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When children are taught how to tie their shoes, it is because of how
their parents showed them. When children are taught how to do math problems it
is because how their teachers show them. With all of the role models how does
television affect our children?
Many adults feel that because they watched television when they were
young and they have not been negatively affected then their children should not
be affected as well. What we must first realize is that television today is
different than television of the past, violence is more prevalent in todays
programming unlike the true family programming of the past.
EFFECTS OF TELEVISION - THE BEGINNING
Questions about the effects of television violence have been around
since the beginning of television. The first mention of a concern about
television's effects upon our children can be found in many Congressional
hearings as early as the 1950s. For example, the United States Senate Committee
on Juvenile Delinquency held a series of hearings during 1954-55 on the impact
of television programs on juvenile crime. These hearings were only the beginning
of continuing congressional investigations by this committee and others from the
1950s to the present.
In addition to the congressional hearings begun in the 1950s, there are
many reports that have been written which include: National Commission on the
Causes and Prevention of Violence (Baker & Ball, 1969); Surgeon General's
Scientific Advisory Committee on Television and Social Behavior (1972); the
report on children and television drama by the Group for the Advancement of
Psychiatry (1982); National Institute of Mental Health, Television and Behavior
Report (NIMH, 1982; Pearl, Bouthilet, & Lazar, 1982); National Research Council
(1993), violence report; and reports from the American Psychological
Association's "Task Force on Television and Society" (Huston, et al., 1992) and
"Commission on Violence and Youth" (American Psychological Association, 1992;
Donnerstein, Slaby, & Eron, 1992). All of these reports agree with each other
about the harmful effects of television violence in relation to the behavior of
children, youth, and adults who view violent programming.
The only thing that we know about the effects of exposure to violence
and the relationship towards juvenile delinquency we gather from correlational,
experimental and field studies that demonstrate the effects of this viewing on
the attitudes and behavior of children and adults.
Children begin watching television at a very early age, sometimes as
early as six months, and are intense viewers by the time that they are two or
three years old. In most cases the amount of televised viewing becomes greater
with age and then tapers off during adolescence. ). The violence that is viewed
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audience rating surveys, the typical American household has the television set
on for more than seven hours each day and children age 2 to 11 spend an average
of 28 hours per week viewing. (Andreasen, 1990; Condry, 1989; Liebert & Sprafkin,
The most important documentation of the amount of violence viewed by
children on television are the studies conducted by Gerbner and his colleagues
on the nature of American television programs. The results of these yearly
analyses of the amount of violence on American television for the 22-year period
1967-89 indicate a steady but growing high level of violence. (Gerbner &
Signorielli, 1990) Programs especially designed for children, such as cartoons
are the most violent of all programming. How many times have we all seen the
Coyote try to kill the RoadRunner? GI Joe and many other programs also represent
violence and the use of deadly weapons.
Overall, the levels of violence in prime-time programming have averaged
about five acts per hour and children's Saturday morning programs have averaged
about 20 to 25 violent acts per hour. (Lichter & Amundson, 1992) However a
recent survey by the Center for Media and Public Affairs identified 1,846
violent scenes broadcast and cablecast between 6 a.m. to midnight during one day
in Washington, D.C. The most violent periods were between 6 to 9 a.m. with 497
violent scenes (165.7 per hour) and between 2 to 5 p.m. with 609 violent scenes
(203 per hour). (Lichter & Amundson, 1992) Most of this violence is shown
during hours that are not generally viewed by the adults therefore violence in
the early morning and afternoon is viewed by children and youth.
What are the effects of this televised violence on our children? What we
know about the influence of TV violence comes from the research of correlational,
experimental and field studies that have been conducted over the past 40 years.
The amount of evidence from correlational studies is very consistent in showing
the effects of violence in relation to children: In most cases viewing and
having a preference for watching violent television is related to aggressive
attitudes, values and behaviors.
During 1972 Robinson and Bachman (1972) found a relationship between the
number of hours of television viewed and adolescent reports of involvement in
aggressive or antisocial behavior. During that same year Atkin, Greenberg,
Korzenny, and McDermott (1979:5-13) used a different measure to determine
aggressive behavior. They gave nine to thirteen-year-old boys and girls
situations such as the following. Suppose that you are riding your bicycle down
the street and some other child comes up and pushes you off your bicycle. What
would you do? The response options included physical or verbal aggression along
with options to reduce or avoid conflict. This group found that physical or
verbal aggressive responses were selected by 45 per cent of heavy-television-
violence viewers compared to only 21 percent of the light-violence viewers.
During 1983 Phillips (1983:560-568) recorded the effects of the
portrayal of suicides in television soap operas on the suicide rate in the
United States using death records he gathered from the National Center for
Health Statistics. He found, over a six-year period, that whenever a major soap
opera personality committed suicide on television, within three days there was a
significant increase in the number of female suicides across the nation.
