Children and television violenceThis page helpful? Share it!
abstract research sources 1 Gerbner Follow abelard.org 2 Huesmann 3 Williams 4 Eron and Huesmann 5 Medved child education - review results of recent studies is government aware of the data? understanding statistics what can you do about it? other resources
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
Imitation is a high human element, especially among the young. Just one publicised school shooting, in my view, leads to imitation.
FACT: The average American child will have watched 100,000 acts of televised violence, including 8000 depictions of murder, by the time he or she finishes sixth grade (approximately 13 years old).
We live in an era where both parents are often working and children have more unsupervised time. It is essential that you make time for children and regularly inform yourself of their day to day experiences, including while they are at school if they attend school.1 Gerbner
Studies by George Gerbner, at the University of Pennsylvania, have shown that children's television shows contain about 20 violent acts each hour. They also showed 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 programmes on television. In one study done at Pennsylvania State University, about 100 pre-school 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 children who watched the violent shows and those who watched non-violent 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 non-violent programmes.
For most of television's early years, it was difficult to find role models that would inspire young girls in the viewing audience. In the mid-1970s, a new genre of programmes such as Charlie's Angels, Wonder Woman, 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 phenomenon would have a positive impact on younger female viewers.
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, choking 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.
Some of the most compelling studies have investigated children's behaviour in areas before and after the introduction of television. In the early seventies, Tannis Macbeth Williams and other researchers from the University of British Columbia compared the levels of aggression in first and second graders from two Canadian towns, one with access to TV and one, due to a mountain range, with no TV access. When the mountain town finally received television, the hitting, biting, and shoving levels of the children increased by 160 percent.
University of Michigan psychologists Leonard Eron and Rowell Huesmann have followed the viewing habits of a group of children for decades. They found that watching violence on television is the single factor most closely associated with aggressive behaviour-more than poverty, race, or parental behaviour.
In 1960, Eron embarked on a landmark longitudinal study of over 800 eight-year-olds. He found that children who watched many hours of violent television tended to be more aggressive in the playground and the classroom.
Eron and Huesmann checked back with these students 11 and 22 years later. They found that the aggressive eight-year-olds grew up to become even more aggressive 19- and 30-year-olds, with greater troubles-including domestic violence and more traffic tickets-than their less aggressive counterparts who did not watch as much television. And the researchers found that even if a child is not aggressive at the age of eight, but watches substantial amounts of violent programming, he will be more aggressive at 19 than his peers who didn't watch violent TV.
Michael Medved is a news host on US television who campaigns on the issue of screen violence. He has written a very cogent and useful article printed in the otherwise uninspiring book,
Screen Violence, edited by K. French, published by Bloomsbury, 1996,
isbn 0747525498, £10, pp20-34.
Medved attacks the standard lies of the entertainment industry:
1) There is no proof!
2) Millions watch violent TV without becoming criminals.
This is no more value than the argument that not all smokers get lung cancer.
3) Media reflects reality.
The American Screen Actors Guild statistics show that 71% of all roles in films and 65% of all TV roles are male.
Annenberg School of Communication estimates that each night 350 characters appear on prime time TV and that 7 of them are murdered. This death rate would reduce the world population to less than one over the course of a little over 3 years (oh yes, it would take that long: not the 50 days that Medved wrote ☺).
4) We give the public what they want.
Medved carried out an analysis of all films released between 1980 and 1992. He found that family-oriented films earned more than twice as much on average as violent films. Yet violent films comprise over 60% of all films released.
5) If you dont like it, you can turn it off.
You cannot turn it off, the advertising is all about you and in the face of children. It is an ever-present background noise, just like cigarette advertising. For example, I would never go and see such slop as Titanic. I think Leonardo di Capri and Kate Winslett have unexpressive and uninteresting faces and presence, yet I even know their boring names and faces despite having less than zero interest in them or the film.
Several recent  studies show that the quality of the content that children watch on television matches closely with their later level of academic success. Watching less TV increases a child’s likelihood of successfully finishing university, although watching higher quality programmes with educational content can help children achieve academically.
Between the ages of five and eleven the less television watched, the greater the probability of success at school and beyond. This finding is amplified for the middle, ‘average’ range of intelligence. Having a television in the bedroom is also likely to contribute to lower grades or even failure.
The situation is similar to the battle between the US Surgeon General and the tobacco industry. Although the research conducted by tobacco interests tells a different story, the position of the US Surgeon General on the health risks of cigarette smoking is stated on every pack of cigarettes.
TV researcher Dr. Leonard Eron of the University of Michigan has said,
The only people who dispute the connection between smoking and cancer are people in the tobacco industry. And the only people who dispute the TV and violence connection are people in the entertainment industry.
