Media Violence And Its Effects On Children

Essay, Research Paper


Communications technology is expanding through the entire global community (Dyson 2). Children everywhere are being born into a world of images and messages, which are largely separated from their home, school and spiritual lives (Dyson 2). In society today storytellers are seldom parents, grandparents, teachers or the clergy; instead they are the handful of distant forces with something to sell (Dyson 2). What is unique about the media industry is that in global and corporate domination they have become part of our culture as well as our identity (Dyson 3). Social scientists and child advocates have been exploring the effects of media for decades, yet it is only recently that the concern has generated a public debate (Bok 3).


Disagreements concerning the effect of violence revealed in works of art and entertainment have resonated over the centuries (Bok 41). We must ask ourselves whether or not our versions of entertainment exhibits anymore violence then past forms of recreation, for example gladiatorial games or public hangings (Bok 23).

Plato viewed human life as a pilgrimage from the appearance to reality (Bok 41). He also believed that a piece of art had to be strictly censored when they depicted any form of evil and cruelty (Bok 41). When an artist imitated what was bad, they add to the sum of badness in the world (Bok 41). Both Plato and Aristotle pointed out, we as humans do find delight in representations of objects and emotions that would consider different from real life; most of us agree with Aristotle in refusing to believe that they are corrupt (Bok 41).

The Romans remain the prototype for violent entertainment at its most extreme (Bok 17). It was a culture, which sanctioned tradition, foreign conquest was a domestic culture, and weapons were easily available (Bok 17). The treatment of newborns and slaves within the home extended to crucifixions and other brutal punishments (Bok 17). Though on a whole the Romans did not criticize their choice of entertainment, one philosopher, Seneca, did.

To exhibit the slaughter of eighteen elephants in the

Circus, pitting criminals against them in a mimic battle

[and] thought it a notable kind of spectacle to kill human

beings after a new fashion. Do they fight to the death?

That is not enough! Are they torn to pieces? That is not

Enough! Let them be crushed by animals of monstrous

Bulk! (Bok 18)

Such entertainment was so popular that most military encampments had their own amphitheaters, and hundreds of others were built for the public around the Empire (Bok 19).

No people before or after were so centred around displays of mortal combat as did the Romans (Bok 15). The only difference between today’s society and that of the one during the last two centuries B.C., other than the degree of violence, is the openness of debates (Bok 20). Our institutions allow for open discussion and debate that the Romans were unable to have (Bok 20). People during all periods of time have derived some sort of sensual, aesthetic and even at time erotic thrills from viewing violent act (Bok 28). It would be unfair to conclude that in today’s society such spectators and consumers of media are guided by no other motive (Bok 28).

Extreme Acts in Recent History

Though there has always been crime and violence never has there been such extreme acts, as the few which have been committed in the recent years. One very well known instance was the brutal death of James Bulger a British toddler. The movie Child’s Play 3 was under debate when two ten-year old boys tormented and murdered the child (Bok 38). The Film was then criticized when Suzanne Capper was kidnapped, tortured and set on fire as the group of young acquaintances chanted: “I’m Chucky. Wanna play?” (Bok 38).

Another even more recent and closer incident was the Columbine massacre. There is a striking similarity between the US incident and the actions which were occurring in Kosovo at the time (Rosenblatt 1999). A tribe of haters is Serbia and an ad hoc tribe of haters in Colorado (Rosenblatt 1999). In both of these cases the individuals discover self-worth by hating an enemy (Rosenblatt 1999). Another similarity is the built up anger for such a long period of time and then a final explosion in murderous fury (Rosenblatt 1999). After such an event there is always an increase in certain emotions within the community. For example fewer teens feel safe in schools today (33%) than shortly after the Columbine killings (42%) (Morse 2000). Nearly one third of all teens say they have witnessed a violent act at school (Morse 2000).


We as Canadian live in a nation where almost all households have at least one television set (Ledingham 1993). Not only is the amount of television being viewed an issue but the content and the lack of parental overview also play an extreme role (Dyson 11). After finishing grade 12 the average child will have spent between 3,000 to 4,000 hours watching broadcast television alone than in the classroom (Dyson 11). What is even more astonishing that it is estimated that they will have witnessed 8,000 murders and more than 100,000 acts of violence by the time they leave elementary school (Dyson 11). As technology improves and the amount of violent entertainment increases, images becoming more graphic and results in a more realistic portray of violence (Bok 25). Television viewing affects children of different ages in different ways (Ledingham 1993). While a children my spend many hours in front of a television set at an early age the programming has little effect (Ledingham 1993). At the age of two a child will imitate the actions of the live model, example a parent more than a model on television (Ledingham 1993). However by the age of three the child will begin to imitate the t.v. characters (Ledingham 1993). The attitudes toward television drastically change over a child’s life (Ledingham 1993). When researching the effects of television various points need to be taken into consideration, certain issues effect people in different ways, for example pornography (Dyson 3). However, most parents do not realize that whether aggression is presented in a realistic way or in a cartoon, it makes no difference to a child who has a difficult time differentiating between the two (Ledingham 1993).

