Through what they experience on television, children are forced into adulthood at too young of an age. The innocence of youth is lost when children stare endlessly at a screen displaying the horrors of murder, rape, assault, devastating fire, and other natural disasters. Although these are occurrences in everyday life, things adults have grown accustomed to hearing about, children do not have the maturity level to deal with these tragedies appropriately. Children’s behavior changes because they become desensitized to the violence.
There are many preventative techniques that can be applied to ensure that negativity on television will not interfere with a child’s development. Children see violent acts on television and make an attempt to process it, and in doing so, their innocence is lost. According to Dr. David Elkind, president emeritus, National Association for the Education of Young Children, “Television forces children to accommodate a great deal and inhibits the assimilation of material. Consequently, the television child knows a great deal more than he or she can ever understand.
This discrepancy between how much information children have and what they can process is the major stress of television.” (160) Children’s minds are not fully developed; therefore, they can not be expected to understand the violence on television.
The media, specifically television, has become more and more violent, in not all too subtle ways, exposing many children to behaviors not appropriate to a young audience. Remember “the Menendez brothers, who ruthlessly shot their parents as they ate ice cream and watched TV in their family room, planted in children’s minds the worst possibility — that a parent could die violently at the hands of a child.” (Medved, et. al. 243) Seeing the violence, hearing about it, watching news reports about violent acts committed by real people, especially other children, affects the viewer negatively. Children can not relate to what they see when they are so young, making the act of watching violent television extremely questionable. Children should not know about murder and rape; however according to Gloria Tristani, Commissioner for the Federal Communications Commission, by the time they finish elementary school, children have witnessed 8,000 murders and 100,000 acts of violence. (Tristani website) Children should not be allowed to view such behavior as they are far too young to comprehend the severity of what they see.
Younger children are more susceptible to the impact of television violence in part because they spend more time in front of the set. “Children ages 2 to 5 watch about 28 hours of television each week, or almost 4 hours per day.” (Black, et. al. 317) Older children watch about four hours less per week. These younger children are fascinated with a media that does not require the ability to read or decipher in a way they do not know how; therefore, they spend more time watching television than older school age children. “Television has somewhat less appeal for the adolescent who has the mental ability to extend his or her senses with radio or print.” (Elkind 73) One of the most disconcerting facts of modern life is the abundance of wasted time spent watching mindless television programs. “…at the end of the usual life span, the average person will have endured more than ten uninterrupted years of television, day and night, with no breaks for the potty, no sleep, no work, no school. Ten years of staring at a cathode-ray tube, looking at images that for the most part one doesn’t control and never chose.” (Medved, et. al. 19)”A US News & World Report survey of voters reveals that 91% think media mayhem contributes to real-life violence’, while 54% of the public thinks violence in entertainment media is a major factor that contributes to the level of violence in America’. But only 30% of those with the power to control it, the Hollywood elite, agree.” (Medved, et. al. 28) Because the general population appears to have little say in how much the media portrays violent behavior, it is important to take a step back and evaluate what the children are actually exposed to. It is important that parents play a direct role in deciding what children are able to view on television. This is the best method of preventing negative reactions from watching the violence that the media portrays. A filmmaker and ESPN2 correspondent from the Atlanta area believes that “parents play an important role; without them, they children have nothing to listen to except TV and movies. Those medias were not made to teach your children and take care of them. They are entertainment art.” (Nathanson interview) By establishing ground rules at a very young age, children are taught lifelong lessons that will stay with them all through life. Parents can not always be where their children are, but by instilling safe choices in them from the beginning, when children are left to decide for themselves, they have a foundation to base their choice on.
Psychological research has shown that children become less sensitive to pain and suffering of others, more fearful of the world around them, and are more likely to behave in aggressive or harmful ways toward others. Children who watch a lot of television are less bothered by the violence they see on television than those children who watch only a little. This shows that children are desensitized to the pain and suffering they witness on television. A study, conducted at Pennsylvania State University, compared preschool children who had watched violent cartoons and some children who had watched shows with no violent behavior. Results show that children who witnessed cartoons with inappropriate behavior were more likely to fight with their playmates, argue, hit, and disobey compared with other children who were more patient, agreeable, and behaved.
Two gang members, Sidewinder and Bopete, provide a strong example of the impact of television violence on today’s youth with a conversation discussing guns and bullets based on knowledge of a television program.
