Violence And Media Television programming today can be a powerful influence in developing value systems and shaping behavior (Bee, 1998: 261-262). Unfortunately, much of today’s television programming is violent. For instance, the level of violence during Saturday morning cartoons is higher than the level of violence during prime time. There are about six to eight violent acts per hour during prime time, versus twenty to thirty violent acts per hour on Saturday morning cartoons (“Killing Screens,” 1994). Also, well before children finish their grade school, they will witness up to 8,000 murders and 100,000 violent acts on television (Levine, 1995: 143). Moreover, children spend more time learning about life through media than in any other manner. The average child spends approximately twenty-seven hours per week watching television, which means that children spend most of their time only watching television and sleeping (Minow & LaMay, 1995: 32-33).
Also, it has been proven by many studies that there is a positive relationship between television violence and behavioral problems in children. For example, research by Wood, Wong, and Chachere (1991:378) have shown that “exposure to media violence increase viewers’ aggression.” This paper will discuss that repeated exposure of young children and adolescents can negatively effect children’s behavior. This negative behavior can be acted out by imitation of violent acts observed on television, by accepting violence as a way to solve problems, and by desensitization to the amount of violence seen on television. Also, it will discuss how parents and teachers can prevent excessive viewing of television violence in children and adolescents. Children between the ages of one to four cannot always distinguish reality from fantasy. Television programs for people of all ages is more often than not a fantasy world, yet young children do not understand that their favorite character does not exists in the real world. For example, because young children do not understand the line between fantasy and reality, one may find children “crawling down storm drains looking for them [Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles]” (Minow & LaMay, 1995: 33).
This example clearly represents that children do not understand that their favorite characters are only made-up characters and that they do not exist in reality. However, many children may act upon their favorite movie or film character in such way, that they will try to imitate them. Young children instinctively imitate actions, or rather model human behavior by observation without always possessing the intellect or maturity to determine if such actions are appropriate. For example, in Bandura’s modeling studies children expressed more aggressive behavior toward the blow-up doll called Bobo, when they observed an adult model “verbally and physically attack the doll in real life, on film, or in a cartoon (Westen, 1996: 206). Therefore, due to the televisions’ programs role-model capacity to promote real world violence, there is a deep concern that watching violent programs on television will cause children to become more aggressive. As a result of viewing violent programs on television, children may become more aggressive toward other children, use violence and aggressiveness in their play, and use violence to solve their problems (Buckingham, 1997: 33; Abbot, 1997: 112).
Also, it has been suggested that young children will more likely imitate violent acts seen on television and model themselves to the character they like, if “the perpetrator of the violence is rewarded or at least not punished and when violence is presented as justified” (Ledingham et al., 1993:4). A study has shown that children will more likely “pretend” or “imitate” the aggressor from a violent television program, when the aggressor is presented as the “good guy,” who is often the person in the show that punishes the “bad guy” (Cantor, 1998: 98). Thus, it may be that children may often interpret a violent behavior of a character on television as a positive behavior, if the character was rewarded for his or her aggressive behavior. Children may also be more aggressive toward other children or even their parents, in order to get what they want. In most violent programs, as noted earlier, the aggressor is often rewarded for his or her violent and aggressive behaviors towards others.
Also, in many television programs “violence .. is typically shown as a successful way of solving problems and .. people who are violent get what they want” (Bee, 1998: 262). Therefore, one may suggest that children will express more aggressive behavior toward others, if they are denied a specific toy or an activity, such as going to the zoo. Perhaps the most telling example of children’s aggression can be seen after children see an advertisement on a desirable toy which is, more often than not, seen during children’s programming.
Indeed, in one year the advertisers alone will spend over $470 million “on broadcast sponsorship aimed at children [who are] one of the hottest and fastest-growing consumer markets” (Minow & LaMay, 1995: 55-56). About $168 billion is spent by parents in one year on children’s merchandise; a merchandise children have seen on television and would like to have (Minow & LaMay, 1995: 56). Children generally do not understand that advertised toys or other products cost money, and many of which may be well over family budget. However, columnist in Advertising Age said that “when you sell a kid on a product [and] if he can’t get it, he will throw himself on the floor, stamp his feet and cry” ( as cited in Minow & LaMay, 1995: 45). Thus, if children learn from violent television programs that aggressive behavior may get them what they want, most of them will, therefore, try aggression to make their parents buy them a desirable toy. As noted earlier, children are exposed to enormous amount of violence before they finish their grade school, which can have a negative effect on their behavior as children and also as adults. Leonard Eron, a professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan, followed children from eight years of age into their adulthood.
These boys had been exposed to a large amount of violence on television during their childhood and later in their adulthood. As a result of the amount of the exposure to the violent programming on television, the adults had the potential to commit more serious crimes by the age of 30. Also, the same adults may “[have] more aggressive behavior when drinking, and [the more television violence they watched] the harsher the punishment they inflicted on their own children” (Levine, 1995: 145). Thus, the evidence suggests that there is a positive relationship between viewing violent television programs and aggressive behavior in children and adults. However, not only do violent programs increase aggression and violence, but also children, who are already aggressive, will prefer watching violent programs on television in order to meet their taste.
It has been proven that all children are born with “temperamental qualities [that are] carried in their genes” (Bee, 1998: 145). Also, children who are “cranky, temperamentally difficult babies continue to show many of the same temperamental qualities ten years later” (Bee, 1998: 147). Likewise, aggressive children may prefer violent programs on television because “the fact that aggressive behavior leads to peer rejection means that aggressive children have fewer options for alternative activities” (Ledingham et al., 1993: 7). On the contrary, children may often not watch the violent television programs for the violence itself, but will more likely watch it for the action that is portrayed in most violent programs. For example, in a 1986 study researchers found that children would still be interested in watching television programs even with the absence of violence, and “eliminating violent content reduces the likelihood of stimulating aggressive behavior” (Cantor, 1998: 92).
However, not many studies have been conducted in this manner, therefore “it would be premature to draw any conclusions about the effects of violence on children’s enjoyment” (Cantor, 1998: 92). Earlier in this essay we have seen that the more children watch violent television programs, the more aggressive they may become. However, in many cases children, who are exposed to frequent viewing of violence on television, may become emotionally “desensitized” or less sensitive toward real life violence. For instance, children, who were exposed frequently to violence on tele …