Violence in TV and its Influence on Children

By: Robert Machado

Children who watch television are influenced by it and one of the most common themes of debate is how violence affects them.  There are studies that show that the influence is real in all stages of the childhood. It is said that children of different ages watch and understand television in different ways depending on how they process information and their lives experiences. In this report I will go step by step showing how the violence influences children behaviours and attitudes.

Infants (Children up to 18 months old)
They can pay attention to an operating television set for short periods of time because they are usually more interested in their own activities and even when they pay attention infants most likely miss what adults consider the program content. They only perceive primarily as fragmented displays of light and sound which they intermittently recognize as animals or other human beings. They receive the messages better when the content is presented in a simple, instructional and uncluttered way. Since infants do not care to what adults consider content it might be successfully argued that violence have any impact on them at this stage. On the other hand, infants have been found to copy highly visual activities such hand clapping and an adult playing with a toy  but violence do not comprise this kind of activity. According to the  study at this age the is no risk of exposing children to television but since it has been demonstrated that they imitate certain things it is up to you what to do at this respect especially regarding violence. On the other hand, watching TV along with your children, especially educational programming, can help them connect characters, receive the first impressions of this media and create the basis for the patterns in choosing programming  that they will adopt in the future. There is no need to worry too much about television at this stage of childhood.

Toddlers (children 18 months to 3 years old) 
At this age children begin to pay more attention to the television set when it is on and they develop a limited ability to extract meaning from television content and they are likely to imitate what they see and hear on TV. The viewing pattern children establish as toddlers will influence their future viewing habits throughout their lives. Since they have a strong preference for cartoons and rapid movement there is likelihood that they will be exposed to large amounts of violence. At this age they watch television with an exploration approach, they search meaning in the content. A major human development takes place at this age: they learn to represent objects and actions internally as thoughts, words
If you take into account the above characteristics you can realize that toddlers are predisposed to seek out and pay attention to violence particularly that on cartoons. It is not the violence itself that captures their attention but the rapid movements and vivid production features. It is through cartoons that toddlers are being exposed to violence. By the age of 3 they are inclined to cartoons, educational programs and they are likely to watch 2 hours of TV programming each day. They start imitating what they see on TV and even learn small fragments of commercials by heart. It is wise at this age to limit the exposure of children to violent content and especially adults should set the example by watching non-violent programs themselves.

Early Childhood or Preschool Age (children ages 3 to 5 )
At this age the children start looking for content in the shows but still attracted to the same things as the two categories above. It has been documented that preschoolers behave more aggressively  than usual in their playing after watching any high action exciting television content but especially after watching violent television.
At this stage preschoolers start linking actions with consequences especially when it is based in their personal experience. In addition, this characteristic helps distort the content of even educational programs because when they do not understand the content due to lack of personal experience they tend to simplify it and reduce it to their fears and experiences. Even though they do not pick up at negatives emotions and  bad feelings which are the base of violence they are attracted to it due to the loud music, the rapid changes and the attracting lighting of the scenes.
An interesting example of a preschooler interpretation of a violent scene follows:
 She surprised her family by suddenly expressing fear and hostility toward "black people" after seeing “Roots” on television with her family. She described the scene that had frightened her as one in which a black slave is repeatedly whipped. She concluded from this scene that the character being whipped must be a very bad person, to be so severely punished, and therefore must be very scary.

Recommendations for parents at this age is to try to distract the children attention by giving him some snacks or  toy to hold, furthermore they are advised to mediate because it has been found that mediation helps them not to form a wrong idea of the world surrounding them as “bad and evil”. This is what usually happens when no mediation is offered.
The study conclude that Canadians are not following the trend in the US and that when Canadians use the TV as babysitter they use educational programming in the vast majority which is good because children learn new vocabulary and gain knowledge however parents are missing a great opportunity by not watching this programs together with their children because it can be a wonderful way to form their taste in television watching.
A most interesting suggestion for television producers is given and that is that the use of violence is not necessary to attract the attention of children this age instead the use of movement, sudden changes and lights is the key to gain their attention because their attention patterns are different from that of adults.

Middle Childhood or Elementary School Age (children ages 6 to 11) 
This period is  critical to understand the effects of television on aggression. At this stage children develop the attention span and ability to follow continuous plots, to make inferences about implicit content and to recognize motivations and consequences to characters’ actions. They are more likely to be sensitive to mediation. That is to say that if violence it is presented as evil, as causing human suffering or as in resulting in punishment or disapproval they tend not to become violent or aggressive. On the other hand they tend to become aggressive and violent if they believe violence represents real life and if they identify with a violent hero as boys often do or engage in violent fantasies.
At this stage they start mixing the programming: they still watch cartoons along with adult programming. They also develop a surprising taste for horror movies perhaps to scare themselves more than they really are, that is to say they are desensitizing themselves. On the positive side, they can now distinguish reality from fantasy, however one must be careful because sometimes their distinctions tend to be superficial.
Example:  Grade one,  two student in a study explained that The Brady Bunch were real because "they have a refrigerator, and there are such things as refrigerators."
A great concern is the example that television heroes set. At this age many children named as their preferred people fictitious characters from the TV rather than people from real life. This trend is worrisome because at this age children are looking their own independence and competence in their own personal and social development and TV only offer stereotypes that  these heroes are successful, powerful and admirable in their violent scenes.
It would be good to explain that not all violence is scary to children at this age. At this age, children are more likely to be afraid of television portrayals if the depicted scary events seem possible and especially if they are shown in circumstances that resemble the child's own circumstances. It is when they identify themselves with the victims that they become afraid.
The Day After was particularly frightening to the sixth graders not only because it was portrayed so realistically, but also because its heroes and heroines were children like themselves, who suffered and died in a context that was otherwise very much like the viewers' own.

Adolescence (children ages 12 to 17)
At this age children become capable of high levels of abstract thought and reasoning although they rarely use these abilities when watching TV. At this age they watch less TV because they are  more interested in independence, sex and romance and they develop a preference for music videos, horror movies and pornographic videos( boys specially) which deals with these topics although in a negative way.
At this stage they begin to doubt of the reality of television and are much less likely to identify themselves with characters. On the other hand, the small percentage of those who continue to believe in the reality of television and to identify with its violent heroes are the ones likely to be more aggressive, especially if they continue to fantasize about aggressive-heroic  themes.
At this point the parent’s mediation becomes vital because one cannot deny that television is pervasive and children are somehow susceptible to its effects.

What parents can do?
Parents can do several things to control their children exposure to violence: Restricting the amount and types of programs they are allowed to watch is the most effective way.
Under normal conditions, they do not need to worry too much about their infants being negatively influenced although they might want to limit their exposure to violence, this is especially important with toddlers who are more  prone to imitate what they see on TV.
Another piece of advice to parents would be to regulate their own habits of watching
TV since they are an example to kids. In addition, mediation would include the watching of TV together with the children to reduce their tendency to aggression and fears through commenting in the content, encouraging or not certain behaviour. By doing so parents can help their children to interpret television and overcome the effects of violence in TV programs by teaching them to be more analytical and critical viewers.
In adolescents would be wise to encourage them to express their opinions and to analyze and question television content so that they become more aware of manipulations of emotions and content.
As always this study reveals that is not television on its own who causes the problems in the children, a part comes from the reality these children are living and is reflected in the television programs and the other part is the responsibility parents have in being mediators and example.

Works Cited
Josephson, Wendy L. Television Violence: A Review of the Effects on Children of Different Ages. Media Awareness Network. 2010. Web. Apr

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