Children In The Media

– A Look At The History And Future Of Televised Violence Essay, Research Paper

Children and the Media

A look at the history and future of televised violence

For some children, under some conditions, some television is harmful. For other children under the same conditions, or for the same children under other conditions, it may be beneficial. For most children, under most conditions, most television is probably neither particularly harmful nor particularly beneficial.

W. Schramm, J. Lyle, and E.B. Parker.

Television in the lives of our children

Stanford: Stanford University press, 1969

(Schneider 66)

In the early years of television broadcasting nobody was aware of the risk of violence on television instilling aggressive behavior in children. It was not until 1961 and 1964 that studies were conducted by the Senate subcommittee on juvenile delinquency. After surveying the content of many television programs, the committee found merely that the extent to which violence and related activities are depicted on television . . . remains greater than it was a decade ago. The committee also stated that such television content produced antisocial behavior in juveniles and confirmed what psychologist Frederic S. Werthman stated in his book Seduction of the Innocent that television was becoming a school for violence (Carter 11). In 1968 President Lyndon Johnson appointed a national commission on the causes and prevention of violence due to many riots and assassinations of the middle 1960’s (Carter 12). These early studies were the beginning of a future of censorship on television, however, no surmountable action was taken until the Surgeon General issued a report in 1972 fueled by a letter from Senator John Pastore (Carter 2)

Pastore sent a letter to the Secretary of Health and Welfare in 1969 that stated the he was exceedingly troubled by the lack of any definitive information which would help resolve the question of whether there is a casual connection between televised crime and violence and antisocial behavior by individuals, especially children (Carter 2). That same month, President Richard Nixon sent a letter to Senator Pastore expressing his approval.

Dear Senator:

I want you to know that I join you in supporting the proposed one-year study of the possible relationship between scenes of sex and violence on television and antisocial behavior among young people.

Your forthright stand is one that reflects the views of very many Americans who are deeply concerned with the ethical as well as the artistic level of many television programs and commercials.

The medium of television reaches the widest possible audience in the most intensely personal manner of any mass media. I share your deep concern and strongly applaud your vigorous criticism of what you regard as a misuse of this great medium.

As chairman of the Communications Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee, you have indeed served the public interest well by bringing greater public attention to this problem.


/s/ Richard Nixon

(Carter 19-20)

Three years and $1.8 Million later the Surgeon Generals committee released their report. Television and Growing Up: The Impact of Televised Violence, stated that the committee unanimously found preliminary and tentative indications of a causal relation between viewing televised violence and aggressive behavior. However it gave no solution or number of people affected and it was written in a social-sciencese that was incomprehensible to the layperson. The report angered many critics and even some of the social-scientist that helped on the project, but in the spring of 1974 networks began to move away from violence-prone shows and more towards family situations (Carter 2).

Many experiments and studies have been done since this group in the early years of television. The one major discovery that every study brings out is that children are incredibly difficult to study and anticipate. Simply making programs can be the most difficult but the simplest at the same time. Children s enormous curiosity makes programming easy because they are easily entertained but they are also the most diverse age in that the development levels vary greatly (Gary 1). For programming and study purposes child viewing populations are divided into four groups. Preschool (up to 6), Juvenile (6-9), Pre-adolescent (9-12), and Adolescent (13+) (Gary 150). Studies do show that children do not watch television passively as would appear, rather, they are very active in the actions on screen (Gary 33, Schneider 81), which is part of the danger of too much violence. By the time a child graduates High School, he or she will have spent more time in front of a television (17,000 hrs) than in an organized classroom (11,000hrs) (Schneider 4). So it would appear that children are gathering more information from their television sets than they are from their teachers and probably parents also. An exert from Plato s, The Republic is symbolic of this figure

Don t you understand . . . that we begin by telling children stories, which taken as a whole, are fiction, though they contain some truth? Such story telling begins at an earlier age than physical training: that is why I said we should start with the mind. And the beginning, as you know, is always the most important part, when the character is being molded and easily takes an impression one may wish to stamp on it. Then shall we simply allow our children to listen to any stories that anyone happens to make up, and so receive into their minds ideas often the very opposite of those we shall think they ought to have when they grow up (Schneider 8-9).

This was written over 2200 year ago and the concept is still relevant today. Plato referred to things other than television but if one has television in mind while reading, the content can have the same meaning as Plato intended.

It has been shown that children learn aggressive behaviors from violence on television and that there is a sort of habituation that takes place from frequent exposure (Carter 29), but there is also evidence that suggests that pro-social programming can stimulate positive behavior. On an episode of Jim Henson s Muppet Babies, one of the characters leaves his roller skates out and another trips and hurts herself on it (Schneider 79). Parents are always encouraging their children to keep their toys put away, so it may be welcome help from a cartoon to teach such a lesson. Children are sometimes skeptical and reluctant to obey their parents and may pay more attention to a cartoon character on the television. They also may believe something they see on television just because they can see it. My parents read Bible stories to me when I was young. It is said in my parents house that in the movie The Ten Commandments, when Moses parts the Red Sea I stood up and said It really did happen. Children are also more likely to learn a valuable lesson when it is fun instead of when they are being punished.

Recently the idea of television rating systems has been introduced. There are different styles of rating systems and the most used is the age-based system used by the motion picture association of America. The system proposed by Jack Valenti for television was based on this system (Kelley). Tim Collins, inventor of the V-chip, developed a content-based system that rates programs on a scale of one to six levels of violence, sex, and language. This system gives more information to parents watching the programs, but others say that the age system is simple and concise, therefore more accessible to parents. Collin s V-chip allows parents to block out programs rated in the three areas of his rating system. In 1996, Congress passed a Telecommunications act that requires all new television sets to be equipped with this chip (Kelley). The system used today is age based and appears at the beginning of every program except for news and sports. There are six guidelines including TV-Y, TV-Y7, TV-G, TV-PG, TV-14, and TV-M. The first two are used for children s programs and the later two are used in general audience programs (Kelley). These are used to inform parents on the content contained in any particular show. The parents are then able to decide if it is suitable for their children. This however brings up the issue that not all parents take active roles in their children s television viewing. The system works well if a parent can participate in the television viewing with the child but when they are unable to, the V-chip becomes necessary. The parent can block programs from the television that they believe are not suitable by rating.

It is often said that the modern era of children s television began with the advent of Walt Disney s Mickey Mouse Club in 1955 (Schneider 12). It was the first major hit show that was intended for children. One would think that television has only gone downhill since then. It hit a plateau in 1974 when shows steered away from violence but continued downward soon after, which brings us to our present state in which government is left to censor what children watch since the parents don t seem to be able to any more. If this path continues downhill, what will happen? Rating systems have helped give warning, but violence is still available for children on every television set and if not there, than in the real world. People may too quickly blame television violence for all of societies problems but if more parents would actively participate in the child s experiences and discuss the negative influences, our society would foster strong moral individuals who can discern right and wrong.

Works Cited

Carter, Douglass. TV and the Child: The Evolution and Fate of the Surgeon General s Report. Russell Sage Foundation, NY 1975

Garry, Ralph. For the Young Viewer; Television Programming for the Children at the Local Level. McGraw-Hill book company, Inc., NY 1962

Kelley, Jennifer. The Television Rating System, The V-Chip and the Public. Minneapolis Star-Tribune Online. Internet. 29 March 2000 Available

Schneider, Cy. Children s Relevision: The Art, The Business, and How It Works. NTC Business Books, IL 1987


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