing value systems and shaping behavior (Bee, 1998: 261-262). Unfortunately, much of today’s television programming is violent. For instance, the level of violence during Saturday morning cartoons is higher than the level of violence during prime time. There are about six to eight violent acts per hour during prime time, versus twenty to thirty violent acts per hour on Saturday morning cartoons (“Killing Screens,” 1994). Also, well before children finish their grade school, they will witness up to 8,000 murders and 100,000 violent acts on television (Levine, 1995: 143).
Moreover, children spend more time learning about life through media than in any other manner. The average child spends approximately twenty-seven hours per week watching television, which means that children spend most of their time only watching television and sleeping (Minow & LaMay, 1995: 32-33). Also, it has been proven by many studies that there is a positive relationship between television violence and behavioral problems in children. For example, research by Wood, Wong, and Chachere (1991:378) have shown that “exposure to media violence increase viewers’ aggression.”
This paper will discuss that repeated exposure of young children and adolescents can negatively effect children’s behavior. This negative behavior can be acted out by imitation of violent acts observed on television, by accepting violence as a way to solve problems, and by desensitization to the amount of violence seen on television. Also, it will discuss how parents and teachers can prevent excessive viewing of television violence in children and adolescents.
Children between the ages of one to four cannot always distinguish reality from fantasy. Television programs for people of all ages is more often than not a fantasy world, yet young children do not understand that their favorite character does not exists in the real world. For example, because young children do not understand the line between fantasy and reality, one may find children “crawling down storm drains looking for them [Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles]” (Minow & LaMay, 1995: 33). This example clearly represents that children do not understand that their favorite characters are only made-up characters and that they do not exist in reality. However, many children may act upon their favorite movie or film character in such way, that they will try to imitate them.
Young children instinctively imitate actions, or rather model human behavior by observation without always possessing the intellect or maturity to determine if such actions are appropriate. For example, in Bandura’s modeling studies children expressed more aggressive behavior toward the blow-up doll called Bobo, when they observed an adult model “verbally and physically attack the doll in real life, on film, or in a cartoon (Westen, 1996: 206). Therefore, due to the televisions’ programs role-model capacity to promote real world violence, there is a deep concern that watching violent programs on television will cause children to become more aggressive. As a result of viewing violent programs on television, children may become more aggressive toward other children, use violence and aggressiveness in their play, and use violence to solve their problems (Buckingham, 1997: 33; Abbot, 1997: 112).
Also, it has been suggested that young children will more likely imitate violent acts seen on television and model themselves to the character they like, if “the perpetrator of the violence is rewarded or at least not punished and when violence is presented as justified” (Ledingham et al., 1993:4). A study has shown that children will more likely “pretend” or “imitate” the aggressor from a violent television program, when the aggressor is presented as the “good guy,” who is often the person in the show that punishes the “bad guy” (Cantor, 1998: 98). Thus, it may be that children may often interpret a violent behavior of a character on television as a positive behavior, if the character was rewarded for his or her aggressive behavior.
Children may also be more aggressive toward other children or even their parents, in order to get what they want. In most violent programs, as noted earlier, the aggressor is often rewarded for his or her violent and aggressive behaviors towards others. Also, in many television programs “violence…is typically shown as a successful way of solving problems and…people who are violent get what they want” (Bee, 1998: 262). Therefore, one may suggest that children will express more aggressive behavior toward others, if they are denied a specific toy or an activity, such as going to the zoo.
Perhaps the most telling example of children’s aggression can be seen after children see an advertisement on a desirable toy which is, more often than not, seen during children’s programming. Indeed, in one year the advertisers alone will spend over $470 million “on broadcast sponsorship aimed at children [who are] one of the hottest and fastest-growing consumer markets” (Minow & LaMay, 1995: 55-56). About $168 billion is spent by parents in one year on children’s merchandise; a merchandise children have seen on television and would like to have (Minow & LaMay, 1995: 56).
Children generally do not understand that advertised toys or other products cost money, and many of which may be well over family budget. However, columnist in Advertising Age said that “when you sell a kid on a product [and] if he can’t get it, he will throw himself on the floor, stamp his feet and cry” ( as cited in Minow & LaMay, 1995: 45). Thus, if children learn from violent television programs that aggressive behavior may get them what they want, most of them will, therefore, try aggression to make their parents buy them a desirable toy.
