Does Television Violence Have an Adverse Effect on Children? Most people read statistics like "Before the average American child leaves elementary school, he or she will have witnessed more than 8, 000 murders on television" ("Does T. V. Kill?" ), and worry about the negative effect viewing violence on television will have on their children. Research into the effects of childhood exposure to violent television programming shows that there is cause for concern.
Watching violence on television does have a negative effect on the way children see the world and the way they behave towards others. Researchers have discovered that repeated exposure to violence on television causes children to become less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others. Viewing violent television programming also causes children to view the world asa frightening place. Children who observe violence on television are likely to act out what they see, and to think that violent acts are acceptable. According to George Gerbner, Ph. D.
, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, for the first time in human history most of the stories about people, life, and values a retold not by parents, schools, churches, or others in the community who have something to tell, but by a group of distant conglomerates that have something to sell. We need to examine exactly what these companies are telling children and the effects these violent stories are having on the children who watch them. One of the first negative effects researchers discovered while observing children who were frequently exposed to violence on television was alack of empathy towards other people's pain and suffering. It was discovered that children who watched excessive amounts of violent programming were less likely to help victims of real-life violence (Kinnear 6). Why does viewing violence on television have this effect on children? Children viewing acts of violence on television are essentially being trained to be spectators to violence. They observe violent acts against others, but are not called upon to do anything other than watch.
To the impressionable mind of a child it is difficult to differentiate between what is observed on the television and what occurs in the real world. When witnessing violence against another person, their first instinct will be to watch, not act... Of course, this is not the only negative effect viewing televised violence has on children. Children who watch violent programs on television tend to have a greater fear of the world around them than children who watch significantly less television.
Why is this the case? Children often have difficulty understanding that what they see on television is not reality. To them, the acts of violence that they see seem very real. George Gerbner discusses what he has discovered about the feelings of fear children exhibit after prolonged exposure to television violence: What television seems to cultivate is what we call "The mean-world syndrome." If you " re growing up in a heavy viewing home, for all practical purposes, you live in a meaner world than your next door neighbor who watches less television. The major, most pervasive message of violence is that of insecurity and vulnerability and fear. The question then becomes, how do children react to their fear of the world? How should a person react to a dangerous situation? The reaction most researchers noted in their studies was very interesting. Television has shown children how dangerous the world around them is.
According to many television programs, violence is the answer. According to the National Television Violence Study, when violence is portrayed as morally proper, it lowers children's inhibitions against aggression. Because the perpetrator of on-screen violence is often the hero of the show, children can become easily convinced that violence is not only the correct way to react to a frightening situation, but in fact that it is the only way to react. Because children exposed to television violence experienced more fear of the world around them, and because they lacked empathy with the people around them, the children were more likely to react with violence when confronted with an uncomfortable or frustrating situation. Still, many people argue that television doesn't have as profound an effect on children's behavior as the research indicates. For instance, the Neilson Survey states that children today watch half as much television as they did in the 1970's ("Drive-By Journalism").
This must mean that television exposure can " the one of the causes of increasingly aggressive behavior in children, right? Wrong. Children might be watching less television now than in the 1970's, but cable television provides hundreds of channels, and the television industry is including increasing levels of violence in its programming, so children are potentially seeing more violence now in a shorter period of time than they were in the 1970's. What about other societal factors such as poverty, lack of educational opportunities, and broken homes? All of these things have been shown to be linked violence and aggressiveness in children. All of these things can also be linked to increased television viewing in children. The parents in lower income households often have to work long hours to support their children. Because of this, parents have less time to spend interacting with their children.
Often, children are encouraged to entertain themselves. In a household with very little extra income for cultural activities outside the home, this often means "Go watch TV." If parents are busy trying to pay the rent, the television viewing is usually unsupervised. The lack of educational opportunities and stress from family situations like divorce as causes for violence in children are also valid points. Those can also be situations that make children feel as though they need to escape, which they will often do by increasing their television viewing. Certainly, violence in children has many causes.
Everyone should just be aware that television is one of them, and one that can be controlled. Research supports that television violence causes violence in children. Children learn to fear the world from television. Children learn that violence is an acceptable way to solve problems from television. Television teaches children that the pain and suffering of others isn't real.
Maybe one day television can be used to make children's lives better. The opportunity is certainly there. Until then, be aware that television does more harm than good for children. Bibliography 'Does T. V. Kill?' Frontline Special.
PBS. WMP B, Baltimore. 10 January 1995. Gerbner, George. Television Violence and the Art of Asking the Wrong Question.
July, 1993 < web Karen L. Violent Children. California: ABC-CLIO, 1995. Males, Mike. Drive-By Journalism. January/February, 1999 < web Sage Publications, Inc.
National Television Violence Study. California: Sage Publications, 1997.