& Children Essay, Research Paper
Television Violence and Our Children
American children watch an average of three to four hours of television daily. Television can be a powerful influence in developing value systems and shaping behavior. Unfortunately, much of today’s television programs are violent. Hundreds of studies of the effects of television violence on children and teenagers have found that children may become “immune” to the horror of violence, gradually accept violence as a way to solve problems, imitate the violence they observe on television, and identify with certain characters, and victims or victimizers. As a consequence, a major education gap, exist regarding televisions contribution to the problem of violence in America. Among the popular myths are one, that television violence has no effect on the viewer; secondly, television violence has a cathartic effect of allowing the viewer to blow off steam, and lastly, violence presented in a cartoon is even less harmful than live action violence.
Contrary to popular opinion, children are active viewers of what they watch on television. They bring their existing beliefs, attitudes, and characteristic ways of processing social information to their viewing. From a cognitive developmental perspective, adolescents are thought to be more competent decision-makers than younger children are but less adept than adults are. An adolescent’s involvement in risk taking behaviors may reflect newly acquired abstract thinking skills. Abilities to think hypothetically, futuristically and to integrate multiple aspects of a task or problem reflect formal operational thinking and are essential to reasoned decisions. Compared with adults, adolescents tend to reason less well with decisions due to a brief period in which to consolidate formal operational thinking skills and less opportunity to apply higher level cognitive functioning to real life situations.
Aggressive children selectively attend to and recall aggressive cues. When presented with videotaped stimuli, aggressive children, relative to non-aggressive peers, have difficulty shifting attention away from aggressive stimuli, are more easily distracted by aggressive cues while completing another tasks, and recall a higher portion of hostile cues than neutral or benevolent cues. This tendency to selectively attend to aggressive stimuli is probably a result of both motivational and cognitive factors. Aggressive children are more aroused by aggression and they posses cognitive scripts and beliefs that facilitate integration of aggressive stimuli into their existing memory structures.
Childhood aggression is the result of multiple and interactive factors, including dispositional factors and environmental factors. Furthermore, aggression is highly stable from early childhood through adulthood. The stability in aggression is best understood as a result of both continuities in child and environmental factors and, importantly, the child’s transactions with his or her environment. However, a long-term consequence of aggression is peer rejection. Aggressive rejected children have fewer opportunities to learn adaptive social skills and are the recipients of more negative peer rejection. The negative response of peers contributes to their belief that they must defend themselves from a hostile world. Children’s aggression viewed by others is considered as unjustified, and they are further rejected. Aggressive rejected children begin to associate with other aggressive rejected children who share their antisocial norms and beliefs, and they disengage from school, increasing the likelihood of academic failure. Deviant peer group affiliation and academic failure are both implicated as risk factors for criminal behavior.
Television viewing habits may become part of this system of variables that maintain and intensify levels of aggressiveness. A child’s level of aggression influences both the type and amount of television programming and that the child’s exposure to violent programs influence the child’s attitudes and beliefs about aggression. Children who are heavy viewers of television violence regularly observe characters being aggressive in order to solve interpersonal problems. To the extent that the children (particularly boys) identify with the aggressive characters, the children may encode in memory the aggressive solutions they observe.
The increased levels of aggressiveness contribute to higher level of peer rejection and academic failure. The child who is unpopular, experiencing academic failure, and behaving aggressively is most likely to identify with aggressors, fantasize about aggressive scenes on television, and believe the violence they view on television is real. Children who believe in the reality of the violence depicted, identify with the aggressive character and fantasize about aggression are more likely to act aggressively after viewing television violence. Furthermore, the violence they see on television may reassure them that their own behavior is appropriate or may teach them new techniques, which they then attempt to use in their interactions with others. Thus, they behave more aggressively, which in turn makes them even less popular and drives them back to television. The cycle continues with aggression, academic failure, social failure, violence viewing, and fantasizing about aggression mutually facilitating each other.
Efforts to educate parents as to the positive and negative impact of television viewing on their children represent an important universal prevention approach to reduction of violence. Parents can protect children from excessive television violence in the following ways. First, by paying attention to the programs their children are watching and watching the programs with the children. Another step is to set limits on the amount of time they spend with the television. Next, point out that although the actor has not actually been hurt or killed, such violence in real life results in pain or death. Also, refuse to let children see shows known to be violent, and change the channel or turn off the television set when something offensive comes on, with an explanation of what is wrong with the program.
In addition, disapprove of violent episodes in front of the children, stressing the belief that such behavior is not the best way to resolve a problem. Finally, to offset peer pressure among friends and classmates, contact other parents and agree to enforce similar rules about the length of time and type of program, the children may watch. Parents should use these measures to prevent harmful effects from television in other areas such as racial or sexual stereotyping.
Reducing the amount of violence in our society requires a commitment to social policy changes. Selective prevention and treatment programs, although beneficial, are unlikely to have a major effect on the level of violence in our society unless our society changes its attitude and tolerance of violence. The amount of time children watch television, regardless of content, should be moderated, because it keeps children from other, more beneficial activities such as reading and playing with friends. If parents should have serious concerns about how their child is reacting to television, they should contact a child and adolescent psychiatrist for help defining a program.
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