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What’s on TV? This is a common question of today’s generation. A person might reply with one of the following; news, sitcoms, cartoons, sports, or any other various programs. Is this what is really on television? Take a closer look. What is consistently in these programs? Violence, violence is what’s on television. Objections may arise from this statement because of violent desensitization, but that does not change the fact that most shows contain violence.
“In 1949, a mere 2% of American homes had television sets. This increased to 64% by 1955, 93% by the mid-60’s, and 98% today” (Hughes and Hasbrouck 3). With so many televisions in homes today and working parents; “TV has become the closest and most constant companion for American children” (Zuckerman 1). U.S. children begin watching television at a very early age and are frequent viewers by the time that they are two or three years old. The amount of time that American children spend watching TV is astounding: an average of four hours a day, 28 hours a week, 2,400 hours a year, nearly 18,000 hours by the time they graduate from high school. In comparison, they spend a mere 13,000 hours in school, from kindergarten through twelfth grade. American children spend more time watching TV than any other activity, besides sleeping.
With all this time in front of the television, how much violence do children watch? A typical child will witness 8,000 murders and 100,000 other acts of violence before he or she leaves elementary school (Hughes and Hasbrouck 4). People don’t realize the amount of violence on television. With improved special effects, violent scenes are more realistic and grotesque which attributes to the popularity of violent shows. Also, several sources indicate that five violent acts per hour occur during prime time television and 20 to 25 violent acts occur during Saturday morning cartoons.
Many psychologists agree that viewing television violence causes an increase in aggression especially in young children. Social scientists performed studies to determine if a causal link between viewing violence and aggression exists. Bandura performed a laboratory study that showed four groups of children a different film. One group watched physical aggressive behavior rewarded, another group watched physical aggressive behavior punished, the third group watched no aggressive behavior, and the final group did not watch a film at all. Bandura concludes that children learn to act violently because they mimic behavior that they see being rewarded (Primavera and Herron 3).
There are three primary types of harmful effects associated with viewing violence. First, children learn aggressive attitudes and behaviors. Accepting violence as a way to solve problems, leads to aggressive attitudes and behavior. Television violence is attractive, effective, and the preferred solution to most conflicts. “It is believed that people learn by imitating what they see, and that children are particularly receptive to such learning” (Primavera and Herron 1). When children see that violence is the solution to problems, they have this attitude when they play resulting in more aggression. Back in 1940, when televisions were scarce, “the seven top problems in public schools were identified by teachers as talking out of turn, chewing gum, making noise, running in the halls, cutting in line, dress-code infractions, and littering. By 1980, the seven top problems had been identified as suicide, assault, robbery, rape, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and pregnancy” (Zuckerman 2). The increase of television viewing and televisions in homes magnified problems in school over a period of time. Second, children become desensitized to real world violence. People who watch so many violent acts see violence as a normal and accepted way of life. If children watch a lot of violence, they may not be distressed by real life acts of violence and were less quick to intervene or to call for assistance when they saw younger children fighting or playing destructively. Third, viewers’ develop a fear of becoming a victim of violence which is also known as the “Mean World Syndrome” (Kalin 5). Heavy viewers of television grow up thinking the world is a “mean” place. These adults are not usually violent or aggressive, but they feel the need to protect themselves with locks, alarms, and other protective methods.
Is television violence the only reason children’s aggression has increased? Childhood aggression is the result of multiple and interactive factors, including child dispositional factors (e.g., temperament, intelligence) and environmental factors (e.g., home and parenting, school, neighborhood). Early socialization experiences shape future socialization experiences. For example, if a child is rewarded by his parents for early aggressive behavior, this child is more likely to solve problems with peers with aggressive solutions. Parents have a tremendous influence in their child’s life. Many people believe that poor parenting is the cause of increased aggressive behavior and that this aggression can be reduced through good parenting. While parenting is an important factor, the evidence indicates that violent media also is a factor in violent behavior.