As noted earlier, children are exposed to enormous amount of violence before they finish their grade school, which can have a negative effect on their behavior as children and also as adults. Leonard Eron, a professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan, followed children from eight years of age into their adulthood. These boys had been exposed to a large amount of violence on television during their childhood and later in their adulthood. As a result of the amount of the exposure to the violent programming on television, the adults had the potential to commit more serious crimes by the age of 30. Also, the same adults may “[have] more aggressive behavior when drinking, and [the more television violence they watched] the harsher the punishment they inflicted on their own children” (Levine, 1995: 145). Thus, the evidence suggests that there is a positive relationship between viewing violent television programs and aggressive behavior in children and adults.
However, not only do violent programs increase aggression and violence, but also children, who are already aggressive, will prefer watching violent programs on television in order to meet their taste. It has been proven that all children are born with “temperamental qualities [that are] carried in their genes” (Bee, 1998: 145). Also, children who are “cranky, temperamentally difficult babies continue to show many of the same temperamental qualities ten years later” (Bee, 1998: 147). Likewise, aggressive children may prefer violent programs on television because “the fact that aggressive behavior leads to peer rejection means that aggressive children have fewer options for alternative activities” (Ledingham et al., 1993: 7).
On the contrary, children may often not watch the violent television programs for the violence itself, but will more likely watch it for the action that is portrayed in most violent programs. For example, in a 1986 study researchers found that children would still be interested in watching television programs even with the absence of violence, and “eliminating violent content reduces the likelihood of stimulating aggressive behavior” (Cantor, 1998: 92). However, not many studies have been conducted in this manner, therefore “it would be premature to draw any conclusions about the effects of violence on children’s enjoyment” (Cantor, 1998: 92).
Earlier in this essay we have seen that the more children watch violent television programs, the more aggressive they may become. However, in many cases children, who are exposed to frequent viewing of violence on television, may become emotionally “desensitized” or less sensitive toward real life violence. For instance, children, who were exposed frequently to violence on television may accept and tolerate aggressive behavior in others more, than children who were not exposed to violent programs on television. This may, however, have a negative impact on the children’s life because “the child may behave in a manner which is inappropriate in real life settings” (Ledingham et al., 1993: 8).
Most violent television programs show us that “violence is a social relationship” (“Killing Screens,” 1994). Violence often tells us who can get away with it and who deserves to be the victim. For instance, for every twelve women involved in a violent act there are ten male aggressors and women are half the time more likely to be the victim than the aggressor in many violent television programs. Also, minority women are twice as likely to become the victims than to become the aggressors (“Killing Screens,” 1994). Also, violent television programs often portray “members of racial minorities as less powerful and poorer than the majority” (Greenfield, 1984: 43). Thus, children from various minority groups, such as female children, black children, or Hispanic children, may grow-up feeling more controllable by the majority of people in the society (often white men). They also may grow-up more cultivated to accept their second place in society, as it has been portrayed on violent television programs (“Killing Screens,” 1994). This portrayal of minorities as powerless and poor may also affect the children and adults of minority groups as becoming the victims of racism, which may often result in violence, inability to have a job, or other negative aspects racism may bring upon people (Greenfield, 1984: 43).
Other evidence suggests that repeated viewing of violent television programs can lead to “a mean world syndrome” (“Killing Screens,” 1994); a belief for many children and adults that the “world [is] a more dangerous place than it actually is because violence is more salient and frequent on television than it is in most life experiences” (Ledingham et al., 1993: 9). Thus, children and adults with fewer opportunities in society due to poverty, lack of education, health problems or other social aspects may end-up watching more television (Rosengren et al., 1994: 146). As a result, these people may feel more likely to become the victims of violence, to feel more in danger, to feel more insecure in the real world. Thus, they will demand protection from people who tell them they will protect them, and whom they will trust (“Killing Screens,” 1994).
Although there are many behavioral problems with children who watch excessive amounts of violence, television programs can also have a positive effect on children of all ages. For example, children who watched the television program called Sesame Street “gained in cultural pride, self-confidence, and interpersonal cooperation [and] white children…developed more positive views toward children of other races” (Greenfield, 1984:43). This positive attitude in children towards each other, without the barriers of aggression or racism, was due to the fact that Sesame Street often “portrays characters from various minority groups in a positive, nonstereotyped way”(Greenfield, 1984: 42), and violence is often absent in such children’s programs.