Exposure to violence is not believed to increase aggression, but being aggressive increases preference for violent television (Ledingham 1993). Children observe what is considered novel aggressive behavior and learn vicariously that aggressive acts are rewarded (Ledingham 1993). The more the child can relate to the characters in the program the more likely they will be to emulate the characters actions (Ledingham 1993). Not only do the actions of a child reflect the programs viewed but watching a violent program causes desensitization (Ledingham 1993).

There is a widespread agreement that television habits can be harmful (Bok 54). Psychologically speaking the effects can be devastating. A 1993 report by the American Psychological Association stated:

- Viewing violence increases fear of becoming a

Victim of violence, with an increase in self-

Protective behavior and an increase in mistrust.

- Viewing violence increases desensitization to

Violence, resulting in callused attitudes

Toward violence.

- Violent programming increases the viewers

Appetite for becoming involved or exposing

Themselves to violence.

Not only is the mentality of the child affect but also the physical conditions of the viewer (Bok 54). The basic physical needs of children such as developing healthy hearts and lungs are directly endangered by the number of hours spent in front of the television set (Bok 54). The more time a child spends watching television the more likely they are to be overweight and in poor physical condition (Bok 54). Since television is frequently used by parents as a babysitting device there is a lack of interaction between child and parent (Ledingham 1993). On average between 1960 and 1992 children lost ten to twelve hours per week of parental time (Bok 54). Children who are more closely identified with either parent they are less aggressive, when a child is given the opportunity to spend quality time with their parents their level of aggression is reduced (Leone pg.41).

A clear-cut answer would be to eliminate violent programming from television, yet violence sells (Leone 26). From the business prospective violence sells and the more viewers means higher ratings (Leone 26). This is especially the case during prime time, within one hour you can witness 8 -12 acts of violence (Leone 26). This is not just the case for adult programming. The Annenberg School of Communications found that violence in children’s programming is at an all time high, with 32 acts of violence per hour (Leone 26)

A clear-cut casual relationship is beyond the realms of social science; there are too many factors to come to a definite answer (Leone 54). Though the abundance of circumstantial evidence points to a damaging relationship

(Leone 54). Professor Centerwald of the University of Washington predicted that is television was never invented there would be 10,000 few homicides, 70,000 fewer rapes and 700,000 fewer assaults in the U.S. (Leone 54).

Video Games

Within the years prior to adolescence, changes in their cognitive functioning changes the child’s ability of understand and decipher situations in the media (Herr 292). Before the age of eight a child is most likely to interpret situations based on the obvious face value (Herr 292). For younger children contextual variables appear important in determining the impact of the exposure to violence (Herr 292). When violent actions are either rewarded or not punished, which is the case in electronic games, the probability of imitating the behavior increases (Herr 293). Electronic games differ from other forms of media in that they are interactive, repetitive and there is a reward (Herr 293). Especially in the recent years computer and other such electronic games have become quite popular (Smith 56). There have been many concerns brought up about the influence of these games and whether or not the games should be censored. In order to aid parents in determining whether or not a specific program was suitable for their child, a rating system was developed (Herr 296):

Commercial Rating for Electronic Games

Category Description

Early Childhood (EC) Titles rated EC are suitable for children ages three

Older and do not contain any material that parents

Would find inappropriate.

Kids to Adult (K-A) Titles rated K-A are suitable for persons ages six

And older. These titles will appeal to people many

Ages and tastes. They may contain minimal

Violence, some comic mischief, or some crude


General Audience (GA) This designation indicates the content is suitable

For all ages.

Teen (T) Titles rated T are suitable for persons aged 13

And older. Titles may contain violent content, mild

Or strong language, and/or suggestive themes.

Mature (M) Titles rated M are suitable for persons aged 17 and

Older. These products may contain more intense acts

Of violence or language. In addition, these titles include

Mature sexual themes.

Adults Only (AO) Titles rated AO are suitable for adults only. These products

May contain graphic depictions of sex and violence. Not

Intended to be sold or rented to persons under the age

Of 18.

There have been two prominent theories which have been stated in relationship to the effects of violence. The “Catharis Hypothesis” was developed by Feshbach and Singer (Singer 367). This theory says that by viewing violent programming the individual is able to release previously built up tension an anger (Singer 367). This theory explains why people take pleasure in viewing brutal violent acts, though they never would commit such actions they view it as to test their reaction to mortal danger without actual risk (Bok 28). Another theory which is widely accepted is the one developed by Percy Tannenbaum and Leonard Berkowitz. The “Stimulating Effect”, states that exaggerated violence and an increase in emotional arousal cause and aggressive behaviour, and the presense of weapons will heighten arousal (Singer 367). Though both theories are widely acknowledged, researchers tend to aggree with the later of the two (Singer 367).


