The Causes & Effects of Violence in the Media on Children
Living in a time and culture in which violence infuses numerous facets of society in both fiction and reality-verbal, visual, overt, and implied-and considering the ubiquity and prevalence of all forms of violence around us, exposure to violence through the media evidently casts a negative impact upon children. Even though violence in the media is an old concern, it has re-emerged at the apex of several debates among parents, educators, and politicians.
Children have been becoming more aggressive, which is directly correlated with the escalating prominence of violence among adults. Parents and educators persistently point up that the social damage which violence in media inflicts upon children will be carried into adulthood. Several sociological studies have unequivocally demonstrated that violent media concocts violent adults.
Children act like sponges in terms of imbibing information and acquiring knowledge-a generalization that seems to hold whether they are learning how to speak or how to display emotions.
Children essentially learn what is acceptable or not by “what the media depicts in contrast to what parents are teaching to them” (Anderson and Dill 778). No longer are parents the dominant influence when it comes to a child’s learning experience; it is the “media celebrities and personalities that a child utilizes as models to socially acceptable and, in some instances, unacceptable behavior” (Anderson and Dill 781). Video games, music, television and movies “seem to teach a child that murder or harming others is acceptable” (Steyer 4). Children acquire abilities to aggression more readily through constant exposure because they tend to imitate what they constantly see on visual media outlets. Without doubt, the media plays a potent role on how children respond to different circumstances that they may have watched, read, or listened to. Oftentimes, the behaviors depicted are extremely aggressive and children are led to believe that aggression is the only solution to a particular situation they are in. Aggressive behaviors strongly affect the manner children grow up into adulthood.
Mass media patently fails to address the fact that a little child is yet unable to comprehend the consequences of getting injured from an act of violence; that it actually hurts and could be fatal. As a matter of fact, little children find it difficult to draw the line between fantasy and reality. Many of those who have been taken to emergency facilities for treatment of injuries caused by accidents which “the media portrays tend to express shock as they realize how hurting their injuries actually are” (Steyer 27). The shock may be attributed to a child’s belief of invincibility-acquired from seeing in cartoons, for example, “that Daffy Duck can get shot, stand up, and live as though nothing happened” (Grapes 55). Children do not realize that the bullet impinging the skin can actually hurt, and even cause death; rather, “they see the bullet hit a character on television who does not subsequently appear to suffer from pain” (Grapes 56).
One particular influential explanation throughout the media-violence debate is the role modeling mechanism derived from Albert Bandura’s social learning theory. Bandura in the 1960s conducted a series of experiments to validate his theory of “imitative modeling of media effects” (Giles 52). This study is now widely known as the “Bobo doll” experiments due to the use of “an inflatable plastic doll that children were observed to strike more frequently after watching an adult perform the same activity on video” (Bandura et al. 3). These experiments have become an obligatory reference point for the coverage of aggression in social psychology and developmental textbooks, although they have been criticized for their low external validity. Particular problems include the artificiality of the laboratory setting and the use of leading cues such as “the juxtaposition of the doll and a mallet” (Giles 52). Nevertheless, proponents of the link between media violence and behavioral aggression often point to the results of so- called “natural experiments” as convincing evidence of the link. As an example, Phillips examined in 1983 the U.S. crime statistics for a 10-day period following televised heavyweight boxing matches, and discovered a “significant rise in homicides during this period” (Phillips 560). No corresponding effect was found for Super Bowl contests. Moreover, the ethnic background of the homicide victims was consistent with that of the victor in these matches, suggesting that the murders were carried out to avenge the boxing results.
Another experiment conducted in 1972 by Liebart and Baron “demonstrated a strong correlation between violent behavior and viewing of violent material” (Liebart and Baron 469). A group of children, between the ages five and nine, was selected to be subjected to the experiment one by one. The kids were first warmed up for the main experiment by having them watch two minutes of television portraying violence-neutral material. After the warm-up period, the kids were randomly assigned to a subgroup that was made to watch a non-violent, action-packed sports sequence for 3.5 minutes. The other subgroup was subjected to a 3.5-minute clip of the R-rated movie “Untouchables.” After the 3.5-minute period, each child was given an opportunity to either help or hurt another child. The experiment revealed that the kids in the subgroup that watched the violent film were more likely to hurt another child than those in the other subgroup. Also later, when the children were observed at play, “the subjects belonging to the subgroup that watched a violent movie played more with violent toys, such as fake knives or toy guns, than the other subgroup” (Liebart and Baron 475).
Another experimental study, which was conducted by Bjorkqvist and Lagerspetz in 1985, demonstrated that “even violence portrayed by cartoon characters has an impact on children” (Bjorkqvist and Lagerspetz 77). The experiment had eighty-seven children as subjects; forty-five of these are from pre-school, while the remaining forty-two were either from second or third grade. Bjorkqvist and Lagerspetz assigned three different cartoon movies to the eighteen subgroups that were formed out of the entire group of subjects. At the end of the experiment, a series of questions regarding how the children felt was asked. Those who belong to the subgroup that watched the most violent film answered that they felt like they were the cartoon character committing the violent acts. In the subgroup that watched the non-violent movie, the children did not reportedly acquire any degree of fantasy on violence. All in all, the experiment showed that children having violent fantasies showed a higher degree of violent tendencies, such as pushing and kicking.
