-Violence on Television-

What do Children Learn? What Can Parents Do?

Violent programs on television lead to aggressive behavior by children and teenagers who watch those programs.

That's the word from a 1982 report by the National Institute of Mental Health, a report that confirmed and extended an earlier study done by the Surgeon General. As a result of these and other research findings, the American Psychological Association passed a resolution in February 1985 informing broadcasters and the public of the potential dangers that viewing violence on television can have for children.


What Does the Research Show?

Psychological research has shown three major effects of seeing violence on television:

Children who watch a lot of TV are less aroused by violent scenes than are those who only watch a little; in other words, they're less bothered by violence in general, and less likely to see anything wrong with it. One example: in several studies, those who watched a violent program instead of a nonviolent one were slower to intervene or to call for help when, a little later, they saw younger children fighting or playing destructively.

Studies by George Gerbner, Ph.D., at the University of Pennsylvania, have shown that children's TV 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 TV. 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 a lot of aggressive and violent acts in them, and 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 watch the violent shows, even 'just funny' cartoons, were more likely to hit out at their playmates, argue, disobey class rules, leave tasks unfinished, and were less willing to wait for things than those who watched the nonviolent programs,' says Aletha Huston, Ph.D., now at the University of Kansas.


Real-Life Studies

Findings from the laboratory are further supported by field studies which have shown the long-range effects of televised violence. Leonard Eron, Ph.D., and his associates at the University of Illinois, found that children who watched many hours of TV 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 TV when they were eight years old were more likely to be arrested and prosecuted for criminal acts as adults.


A Continuing Debate

In spite of this accumulated evidence, broadcasters and scientists continue to debate the link between the viewing TV violence and children's aggressive behavior. Some broadcasters believe that there is not enough evidence to prove that TV violence is harmful. But scientists who have studied this issue say that there is a link between TV violence and aggression, and in 1992, the American Psychological Association's Task Force on Television and Society published a report that confirms this view. The report, entitled Big World, Small Screen: The Role of Television in American Society, shows that the harmful effects of TV violence do exist.


What Parents Can Do?

While most scientists are convinced that children can learn aggressive behavior from television, they also point out that parents have tremendous power to moderate that influence.

Because there is a great deal of violence in both adult and children's programming, just limiting the number of hours children watch television will probably reduce the amount of aggression they see.


In addition:

Parents should watch at least one episode of the programs their children watch. That way they'll know what their children are watching and be able to talk about it with them.

When they see a violent incident, parents can discuss with their child what caused the character to act in a violent way. They should also point out that this kind of behavior is not characteristic, not the way adults usually solve their problems. They can ask their children to talk about other ways the character could have reacted, or other nonviolent solutions to the character's problem.

Parents can outright ban any programs that they find too offensive. They can also restrict their children's viewing to shows that they feel are more beneficial, such as documentaries, educational shows and so on.

Parents can limit the amount of time children spend watching television, and encourage children to spend their time on sports, hobbies, or with friends; parents and kids can even draw up a list of other enjoyable activities to do instead of watching TV.

Parents can encourage their children to watch programs that demonstrate helping, caring and cooperation. Studies show that these types of programs can influence children to become more kind and considerate.


For More Information

If You're Interested in reading more about the research and public issues discussed in this brochure, you may find the following books and articles helpful:

Comstock, G. (1991). Television in America. Newbury Park, CA; Sage Publications.

Huston, A.C., Donnerstein, E., Fairchild, H., Feshbach, N.D., Katz, P.A., Murray, J.P. Rubinstein, E.A., Wilcox, B. & Zuckerman, D. (1992). Big World, Small Screen: The Role of Television in American Society. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.

Liebert, R.M. & Sprefkin. (1988). The Early Window: Effects of Television on Children and Youth. New York: Pergamon.

Murray, J.P. & Salamon, G. (1984). The Future of Children's Television: Results of the Markle Foundation/Boys Town Conference. Boys Town, NE. The Boys Town Center.

National Institute of Mental Health (1982). Television and Behavior: Ten Years of Scientific Progress and Implications for the Eighties, Volume 1. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Palmer, E.L. (1988). Television and America's Children: A Crisis of Neglect. New York: Oxford University Press.

Singer, D.G., Singer, J.L. & Zuckerman, D.M. (1983). Teaching Television: How to Use TV to Your Child's Advantage. New York: Dial Press.

Singer, D.G., Singer, J.L. & Zuckerman, D.M. (1983). Getting the Most Out of Television: Lesson Plans for Teachers and Children. Northbrook, IL. Scott-Foresman.

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