Effects of Television on Children
Effects of Television on Children
Since the mid- 1970s a shift in perspective has occurred on the relationship between TV and young viewers. For the past two decades, researchers have characterized the child viewer as a naive, uncritical, and passive receiver of TV information. Social commentators and parents have variously considered TV a powerful and mesmerizing "waste of time," a stimulus to undesirable responses in children, a social educator, a babysitter, a technological agent for mass consumer socialization, and a perpetrator of questionable social values, morals, and mythified human behaviors. Most recently, however, researchers, parents and teachers, policymakers, and consumer advocate groups have shown an increased interest in clarifying the complex and wide-ranging controversies about TV and children.
The recent popular literature on TV and children has led many to believe that TV is usurping the role of schools as a primary institution for socializing youth, for transmitting culturally relevant knowledge and values, and, in short, shaping life and society in North America. Some teachers comment on how TV intrudes into the classroom: schoolyard play replicates the behaviors, relationships, and interaction of popular, often violent, TV programs; others have found that creative writing and journal-keeping, for many children, is little more than an exercise in recounting the endless hours and TV programs watched. Undoubtedly, what and how much TV children watch is of serious concern to educators.
Most children plug into the world of television long before they enter school: 70% of child-care centers use TV during a typical day. In a year, the average child spends 900 hours in school and nearly 1,023 hours in front of a TV. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), kids in the United States watch about 4 hours of TV a day - even though the AAP guidelines say children older than 2 should watch no more than 1 to 2 hours a day of quality programming.
And, according to the guidelines, children under age 2 should have no "screen time" (TV, DVDs or videotapes, computers, or video games) at all. During the first 2 years, a critical time for brain development, TV can get in the way of exploring, learning, and spending time interacting and playing with parents and others, which help young children, develop the skills they need to grow cognitively, physically, socially, and emotionally.
Of course, television, in moderation, can be a good thing: Preschoolers can get help learning the alphabet on public television, grade schoolers can learn about wildlife on nature shows, and parents can keep up with current events on the evening news. No doubt about it - TV can be an excellent educator and entertainer.
TELEVISION VIOLENCE: DOES IT PROMOTE AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOR?
The possibility that children who view television violence are more likely to behave aggressively in everyday life has become a major concern of parents, educators, and scientists over the past 20 to 25 years. Today we have a large body of scientific literature that by and large justifies this concern. Concern has also been expressed that viewing violence may reduce sensitivity to real life violence and that the pervasiveness of violence on television may induce a distorted view of reality in children who use TV as a major source of information. Alternatively, there are proponents of the catharsis hypothesis who argue that viewing violence may reduce aggressive behavior. In the first part of this chapter we review the evidence concerning these various effects of viewing TV violence on children's subsequent behavior and attitudes. Second, we will turn from the question of what effects television violence has to the question of how television violence affects children. This will involve an examination of how violence is portrayed on TV and children's understanding of these portrayals.
EFFECTS OF TELEVISION VIOLENCE
Imitation and Disinhibition of Aggressive Behavior
The issues that have most concerned researchers, educators, and parents are both the possibility that children imitate the aggressive behavior they see on television and that viewing violence may weaken children's inhibitions leading to a general increase in aggression. One way of studying these issues has been to do an experimental laboratory study. Typically, in these studies, a child is randomly assigned to see either a short film portraying violence, a nonviolent film, or no film. After viewing the film the child is allowed to play, usually alone, with toys which are the same as or similar to those seen in the film. Observers who are not visible to the child record the child's behavior, especially any aggressive behavior. The results of such experimental studies have been quite clear: Children who watch a film with aggressive content imitate the portrayed aggression and furthermore, they show an increase in other aggressive behaviors. Thus, their behavior is more aggressive than that of children who view either a neutral film or no film (1965, 1978; 1963, 1963).
