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Violence and TV

by Anthea Torr

FILED IN: Children · Issue 17

One fact should not be in dispute: TV is violent! Guns, shootings, murders, hitting, punching, slapping, screaming, kicking, stabbing, explosions, car chases, car smashes, disasters and death are shown daily throughout TV programming. Most violence is not even in nightly news programs and most of the violence on television is fake. TV presents violent acts through acting—with fake guns and fake blood.

For adults, televised violence is probably not a big deal. When a character is killed off on a TV show one week, we know the same actor will probably reappear the next week on another show on a different network.

Television can be a powerful influence in developing value systems and shaping behavior. Hundreds of studies of the effects of TV 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, victims and/or victimizers.

Extensive viewing of television violence by children causes greater aggressiveness. Sometimes, watching a single violent program can increase aggressiveness. Children who view shows in which violence is very realistic, frequently repeated or unpunished, are more likely to imitate what they see. The impact of TV violence may be immediately evident in the child’s behavior or may surface years later, and young people can even be affected when the family atmosphere shows no tendency toward violence.

This does not mean that violence on television is the only source for aggressive or violent behavior, but it is a significant contributor. The most influential research released to date on this subject was published in March 2003. Researchers from the University of Michigan published their findings from a 15-year study of 329 youths. It showed that men and women who watched violent TV programming as children were more inclined to show violent tendencies as adults.

“Results show that men who were high TV-violence viewers as children were significantly more likely to have pushed, grabbed or shoved their spouses, to have responded to an insult by shoving a person, to have been convicted of a crime and to have committed a moving traffic violation. Such men, for example, had been convicted of crimes at over three times the rate of other men,” says the study, Longitudinal Relations Between Children’s Exposure to TV Violence and Their Aggressive and Violent Behavior in Young Adulthood: 1977 - 1992.

The report also proves that violent programs that probably have the most detrimental effects on a child’s cognitive development are the ones where the hero is justified in being violent. “Violent scenes that children are most likely to model their behavior after are ones in which they identify with the perpetrator of the violence, the perpetrator is rewarded for the violence and in which children perceive the scene as telling about life like it really is,” according to the researchers.

“Thus, a violent act by someone like Dirty Harry that results in a criminal being eliminated and brings glory to Harry is of more concern than a bloodier murder by a despicable criminal who is brought to justice.”

Of course, any discussion of violent TV must include the World Wrestling Federation. The WWF (now called WWE for World Wrestling Entertainment) has been around for decades. It is not a sport —it is not real. WWE wrestling is fake with outrageous acts of physical punishment. The WWE could be called comical or silly or even “mindless television entertainment.”

However, to say it is not violent is quite naive. The WWF is entirely based on physical violence, machismo and blood. As with other violent programming, the WWE gets extremely high ratings: primetime showings of WWE Raw on the Spike Network are some of the highest rated cable programs with around 3.5 million households watching (during the week of April 12th, 2004, WWE Raw Zone tied for first place in ratings with the George W. Bush presidential news conference concerning the war in Iraq).

Violence on television affects children negatively, according to psychological research.
Three major effects of seeing violence on TV are:
Children may become less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others.
Children may be more fearful of the world around them.
Children may be more likely to behave in aggressive ways toward others
Imitation is a high human element, especially among the young. Just one publicised school shooting, in my view, leads to imitation.

FACT: The average American child will have watched 100,000 acts of televised violence, including 8000 depictions of murder, by the time he or she finishes sixth grade (approximately 13 years old—there are no available stats for South Africa).

We live in an era where both parents are often working and children have more unsupervised time. It is essential that you make time for your children and regularly inform yourself of their day to day experiences, including while they are at school if they attend school.

If you think wall to wall violence on TV has no effect, why would you imagine that one-minute adverts in the breaks do have an effect?

Parents can protect children from excessive TV violence in the following ways:
• Pay attention to the programs their children are watching. Watch some with them.?
• Set limits on the amount of time they spend with the television.?• Point out that although the actor has not actually been hurt or killed, such violence in real life results in pain or death.?
• Refuse to let the children see shows known to be violent, and change the channel or turn off the TV set when something offensive comes on, with an explanation of what is wrong with the program.?
• Disapprove of the violent episodes in front of the children, stressing the belief that such behavior is not the best way to resolve a problem.?
• 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 also use these measures to prevent harmful effects from television in other areas such as racial or sexual stereotyping. The amount of time children watch TV, regardless of content, should be moderated, because it keeps children from other, more beneficial activities such as reading and playing with friends.


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