TELEVISION can be a powerful influence in developing value systems and behaviour in children. Studies have shown that extensive viewing of television violence by children can cause them to become aggressive. Children who view programs where violence is very realistic, frequently repeated or left unpunished, are more likely to imitate what they observe on television. The impact of television violence may be immediately evident in a child's behaviour or it may surface years later. In many families, television has become an electronic baby-sitter, as children who spend their time alone will learn behaviour from television, which is considered to be acceptable. Several studies have highlighted that children may become 'immune' to violence, gradually accepting it as a way to solve problems.
Children watch an average of four to five hours of television each weekday and ten hours of television during weekends. 50% of television programs contain violence that is 'psychologically harmful' to a child. It has been estimated that by age 18, the average person will have viewed 200,000 acts of violence on television alone. When a child is placed in front of a television, their focus can not be diverted and their gaze cannot be broken. The bright colours and quick movements capture the child's attention. Watching television is a passive event where children remain completely immobile. Television can often create an environment that assaults and overwhelms a child. Children observe millions of colourful images in one afternoon of television viewing and 57% of this contains violence. Viewing excessive violence does not necessarily cause a child to act violently, but it contributes to promoting a view that violence is acceptable. A diet of television violence and promotion of aggressive reaction can cause violence to be seen as acceptable through the eyes of children. Only 4% of violent programs show non-violent alternatives to solving problems.
Children are now becoming a challenge for parents due to their unrestricted viewing of television violence. They often behave differently after viewing violent programs such as the popular children's show, 'Power Rangers', which portrays violent heroes. They can become aggressive, disobedient and impatient, both in the playground and in the classroom. Parents should advocate their responsibilities. Researchers have found significant differences between children who are light viewers (1 hour or less per day) and those that are heavy viewers of television (4 or more hours per day). Heavy viewers of television put in less effort at school, have poorer reading skills, have fewer hobbies and are more likely to be overweight. Television violence affects children of all ages, of both genders, at all socio-economic levels and of all levels of intelligence. Television violence has also been found to effect children emotionally. They may become desensitized to real-life violence. This refers to the increased toleration of violence. It is of particular concern as a long-term effect of heavy viewers of violent content. Some of the most violent programs are children's animated series, where violence is intended to humour the audience and where realistic consequences of violence are not shown.
Parents can limit their child's exposure to negative influences, by selecting shows which model positive behaviour and at a more frequent pace. Research has shown that direct parent intervention to prevent children from excessive television violence is infrequent. Parental monitoring and ineffective discipline may be critically important in determining the link between the viewing of violent content and the aggression of children. There are many steps which a parent can take, to ensure that the television programs to which their children are exposed are of high quality and do not contain violent images. High quality programs encourage children to explore their feelings, learn about the world and increase their understanding. Programs that exploit children's feelings of envy, competitiveness and frustration, do not assist in a child's development and behaviour.
A television program that is constantly attacked, is the screening of the World Wrestling Federation although it accounts for only a small percentage in the growing problem of television violence. As the Undertaker approaches the ring, he lifts his challenger by the neck and furiously throws him to the ground, leaving his opponent seemingly disorientated. The crowd fiercely applauds and in a quiet suburban home, a 7-year-old boy, who is seated in front of a television with eyes wide-open and clenched fists, joins them in their ovation. Violence is present in homes through a variety of television programs, including sitcoms, commercials and even cartoons. In addition, violence can be witnessed through many of the popular video games and toys.
There are two ways of preventing children from viewing television violence, through the V-chip technology and the new television rating system. The V-chip technology, which was developed by an engineer named Tim Collins, is a device that can obstruct the transmission of violent programs. It allows parents to prevent their children from viewing a television program, if a rating system determines that it has a high level of violent content. Another system has been devised, which is called the 'TV Ratings System'.
Television programs are now labeled in the following categories:
- there are shows which are acceptable for all ages
- shows that contain some violence which is not suitable for children who are under the age of seven
- programs that require parental guidance
- programs suitable for mature audiences only.
These ratings have been designed as a guide for viewers and indeed parents as a means of protecting their children from excessive television violence.
As we progress further into the future, children will become more exposed to violent images, if the correct parental supervision of such shows isn't enforced during the developmental stages of a child's life. Many studies have been carried out on the link between television violence and its potential effects on children and will continue to do so well into the future. Teaching children that violence is not acceptable behaviour, nor does it solve problems and helping them to make informed viewing choices, will certainly reduce the risk of a child being powerfully influenced by violent images on our television screens.
- Vicky Failla