Movie violence had indeed stirred up controversy, notably Hollywood gangster films in the 1930s, long before the advent of television popularity to American households. The fear concerned primarily on imitative behavior, and it was reported that during the 1930s, a New Jersey 12-year-old kid returned home from seeing “The Secret Six” and shot another child through the head (Hoberman 133). This heralded a long line of controversial films whose content has been associated with real-life violence, the most recent being Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers,” which has been linked with fourteen murders worldwide (Ruddock 155). Television has not been spared; “concerns about the effects of watching violence on the small screen have been rife ever since the medium’s introduction into the masses” (Giles 50).
Today, it seems that violence is an accepted part of television programming and filmmaking, grossly exaggerated in its prevalence, and glorified in digital clarity. Three major content analyses of television violence have been conducted in the United States. The first, by Gerbner et al., spanned twenty-two years from 1967 to 1989. This analysis found that 80 percent of all the shows in the study (mostly prime-time viewing) contained some element of physical violence (Potter 122), although their definition of violence was quite broad. However, it was not as broad as that used by Greenberg et al. in the mid-1970s, whose definition for violence included verbal aggression as well as other forms of antisocial behavior. These researchers estimated that there are, on average, 14.6 violent acts per hour on American television (Greenberg 44).
The third major content analysis was carried out during the 1990s-the National Television Violence Study, funded by the National Cable Television Association. This study used a more precise “definition of physical violence and found such content in 60 percent of prime-time programming” (Potter 124). It also examined the narrative contexts in which violence occurred. In most cases, violence was used for personal gain (30 percent); in 58 percent of cases, the victim was not shown suffering harm from the violence; and 37 percent of violent perpetrators were left unpunished at any point in the show. Thirty-nine percent of violent perpetrators were left unpunished at any point in the show. Thirty-nine percent of violent acts occurred in a humorous context, thereby trivializing the impact. The physical outcome of violence is rather neglected, so there is relatively “little blood and gore in prime-time television” (Wilson et al. 268).
The ultimate manifestation of the excessive portrayal of violence over the dominant forms of media is a growing number of children becoming more aggressive or violent in young adulthood (Huesman et al. 221). As children grow up becoming more violent, the risk of untoward injuries rises. Such a trend permeates all socioeconomic borders, including all children (Grapes 99). The constant parameter in all studies conducted on media violence is that “the longer the time that a child is exposed to any form of violent media, the more aggressive the child will grow up to become” (Steyer 101). In Huesman et al.’s study, which rigorously monitored the development of children from childhood into adulthood, it was found that those children who were frequently exposed to “media violence turned out to become violent adults” (Heusman et al. 210). The spectrum of violent behaviors that were manifested ranges from road rage to full-blown murder. Domestic violence was also revealed to be one of the more prevalent forms of violent bursts.
From the experimental studies discussed, it appears that violent children grow up into violent adults. Media violence has been considered to be a major problem in our daily lives. As a matter of fact, rating systems are now in place to regulate most movies, television shows, and even video games with regards to portrayal of physical violence. Even music now must contain a parental advisory sticker if the language is excessively foul and violent. Nevertheless, despite all the efforts to restrain the media, violence still permeates through children. The reason is plain and simple: violence has a high market value. Media executives have deployed their demographic researches, mass marketing into the youth having no regard for what social damage they would inflict upon a child’s volatile psyche. Meanwhile, media corporations are publicly claiming that protective measures are being implemented to mitigate the detrimental effects of media violence on children. Through these statements, they seem to be transmitting the blame to parents who, they assert, need to be aware of the programs or movies their children are watching. The parents, on the other hand, blame the media for unsatisfactory implementation of their supposed restriction controls.
While it may be a great challenge to ascertain a clear causal relationship between the ubiquity of media violence and the violent tendencies among children, it may be considerably less arguable to state that the pervasiveness of violence that permeates all forms of media has a negative impact on children. Media psychologists and sociologists propose several theories for the effects of media on children. But whether or not violent behaviors are caused or influenced by portrayals of violence through the media, it is quite plausible that frequent depictions of violent acts mold children’s perspective of a world that is daunting-a risky place where rape, murders, and violent crimes happen on a regular basis. Exposure to violence in media can also promote the opposite effect- desensitization to violent act brutality.
Whether or not media violence indeed instigates children in committing violent acts and exhibit tendencies towards aggression is still a matter of intense social debate. Media psychologists may argue that media violence do mold the children’s perspective of the world as a very dangerous place to live in or that excessive exposure to media violence fosters a desensitized feeling that violence in this world is trivial. Content analysis uncovers that violence is indeed a ubiquitous element in media and that excessive exposure of children to any form of media that portray violence influences their views of the world they live in. For impressionable children who are still in the process of shaping and re-evaluating the world around them, media violence certainly plays a role in the development of their negative views of society.
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