Children in America watch an excessive amount of violent television. Prolonged exposure to violent material can make a child become bewildered and have a greater distrust towards others. It could even make the child have an awkward approach to adult problems. Television violence can destroy a young child’s mind, and the effects may be everlasting. While there are those who do not appear to be negatively effected, it does encourage violent behavior in many. A TV commentator commented, “Well, we only have one really violent show on our network, and that is ‘NYPD Blue.’ I’ll admit that is bad, but it is only one night a week” (Grossman 4). How would that commentator feel if someone said, “Well, I only beat my wife in front of the kids one night a week” (Grossman 4)? How can we reduce the effects of television violence? This will require a better television rating system, the use of the V-chip, and parents taking an active role in screening what their children watch. This will not be an easy task.
Parents have a very difficult role in this solution. In order to reduce the effects of television violence, parents have to reduce the amount of television children watch. This is a difficult task because one-fourth of preschoolers, more than one-third of grade-schoolers, and more than half of high-school youth have television sets in their bedrooms (Strasburger and Donnerstein 7). The goal is still obtainable, but parents have to utilize the special features on television sets. The newer televisions come with parental locks. This means a password is required to view certain channels or to turn on the television. This is an excellent way to reduce the amount of television children watch. If parents control channels and turning on the television, than they know how much and what their children watch. Families that don’t have newer televisions will have a tougher time controlling the television. Some solutions for these families might be to install a system in the household where the television stays off until the children finish their homework and chores. Another solution might be to set up a reading/television program. Fore every hour a child reads, reward them with a half hour of television or let them pick out a movie of their choice. If parents have time, coviewing is a great way to filter media violence and educate children at the same time (Strasburger and Donnerstein 7). This allows parents to explain any unusual scenes or answer any questions children have. However, a recent survey found that 44% of children or teenagers watch something different when they are alone than when viewing with their parents (Strasburger and Donnerstein 7). This means when parents watch television with their kids, they reduce the amount of violent programs their kids watch.
However, there are some problems with these solutions. Say you are a parent who does everything in your power to control your child from viewing violence on television. Now your neighbor, who has a child the same age as yours, doesn’t care how much or what their child watches. How are you to stop our child from watching violent programs when he or she is over there? This is the most challenging dilemma parents face. I do not know the solution. The only thing that comes to mind is a scripture found in the bible, Joshua 24:15 “…. as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” There is nothing you can do about your neighbors, but in your house, television violence will not be tolerated.
Media ratings assist parents in judging which programs are suitable for kids. The purpose of media ratings is to label programs with the kind of content they contain. Media ratings work hand in hand with the V-chip. The V-chip is a device in televisions that parents can use to filter out violent or sexual programs. A study from the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania reports that, “84 percent of parents say they ‘strongly’ or ‘somewhat’ favor the V-chip technology and more than half say they would use the V-chip ‘often’ if they had it” (Lamb1). However, there are some problems with media ratings. First, nine out of ten parents, who knew about the rating system, could not accurately identify the age ratings according to the Annenberg Public Policy Center data (Kunkel 3). Second, several programs that contained violence did not receive the “V” rating. Therefore, parents using the V-chip to filter out violence would have little success because of mislabeled programs. Unless media ratings can consistently and accurately label the content that poses the greatest risk of harm to children, such systems cannot offer much help for parents. With the current rating system now, parents have to know how to interpret several different codes for television programs, movies, video games, and music. There needs to be serious consideration to establish a universal rating system that will cover all media types (Kunkel 4). There have already been comments by media officials who claim, “it can’t be done” when the concept of a uniform rating system is raised. The “can’t be done” chorus was heard when the V-chip idea first surfaced, but that was obviously proven wrong (Kunkel 4). In order for the V-chip to work effectively, media rating systems need to improve drastically, and parents have to use this technology. Some may say that media ratings violate the First Amendment. How can informing people of program content be a violation of free speech?
The solutions to the problems of children and television violence aren’t easy. There are many factors to consider and many people to convince. This crisis will never go away and continue to worsen as the years go by. However, there are measures to prevent exposure of such things to children.
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