As noted earlier, children often learn how to behave from what they see on television, and the impact of television violence may be evident immediately in the children’s behavior or it may surface later in life. However, parents can protect their children from excessive television violence in many ways. First, parents should pay attention to the programs their children are watching and they should also watch with them. This would give the parents a chance to spend some time with their children and a chance to explain that what they see on television is not real. Especially, a chance to point out that although the actor has not been actually hurt or killed such violence in real life will result in pain or even death (“Killing Screens,” 1994; Minow & LaMay, 1995: 161).
Second, parents should set limits on the amount of time they spend watching television and also parents should challenge television’s power with other alternatives, such as reading or playing with friends. Reading would enable the children to use their own imagination, which is often oppressed by television. Also, playing with friends may enable the child to practice his or her verbal communication, which is also oppressed by viewing excessive amount of television (Greenfield, 1984: 85-89).
Third, parents should often disapprove of a violent program in front of their children, stressing the belief that such behavior is not the best way to solve a problem. Also, parents should refuse to let their children watch television programs known to be violent by changing the channel or turning the television set off, with the explanation of what is wrong with the program (Ledingham et al., 1993: 10-13).
Fourth, parents should remember that they also are citizens, and together with other parents should demand the installation of a device called the v-chip into every television set. This v-chip is “a programmable computer chip that would allow parents lock out programs they deemed unsuitable for their children” (Minow & LaMay, 1995: 109-110). Therefore, a v-chip in a television set will enable the parents to watch their own program without the fear of exposing their own children.
Last, parents should demand critical thinking be taught in all schools. Children should be able to discuss with their teachers in school and parents at home what they see on television and in what manner the children perceive it. This type of education should be enhanced in every school in order to “encourage the children to watch critically and thoughtfully (Greenfield, 1984: 93-94).
In conclusion, extensive viewing of violent television by children has the potential to cause greater aggressiveness. Children who view programs in which violence is very realistic, frequently repeated, and unpunished are more likely to imitate what they see. It is due to their inability to distinguish reality form fantasy and their inability to understand right behavior from wrong. Parents and teachers should take measures to prevent harmful effects their children are susceptible from television violence, such as aggression, racial and sexual stereotyping. The amount of time children spend watching television and what they watch should be moderated, because television prevents children from other more useful activities, such as playing outside, reading a book, or just spending time with their parents.
Abbot, William, S. “Increased Government Regulation of Media Violence is Necessary.”
Violence in the Media. Ed. Carol Wekesser. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, Inc.,
Bee, Helen. Lifespan Development. 2nd ed. New York: Addison-Wesley Educational
Buckingham, David. “Electronic Child Abuse?: Rethinking the Media’s Effects on
Children.” Ill Effects: the Media/Violence Debate. Eds. Martin Barker and
Julian Petley. New York: Routledge, 1997. 32-47.
Cantor, Joanne. “Children’s Attraction to Violent Television Programming.” Why We
Watch: the Attractions of Violent Entertainment. Ed. Jeffrey H. Goldstein.
New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. 88-115.
Greenfield, Patricia, M. Mind and Media: the Effects of Television, Video Games, and
Computers. Cambridge: Harward University Press, 1984.
“Killing Screens: Media and the Culture of Violence” [videorecording]. Excecutive
producer and director Sut Jhally. Toronto: Kinetic [distributor], c1994;
Richmond, B.C.: Image Media Services [distributor].
Ledingham, Jane, E., C. Anne Ledingham, & John E. Richardson. The Effects of Media
Violence on Children: a Background Paper. Ottawa: National Clearinghouse on
Family Violence, 1993.
Levine, Suzanne, B. “A Variety of Measures Could Combat Media Violence.” Violence
in the Media. Ed. Carol Wekesser. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, Inc., 1995.
Minow, Newton, N. and Craig L. LaMay. Abandoned in the Wasteland. New York:
Hill and Wang, 1995.
Rosengren, Karl, E., Ulla Johnsson-Smaragdi, and Inga Sonesson. “For Better and for
Worse: Effects Studies and Beyond.” Media Effects and Beyond. Ed. Karl E.
Rosengren. New York: Routledge, 1994. 133-149.
Westen, Drew. Psychology: Mind, Brain, & Culture. Toronto: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.,
Wood, Wendy, Frank Y. Wong, and J. Gregory Chachere. “Effects of Media Violence
on Viewers’ Aggression in Unconstrained Social Interaction.” Psychological
Bulletin 109.3 (1991): 371-383.