The major experimental studies of the cause and effect relation between
television violence and aggressive behavior were completed by Bandura and his
colleagues (Bandura, Ross & Ross,1961:575-582, 1963:3-1) working with young
children, and by Berkowitz and his associates (Berkowitz, 1962; Berkowitz &
Rawlings, 1963:405-412; Berkowitz, Corwin & Heironimus, 1963:217-229) who
studied adolescents. A young child was given a film, then projected on a
television screen, the film showed a person who kicked and beat an inflated
plastic doll. The child was then placed in a playroom setting and then they
recorded the amount of times that aggressive behavior was seen. The results of
these early studies indicated that children who had viewed the aggressive film
were more aggressive in the playroom than those children who had not observed
the aggressive person.
The answer seems to be yes. Several studies have demonstrated that one
exposure to a violent cartoon leads to increased aggression. During 1971,
Hapkiewitz and Roden (1971:1583-1585) found that boys who had seen violent
cartoons were less likely to share their toys than those who had not seen the
violent cartoon. It seems clear from experimental studies that one can show
increased aggressive behavior as a result of either long term or brief exposure
to televised violence, but questions still arise about whether this increased
aggressiveness seen in these experimental settings show in the children's daily
In normal field-experiments, the investigator shows television programs
in the normal viewing setting and observes behavior where it naturally occurs.
The investigator controls the television programming either by arranging a
special series of programs or by choosing towns that in the natural course of
events receive different television programs.
One of the early field-experiments in 1972 conducted by Stein and
Friedrich (1972:202-317) for the Surgeon General's project dealt with 97
preschool children with a programming of either antisocial, prosocial, or
neutral television programs during a four-week viewing period. The results
indicated that children who were judged to be somewhat in the beginning
aggressive became increasingly more aggressive as a result of viewing the Batman
and Superman cartoons. The children who had viewed the prosocial programming of
Mister Roger's Neighborhood were less aggressive, more cooperative and more
willing to share with other children. (Stein, Friedrich, 1972:202-317)
CAUSE AND EFFECTS ON TYPES OF CHILDREN
We get a clearer picture about the effects of TV violence when we know
more about the way children watch televised violence. For example, Ekman and his
associates (Ekman et al., 1972) found that children whose facial expressions,
while viewing televised violence, depicted the positive emotions of happiness,
pleasure, interest or involvement were more likely to hurt another child than
were those children whose facial expressions indicated disinterest or
Although there is much discussion about the amount of research evidence
concerning the impact of television violence, most researchers would agree with
the conclusion in the report during 1982 by the National Institute of Mental
Health, which suggests that there is a conclusion among members of the research
community that "violence on television does lead to aggressive behavior by
children and teenagers who watch the programs".(NIMH, 1982) This conclusion is
based on laboratory experiments and on field studies. Not all children become
aggressive, of course, but the correlations between violence and aggression are
Television violence is strongly correlated with aggressive behavior as
any other behavioral variable that has been measured. The research question has
moved from asking whether or not there is an effect, to seeking explanations for
While the effects of television violence are not simply straightforward,
analyses and reviews of research suggest that there are clear reasons for
concern and caution in relation to the impact of televised violence. To be sure,
there are many factors that influence the relationship between viewing violence
and aggressive behavior and there has been much debate about these influences.
It is clear that there is a considerable amount of violence on television and
that this violence on TV may cause changes in attitudes, values, or behavior on
children and older viewers.
Although there are many different views on the impact of TV violence,
one very strong summary is provided by Eron during his 1992 Congressional
testimony: "There can no longer be any doubt that heavy exposure to televised
violence is one of the causes of aggressive behavior, crime and violence in
society. The evidence comes from both the laboratory and real-life studies."
(Eron, 1992) Television violence affects children of all ages, of both genders,
at all socio-economic levels and all levels of intelligence. The effect is not
only limited to children who are already aggressive and is not restricted to
this country. The facts remain that we get the same findings of a relationship
between television violence and aggression in children study after study, in
every country, and every economic level. The effect of television violence on
aggression, even though it is not very large, exists. This effect has been
demonstrated outside the laboratory in real-life among many different children.
Children ha ve come to justify their own behavior through the scenes of violence
and negativity involved in television programming.
The recent report by the American Psychological Association Task Force
on Television and Society (Huston, et al., 1992) adds: "...the behavior patterns
established in childhood and adolescence are the foundation for lifelong
patterns manifested in adulthood" (Huston,et,al., 1992:57).
The most recent summary released in August, 1993 of the American
Psychological Association Commission on Violence and Youth: Violence and Youth,
Psychology's Response, confirms the findings noted above and reaffirms the need
to consider ways to reduce the level of violence in all media. (APA, 1993:77-78).
In conclusion we should remember that although the media certainly has a
lot to answer for, it is important to remember that not everything that comes
through the TV is bad. Rather, it is overuse and generally a careless attitude
by adults that so often leads to regrettable results.
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