BEHAVIOR BY CHILDRENSince 1982, the National Institute of Mental Health, along with other reputable health organizations has collected data that connects media violence, with violent acts.Conclusions deduced from this data prove that violent programs on television lead to aggressive behavior by children and teenagers who watch those programs. Television violence affects young people of all ages, all socio-economic levels, and all levels of intelligence.
Todays children view vast amounts of violence on television. A steady diet of death, killings, torture, and other grotesque acts may be viewed on any day by vulnerable youth. When children are young, they are impressionable to all their surroundings, and especially vulnerable to what they see. Scientific research validates this fact. In studies by the National Institute of Mental Health, educators have learned that children who watch violence often act out this violence.
Parents today have a responsibility to ensure their children are supervised when watching violent programs if they are allowed to watch these programs at all. When parents are in the room with children, parents should point out to children that television is not real. Children tend to see television as real life, and lack the maturity to differentiate the difference between news and fiction programs on television. Studies by George Gerbner, Ph.D., at the University of Pennsylvania, have shown that childrens television shows contain about twenty violent acts each hour and that children who watch a lot of television are more likely to think that the world is a mean and dangerous place.
Society sees many tragic examples of research findings on youth and television violence. One such example occurred in Allentown, Pennsylvania in 1999. At the time, Justin Douglas was a cute, intelligent five-year-old little boy with loving parents and a safe; middle class home. One day, Justin watched his favorite cartoon heroes; Beavis and Butt-head, on MTV perform one of their famous arson stunts. The cartoon program, created for a mature audience, often contains foul language, drinking, comments about setting fires, smoking, and portrays stealing as acceptable. Justin tried the same stunt he had watched. The real life result was not a cartoon. His home was set on fire and his younger sister lost her life when she could not be rescued from the smoke.
From the beginning of the wide use of mass media, from films to radio to television, and now with internet media, researchers have tried to explain the correlation between media and violence. This association has been easy to support and is substantiated in every major scientific report released in the last twenty years. It has become general knowledge to professional counselors and educators that excessive and unsupervised exposure to television violence increases the use of violence to resolve conflict, while it desensitizes these youth to acts of violence. This exposure to violence in the media makes viewers less critical of real life violence. Since the media often represents violence as happy violence devoid of pain, suffering, and consequences, they are not providing the audience with an accurate or realistic portrayal of violence. Many studies have also confirmed a cumulative effect of exposure to violence as researchers have traced patterns from childhood exposure to adult social behavior.
The National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence was in charge of investigating these issues and making recommendations to the President. The medias task force report was titled, Violence and the Media. Conclusions drawn from this report show that real violence was caused in part by the desire of action groups for media attention; and that violence in society could be reduced if the news gave groups the ability to enhance their communication. A particular focus of the study was the medias portrayal of violence and the publics personal experiences. Television is the primary source of media for most American citizens, and therefore television violence is the primary source for viewing violence in both adults and children. This report gave evidence of the medias ability to socialize the viewers to the norms and values of the culture. Previously the ability of television to do so had been disputed that the media was seen only as a re-enforcer and not a creator.
Research performed by Albert Bandura concluded there were strong short-term effects of exposure to violence in the media that affects children. In his studies, children watched models perform aggressive acts against a doll. These acts of aggression were presented under three circumstances: 1. the children saw the model rewarded for aggressive behavior, 2. the children saw the model receive no consequences for their aggressive behavior, and 3. the children saw the model punished. All three groups were able to imitate the aggressive behavior that contradicts early notions that the influences of violence were not negative if the violence was not glorified.
The Help or Hurt study done by Robert Liebert and Robert Baron, further displays the short-term effects of exposure to violence. The research design used experimental and control groups to determine the effect that the observation of violence would have on the subjects social behavior. The experimental group, which was exposed to the violence, was shown to push the red button, which was believed to hurt another childs chances of receiving a prize. More often and for a significantly longer period than the children were shown an exciting non-violent film. The conclusion was that the exposure to violence is related to the acceptance of aggression. All of these studies lead to one thing, the fact that violence affects children and adults.
Before the average American child leaves elementary school, researchers estimate that he or she will have witnessed more than 8,000 murders on television. This steady diet of imaginary violence makes America the world leader in real crime and violence. It is time for parents and the American public to take notice of the scientific evidence that proves the correlation between violence seen on television and violence acting out in our society. To ignore these studies continues the growing culture of violence in our country. As Texan writer Molly Ivans says, the first rule of a hole is, if you are in one, stop digging.