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Children and Television Violence

Violence on television affects children negatively, according to psychological research.

The three major effects of seeing violence on television are:

*Children may become less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others.

*Children may be more fearful of the world around them.

*Children may be more likely to behave in aggressive ways toward others.

Studies by George Gerbner, Ph.D., at the University of Pennsylvania, have shown that children's television shows contain about 20 violent acts each hour and also that children who watch a lot of television are more likely to think that the world is a mean and dangerous place.

Children often behave differently after they've been watching violent programs on television.
In one study done at Pennsylvania State University, about 100 preschool children were observed both before and after watching television; some watched cartoons that had many aggressive and violent acts; others watched shows that didn't have any kind of violence. The researchers noticed real differences between the kids who watched the violent shows and those who watched nonviolent ones.

Children who watched the violent shows were more likely to strike out at playmates, argue, disobey authority and were less willing to wait for things than those children who watched nonviolent programs.

Field studies by Leonard Eron, Ph.D. and his associates at the University of Illinois, found that children who watched many hours of television violence when they were in elementary school tended to also show a higher level of aggressive behavior when they became teenagers. By observing these youngsters until they were 30 years old, Dr. Eron found that the ones who'd watched a lot of television when they were eight years old were more likely to be arrested and prosecuted for criminal acts as adults.

Questionable Influences

For most of television's early years, it was difficult to find role models who would inspire young girls in the viewing audience. In the mid-1970s, a new genre of programs such as "Charlie's Angels," "Wonder Woman," and "The Bionic Woman" entered the scene. Now, there were females on television who were in control, aggressive and were not dependent upon males for their success.

Conventional wisdom might suggest this phenomena would have a positive impact on younger female viewers. But, a recent study by L. Rowell Huesmann, Ph.D. -- a psychologist at the Aggression Research Group at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research -- refutes that premise.
Huesmann's research states that young girls who often watched shows featuring aggressive heroines in the 1970s have grown up to be more aggressive adults involved in more confrontations, shoving matches, chokings and knife fights than women who had watched few or none of these shows.

One example cited by Huesmann is that 59 percent of those who watched an above-average amount of violence on television as children were involved in more than the average number of such aggressive incidents later in life.

Huesmann says that ages six to eight are very delicate and critical years in the development of children. Youngsters are learning "scripts" for social behavior that will last them throughout their life. Huesmann found those "scripts" didn't always have happy endings.

What Is Being Done About The Problem?

The television industry took steps toward implementing a ratings system for its programming at a meeting with President Clinton in late February. The policy is to develop a ratings system for television programs that will give parents an indication of content not suitable for children.

The rating system may use letter codes (such as PG-7 for programs deemed suitable for children aged 7 and up, PG-10, PG-15, etc.), or the television industry may develop a short description of content which would be broadcast prior to the program. Unlike the Motion Picture Association
of America, which uses an independent third-party board to rate films, television networks will rate their own programs.

"I agree with President Clinton's and the industry's decision to promote some sort of ratings system and the use of the V-chip," said Dorothy Cantor, PsyD, former president of the American Psychological Association. "We live in an era where both parents are often working and children have more unsupervised time. Parents need help in monitoring the amount of television and the quality of what kids watch while they're young."

According to recent studies, the following steps can help parents maintain some control in shaping their child's viewing habits.

*Watch at least one episode of the program your child views so you can
better understand the content and discuss it with them.

*Explain questionable incidents (e.g. random violence) that occur and discuss alternatives to violent actions as ways to solve problems.

*Ban programs that are too violent or offensive.

*Restrict television viewing to educational programming and shows or programs which demonstrate helping, caring and cooperation.

*Encourage children to participate in more interactive activities such as sports, hobbies or playing with friends.

*Limit the amount of time children spend watching television.

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