American children watch an average of three to fours hours of television daily. Television can be a powerful influence in developing value systems and shaping behavior. Unfortunately, much of today's television programming is violent. Hundreds of studies of the effects of TV violence on children and teenagers have found that children may:
- become "immune" to the horror of violence
- gradually accept violence as a way to solve problems
- imitate the violence they observe on television; and
- identify with certain characters, victims and/or victimizers
Extensive viewing of television violence by children causes greater aggressiveness. Sometimes, watching a single violent program can increase aggressiveness. Children who view shows in which violence is very realistic, frequently repeated or unpunished, are more likely to imitate what they see. Children with emotional, behavioral, learning or impulse control problems may be more easily influenced by TV violence. The impact of TV violence may be immediately evident in the child's behavior or may surface years later, and young people can even be affected when the family atmosphere shows no tendency toward violence (AACAP, March 1999).
While TV violence is not the only cause of aggressive or violent behavior, it is clearly a significant factor.
Parents can protect children from excessive TV violence in the following ways suggested by the AACAP:
- pay attention to the programs their children are watching and watch some with them
- set limits on the amount of time they spend with the television; consider removing the TV set from the child’s bedroom
- point out that although the actor has not actually been hurt or killed, such violence in real life results in pain or death
- refuse to let the children see shows known to be violent, and change the channel or turn off the TV set when offensive material comes on, with an explanation of what is wrong with the program
- disapprove of the violent episodes in front of the children, stressing the belief that such behavior is not the best way to resolve a problem
- to offset peer pressure among friends and classmates, contact other parents and agree to enforce similar rules about the length of time and type of program the children may watch
Parents can also use these measures to prevent harmful effects from television in other areas such as racial or sexual stereotyping. The amount of time children watch TV, regardless of content, should be moderated because it decreases time spent on more beneficial activities such as reading, playing with friends, and developing hobbies. If parents have serious difficulties setting limits, or have ongoing concerns about how their child is reacting to television, they should contact a child and adolescent psychiatrist for consultation and assistance.
Studies of the Effects of TV Violence
A 1982 report by the National Institute of Mental Health confirmed an earlier study done by the Surgeon General and concluded that "Violent programs on television lead to aggressive behaviour by children and teenagers who watch those programs."
The American Psychological Association passed a resolution in February 1985 warning the public of the potential dangers of children watching violent television programs.
The Research Showed children who watch a lot of violence on television are:
§ more likely to become less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others.
§ more fearful of the world around them.
§ more likely to behave in aggressive ways toward others.
§ more likely to act out the violence they see on TV in playing.
§ more likely to commit violent acts.
§ less bothered by violence in general.
§ more likely to eventually commit crimes.
Kids who watched violent programs were slower to intervene or to call for help when they saw younger children fighting or playing destructively than kids who watched non-violent ones. Studies by George Gerbner, Ph.D., at the University of Pennsylvania, showed that children's TV shows contain about 20 violent acts each hour. Another study determined that children's TV show had about four times more violent acts than occurred in general audience programming.
The Hidden Effects of TV on Children
The hidden effects of TV are real risks for emotional, social and cognitive deficits. Children spend more time watching TV than any other single activity during the height of the most critical period for language and cognitive development. In many homes, TV is curtailing the role of free play as a formative activity of early childhood.
National reading test scores have declined dramatically over the last twenty years and continue to decline. The causes of this are complex and include socio-economic, familial, and geographic factors. Numerous studies indicate an inverse relationship between television viewing and reading/language achievement. Children who plug into their regular evening programs spend less time reading or being read to, less time in family conversations, and less time involved in challenging mental activities such as puzzles, board games, etc.
According to Gloria DeGaetano, media specialist, educator and author of Screen Smarts, kids are not creating pictures in their minds while they watch television the way they do when they are being read to. Children need opportunities for developing their own capacity for symbolic thought in order to eventually become successful readers themselves.
Ms. DeGaetano suggests that parents who want to limit their children’s use of TV follow these guidelines:
· No more than one hour of TV a day for young children.
· Adult modeling of intention when viewing is very important. Stating a reason to watch a program teaches constructive use of television.
· Parents can regularly watch with their children, or mediate the experience by asking questions and hearing their child’s feedback about what they understand from the program.
While it has been perceived in this contemporary world that the advent of television brought about desirable and unpleasant effects to children, there had been no such thing as a proper guidance of parents to these innocent ones. Despite the fact that researchers have suggested ways on minimizing undesirable effects on children, we still cannot risks having these numerous unpleasant effects outnumbered the good side that television can offer to children. There would be no better suggestion than for parents and social programs guiding these delicate minds of the future.
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