“‘Hey, remember that movie we saw on TV? Where the guy shot the lamppost and made a big ole hole? Well, I wanna get me one of them.’I don’t remember what kinda bullets they was. The long kind.’Yeah, and fat.’Bopete snaps his fingers, grinning hard all over his face. Oh wait! I got it – thirty-thirty! Went boom! Man, them booms made you happy. Boom! Boom!'” (Medved 60)A study conducted on the effect of television violence on young children’s moral reasoning concluded that children judged justified violence as right or in the middle. (Medved 246) This is explained by the abundance of fantasy violence in children’s programming. A common theme in Saturday morning cartoons revolves around a hero and a villain. The hero generally captures or eliminates the villain by using forceful, violent tactics. Children witness the villain, who is judged to be evil, being punished forcefully by the hero, who is perceived to represent justice. By watching the “good guy” beat up the bad guy’, children distinguish this type of violence as positive behavior. The moral reasoning study argues that “young children are more apt to focus on the rules that are provided by authority figures, the outcome that an act has for the perpetrator, and the presence or absence of punishment resulting from the act.” (Krcmar 608)Parents must watch at least one episode of every show their children watch. An educated decision can then be made on the appropriateness for the respective age groups. Any television program with too much violence or negative behavior should be banned from small children. Children can also be restricted to educational or completely nonviolent programming. Lock-Out! is a specially designed combination lock that can be inserted in the prongs of the television plug, preventing children from sneaking in television time without permission. Using this product gives parents more control over what children watch when there is no one around to supervise them. (Lock-Out website)Watching programs with children enhances communication between parent and child. Children are able to ask questions about what they see and parents are able to point out behaviors on television that are questionable, and help to reassure children that what they see is not real and should not be emulated. Many times, children do not enjoy watching the programs they see on television, but they do not respond by turning the set off simply because it is there to be watched. Be open with children about what may bother them so that they feel that television is not the only activity available; there are nonviolent programs available to them as well.
Teach children about consequences of their actions. Many violent programs fail to properly emphasize the negative aftereffects of violent acts. Cartoons especially leave out the resulting legal and moral repercussions of violent behavior. Providing other activities for children, besides watching television, is also a step to take. Making a list of games to play, books to read, homework or chores to do, gives children ideas to keep themselves occupied without relying on cartoons and sitcoms to entertain them. Teach children alternatives to violent behavior. Emphasize proper communication skills, mediation, and patience. Showing children how to act in a nonviolent manner is important because children learn from their role models. At a very young age, the parents are the primary sources for learning. Children imitate what they see and hear, and will respond positively when they witness positive behavior from their role models.
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires that V-Chip technology be installed in all new television sets sold in the United States. (Benton website) This new technology permits individuals to block programming based on the level of violence or other characteristics. In conjunction with this new technology, the television industry implemented a program that provides a rating for network shows, allowing parents to gain further control over what children watch on television. These new ratings include special guidelines for younger viewers.
The rating system contains two parts, an age based rating and a content based rating. The content ratings list violence, language, and nudity. The age based ratings have two ratings geared towards young children, TV-Y, for all children and TV-Y7, for children over the age of seven. The ratings appear in the upper left hand corner of the television screen for the first fifteen seconds of a program, giving parents a forewarning about any programming that children should not be exposed to. (Eisenstock 4 ; 5)This V-Chip and ratings technology is an important step in preventing unwanted viewing of violence. It is especially helpful when children are left to choose a show to watch. By setting the allowable programming to only TV-Y, it is less likely that children will witness any violent acts on television. Because the ratings are determined by show producers and the network, it is important for parents to remain in an active role in participating in program viewing with children. There are times when violent acts are missed in rating judgments. If a show is rated TV-Y7, a parent needs to judge the program and make a decision to accept the rating as accurate or disregard it as incorrect.
“…While prime-time TV contains about 5 violent acts per hour…there are over 20 violent acts per hour on children’s programming.” (Tristani website) Television violence can cause negative behavioral and sociological changes in young children. Violence on television is all too common, so parents must take action and monitor what shows are to be watched. There are methods available to assist parents, some of which include the V-Chip and the new ratings system for network programs. By preventing children from witnessing violence on television, parents are helping to eliminate the desensitization that happens from witnessing such wrongdoing.
BibliographyBlack, Jay, and Jennings Bryant. Introduction to Media Communication. Iowa: Brown, 1995.
Eisenstock, Bobbie, PhD., and Cathryn C. Borum. A Parent’s Guide to the TV Ratings and V-Chip. Washington: Media, 1995. Elkind, David. The Hurried Child. Reading: Addison, 1981.
Krcmar, Marina, and Patti M. Valkenburg. “A Scale to Assess Children’s Moral Interpretations of Justified and Unjustified Violence and Its Repercussions.” Communication Research Oct. 1999: 608-635.
“Lock-Out Blocks Media Violence and Provides internet Safety for Your Children.” Lock-Out! n. pag. 6 June 2000 <http://www.lock-out.com>. Medved, Diane, PhD., and Michael Medved. Saving Childhood. New York: HarperCollins, 1998. Medved, Michael. Hollywood VS. America. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.
Nathanson, Ian. Telephone interview. 6 June 2000.
Tristani, Gloria. “Children and TV Violence Speech.” FCC 11 Feb. 1998: n. pag. 2 June 2002 <http://www.fcc.gov/Speeches/Tristani/spgt803.html>.
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