Throughout the world cultural, social and economic patterns of transformation are now driven by communications technology (Dyson 142). Never before have children been targeted as a lucrative market for entertainment violence (Bok 25). Turn on your T.V. virtually anytime during the day and you can bring a carnival of murder, mayhem and bloodshed into your living room (Leone 25). The nineteenth and twentieth centuries were teaming with murders and mayhem, yet when violence involves people against people, it challenges peoples ideas around the subject of violence (Russell 103). In regard to the effects of media violence on children and young adults, such works challenge our instinctive denial of our most primative layers of fear and aggression (Bok 28).

Original Research

As well as collecting information done by others, I too conducted a survey to get a better understanding of the relationship between media and violence. The survey, which as made up of 11 questions was completed by 33 individuals though only 32 survey results were used as one was invalid. The survey group was made up of people aged 12 to 18 years of age, 18 females and 14 males. The majority of persons polled were from St. Anne’s elementary school and Eastwood Collegiate Institute. The following information is taken from the surveys and presented in such a way that you are able to compare and understand the data.

Graph 1.0

Hours spent watching television (Per week)

Based on the survey it was found

That majority of the survey group (32 percent) watched television for 4-6 hours per week.

Noted in Graph 1.0 only 6 percent watch T.V. for more than

14+ hours. The results of this survey are slightly lower that was previously found which stated that child watch approximately 6.4 to 8.5 hours per week (Dyson pg.11). Many parents hope that in watching television their son or daughter will gain a broader perspective of the world and will then in turn learn from their programming. This may be true is the child strictly focuses on educational television such as Sesame Street or Blue’s Clue’s. Yet as a child gets older there is less educational programming suitable for a more mature audience. From the research conducted it was found that 50 percent of the persons favourite genre for television programming

Were sitcoms. The second highest result Graph 1.1

Were cartoons at 38 percent. The data is

shown in Graph 1.1. Though many hours

are spent in front of a television set, it was

promising to learn that if they are not watching t.v. their time is either spent participating in extracurricular activities or doing such pastimes as reading. Though as time progresses and the child enters into the work force it is more likely that their extra time will be spent at a part time job.

Of the survey group, 18 persons read the newspaper on a regular basis ( at least 3 times per week). Of the 18 people, 15 said they would read articles about murder, violent crimes or criminal trials. The newspaper is different from other forms of media such as television and electronic games where in the information presented is real and considered to be truthful. Unlike electronic games, the newspaper does not give the sense that violent acts are reward, they are actually seen as negative occurrences. Though this may be the case there is still the issue of whether or not long term exposure results in desensitization.

Another form of media, which the questions focused on, was music. Music is a very powerful form of media especially among teenagers. The survey listed various music genres and the person was able to pick which type of music they preferred to listen to. Graph 1.2 displays the results of the top 3 genres chosen as well as another category of the least chosen ones grouped into other.

Of the 32 people who filled out the

Graph 1.2 survey 10 people choose rap as their

Favourite genre of music favourite type of music. Within the rap

Category artists such as Dr.Dre,

Eminem and Method Man can be

Found. Just less than half (41 percent)

Said that they listen to the messages

In the songs.

Information based on their contact with violent acts was also collected. Though only 19 percent admitted to being involved with the police, 94 percent said they know someone who has. What is startling is that out of the ten, 12 and 13 year olds who did the survey only one individual said they do not know someone who has been involved with the law.

Many works have stated that there has been a dramatic increase in violent behaviour. Graph 1.3 shows the number of persons who have witnessed (first hand) specific violent acts.

Graph 1.3

Based on the survey there seemed to be little correlation between media and violence. Very few people watch violent programming such as NYPD Blue or the News on a regular basis and many do not listen to the messages projected in the music industry which at time can give negative ideas and even insinuate violent behaviour. Though it was surprising to learn of the amount of violent acts which the polled group has witnessed, considering the group examined ranged from 12 to 18 years of age. In the future if I was to conduct another study I feel that I would keep the age range the same, but perhaps have more in-depth questions about their media habits. Though I would definitely make sure the questions were not open ended as to make sure the data was easy to tabulate and it was definite.

and Consulted

Bok, Sissela. Mayhem. Massachusetts: Perseus Books. 1998.

Dyson, Rose A. Mind Abuse:Media Violence in an Information Age. Montreal:

Black Rose Books. 2000.

Herr, Kathryn G., ed. Rating Electronic Games:Violence is in the Eye of the

Beholder. Ohio: Sage Publications Inc. 1993.

Ledingham, Jane E. The Effects of Television on Children. Ottawa: National

Clearinghouse on Family Violence and Prevention Division. 1993.

Leone, Bruce. Violence in the Media. San Diego: Greenhouse Press. 1995.

Morse, Jodie. “Ne year Later: Can We prevent another Columbine?.”

[] 24 April 2000.

Rosenblatt, Roger. “Works of the Trench Coat”. [] 2000.

Russell, Nick. Morals and the Media: Ethics in Canadian Journalism.

Vancouver: UBC Press. 1995.

Singer, Benjamin D. ed. Communications in Canadian Society. Toronto:

International Thomson Pub. 1995.

Smith, Nigel. Violence in Society. Turin: Wayland Publishers Limited.1995.


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