In their testimony before Congress in 1992, Eron and Huesmann stated:
Television violence affects youngsters of all ages, of both genders, at all socio-economic levels and all levels of intelligence. The effect is not limited to children who are already disposed to being aggressive and is not restricted to this country.
In one of many hearings on the topic, former US Surgeon General Dr. Jesse Steinfeld testified before the US Senate on his assessment of the research on TV violence and behaviour:
It is clear to me that the causal relationship between televised violence and antisocial behaviour is sufficient to warrant appropriate and immediate remedial action. There comes a time when the data are sufficient to justify action. That time has come.
Steinfeld made that statement in 1972, nearly 30 years ago. But the "remedial action" he spoke of did not come to pass. In fact, as channels have proliferated, violence on TV has become even more graphic and more pervasive.
An American Psychological Association (APA) task force examined the plethora of research on the issue. Its chairperson, Dr. Aletha C. Huston, professor of human development and psychology at the University of Kansas, said to a congressional committee in 1988:
Virtually all independent scholars agree that there is evidence that television can cause aggressive behaviour.
The US Surgeon General's Office and the APA are joined by the National Institutes of Mental Health and the Centres for Disease Control in this conclusion: There is a direct relationship between televised violence and violent behaviour.
I have added the following in order to clarify meaning in response to a reader who asked about the following:
“I know that some television programmes and music have been blamed for contributing to shootings and killings.”
People in these types of situations often make up reasons after the event as to why they did these things (excuses?).
Determining whether a particular set of behaviours by a particular person was caused, or influenced, by watching violence on the television or in cinemas is impossible, but statistically the link can be shown to be true.
As with smoking, it can be shown statistically that there is a direct link between smoking and many diseases, but it is impossible to prove with an individual case. It is common for purveyors of cigarettes and media violence to use public misunderstanding of statistical investigations to claim that “there is no proof” that their product caused damage.
Many scientists are also not very good at statistical reasoning and tend to confuse individual outcomes with statistical patterns. Statistics is a complex and sophisticated study. If you wish to go further, you may like to read an analysis of similar difficulties where statistics is applied to an even more complex problem at Intelligence: misuse and abuse of statistics.
Memory can also often be unreliable when recalling events and the reasons for those events. People often make up stories after the event that fit with their desired impression of that event. If you wish to follow up on this area of psychology a bit further, look at Repressed memory.
Be aware that
Watching TV violence can be harmful to the mental health of children.
- It has even been suggested that, like the cigarette warning, warnings should be printed in bold, black letters on the side of every TV set sold. Since government won't do it, broadcasters wont do it and TV manufacturers wont do it, you could make a sign for yourself and for your children and tape it to the side of your TV set, as a daily reminder before you light up the screen.
- Watch at least one episode of the programme 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.
- Publicise the facts widely.
- Teach children to differentiate clearly between fiction and real life. Teach children not to bully others and make sure that they do not get examples of violence at home or at school.
- Banning is not an answer but controlling advertising which pushes things like violence and cigarettes into the face of children before they have developed the judgement and ability to look to protecting themselves long term is a legitimate issue.
- Read and internalise this paper from time to time, until the message becomes a habitual part of your thinking. Violence damages your quality of life and the mental health of society.
The following is a useful review article on related issues:
The Impact of Experiencing and Witnessing Family Violence during Childhood:
Child and Adult Behavioural Outcomes
by Christine Alksnis and Jo-Anne Taylor
Its approximate length of the article is 13,000 words. For comparison, that is 7 times the length of this document.Here are the main headings from the article: Aggressive Behaviour by Child Witnesses and/or Victims
Aggressive Behaviour by Witnesses and/or Victims in Adolescence
Violence in general
Violence directed at dating partners
Aggressive Behaviour by Witnesses and/or Victims in Adulthood
Violence in general
Violence directed at partners
Violence directed at children in the adult family
Summary and Conclusions
more related information
Further subsidary information and links are available at prevention of violence.
- Appropriate data has been included in this document for making further researches on this topic. If you wish to follow up, then go to an academic library or use a search engine to look up the researchers names. Your teacher will advise you.
- I write under the name abelard. If you want to cite this document as a source in your work, refer to me as abelard and quote the web reference address, to be found near the end of this document. If you should wish, also include the web-site address, which is www.abelard.org.
- Remember that it is not sensible to put your name and location out freely on the Internet to people you do not know. If you are unsure what to do instead, show this note to someone with greater life experience, such as your teacher or a carer, and ask them for advice.
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