There is no doubt we live in a violent world. In the United States, unfortunately, we have seen killings of students by other students, the assassination of our president and other leaders, abuse and violence to children by adults, and plenty of adult-on-adult violence in the real world--and on television. Research now shows that exposure of children to video violence, whether actual or contrived, makes them more prone to aggression and violence, creating a vicious circle of behavior.
Cause and Effect
Is there a connection between televised and real violence in children? Fifty years of research into this question has produced an unqualified "yes."
Violence on the screen--whether television programs, the Internet or video games--first mesmerizes children and lowers their defenses, then presents violence as an acceptable way of dealing with problems, according to John Murray, research psychologist at Kansas State University. "Viewing video violence has three main effects," he says. "These are aggression, desensitization and fear. In addition, it conveys the impression the world is a mean and dangerous place and that one must act defensively."
Research at the University of Pennsylvania found that exposure to video violence and increasingly more aggressive attitudes and behavior in children is dose-related. In other words, more exposure to TV violence is directly correlated with more aggression by youngsters.
Children who watch five hours or more of TV per day become markedly more fearful of the world than do children who watch two hours or less per day. American children watch an average of three or four hours of television daily.
These aggressive actions and responses are lodged in an area of the brain (posterior cingulate) that stores these action patterns for long-term memory and instantaneous recall.
Parents who observe the "zoned-out" expression on the faces of their children while watching TV violence may well be witnessing the formation of an addiction. Brain mapping studies of children who see video violence suggest there is an addictive quality that needs further research.
In one study conducted by the U.S. Surgeon General's Office, children whose facial expressions showed pleasure or interest when viewing televised violence were found to be more willing to harm other children than those whose facial expressions revealed disinterest or disgust.
Suggested Actions for Parents
But parents are not completely powerless in the face of the violent brainwashing to which their kids are exposed to on television. Some suggestions:
• Be aware of the programs your children watch; view some of them with your kids. • Set time limits on how much TV your children can watch on a daily basis. • Prohibit your children from watching shows that are violent; turn off or remove the television when prohibited shows are broadcast. • Verbally show your disapproval of any violence in front of your children. • Talk to other parents and try to agree on the ground rules concerning TV viewing, to compensate for peer pressure.
Television, like the Internet, has produced both beneficial and harmful effects on society in terms of violence and pornography. Concerned parents can exert a strong directive and protective instinct to reduce their children's exposure to these ill effects.