Television and Aggression
Television and Aggression
The effect of television violence on children has been studied extensively since the 1950s, and most researchers
The average American child watches 27 hours of television a week. Many television programs that depict violent behavior are broadcast during hours when children are most likely to be watching. According to a study conducted by the National Coalition on Television Violence in 1992, some prime time television programs average at least one violent act per minute, while children's cartoons average 32 violent acts per hour. The American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that the number of violent acts on television tripled during the 1980s, and in 1993 the American Psychological Association estimated that the average child will have seen 8,000 murders and 100,000 acts of violence on television before finishing elementary school.
Although there have been cases of "copy-cat" crimes, where an actual murder or suicide is said to have been triggered by a specific television incident, a direct correlation between what a person sees and does is difficult to prove. Since the 1950s more than 3,000 studies have been dedicated to tracing more indirect links between actual violence and televised violence. Some researchers have employed a laboratory setting where children watched either violent cartoons or more passive children's programming, and then measured the children's agressiveness. Much research has been done comparing communities without television (such as a town in a remote part of Canada) to similar communities with television. Researchers have also compared crime rates and indicators of violence and aggression in communities before and after television became available. Such studies concluded that verbal and physical aggressiveness increased in children exposed to television. One long-term study, carried out by a psychiatrist at the University of Michigan, tracked hundreds of children from age eight to age 30, and the ones who watched the most television were the most aggressive, were more likely to be convicted of a serious crime, and were prone to use violence to punish their children.
Other studies have found concomitant effects. Children may become more aggressive as well as more fearful of becoming a victim of violence. Children may also become desensitized to violence and not react to help someone who is in trouble. Not only does exposure to television violence stimultate antisocial behavior in children, it also seems to block prosocial, altruistic behavior. Other researchers note a difference between the way violence is depicted on television and in movies, and the way violence is portrayed in literature, from fairy tales to Shakespeare, noting that television violence often seems to be without consequences. It is not portrayed as tragic or symbolic and seems an easy solution to a difficult situation. There is little differentiation between a hero's and a villain's use of violence, and realisitc portrayals of injured victims and perpetrators, grieving relatives and friends, as well as other tragic consequences of violence are often not dramatized. Children who absorb these lessons from television may not realize that violence hurts, and they may not be aware that there are nonviolent means to resolving a conflict.
In the face of such accumulated evidence—that exposure to television violence has a variety of harmful effects on children—parents may wonder what they can do. There have been recurring attempts by public interest groups to censor television violence or to persuade television industry executives to agree to censor themselves. Such campaigns run into problems, not only with issues of free speech, but also with accountability, as the television industry claims to be providing what their viewers want and to be reflecting a violent society, rather than creating one. Since television is broadcast indiscriminately, not just to children or parents of children, any attempt to regulate what some people watch will impinge on the freedom of others to view what they want. Some recent proposals for federal regulation of television violence, short of direct censorship, advocate a ratings system, similar to that for movies, which will include warnings, before broadcasts, about the possible ill effects of viewing violence. Consumer groups have also called for a public health campaign in schools to help children deal with the issues of violence and aggressive behavior.
It is also possible for parents to block out television programs they do not want their children to see. Since 1984, all cable companies have been required to offer a lock box that prevents certain programs from being received. These locking devices are becoming more sophisticated, with the advent of the so-called "V-chip"—a computer chip that can be programmed to block out programs with violent content.
Several groups, such as the National Parent Teacher Association (NPTA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics, have issued guidelines for parents concerned about what their children see on televison. Both organizations recommend that children be limited to no more than one or two hours of television a day, and that parents watch TV with their children. Parents can discuss any violent acts they see on television, explain to their children that violent stunts are faked, and encourage children to watch nonviolent shows. Parents can complain to local television stations about programs or incidents that trouble
Huesmann, L. Rowell, and Leonard D. Eron, eds. Television and the Aggressive Child: A Cross National Comparison. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1986.
Reiss, Albert J. Jr., and Jeffrey A. Roth, eds. Understanding and Preventing Violence. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1993.