How does violence in the media affect children and how should parents deal with it?

Essay by boxer123 March 2005

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Does violence in the media affect people's social behaviour? A lot of research has been done on this matter. Even though the mass media cannot be solely blamed for the increase in violence this century, it is clear that the development has coincided with an increase in violence shown on television and video. According to the UN Children's Convention, children should be able to have access to information from the mass media which promotes understanding, tolerance, equality and peace. Children also have the right to be protected, from violent and manipulating media. Even though 187 countries have signed this convention, few countries follow up, and even if they do they have little say about over international mass media such as satellite television and Internet.

There was an interesting study on the web, about how many people get offended by violence on television (see below). It shows how many people are offended by violence and sex in the four main programmes.

Major effects of children watching violent programs 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 or harmful ways toward others.

Children, who watch a lot of TV, are less aroused by violent scenes then those who only watch a little; in other words, they're less bothered by violence in general and less likely to see anything wrong with it. Children, who have been watching violent programmes on TV, often behave differently. A study done at Pennsylvania State University showed that children who had just watched violent, even 'just funny' cartoons, were more likely to hit, argue, disobey rules, leave tasks unfinished, and more impatient then the children who had just watched non-violent shows.

It has been calculated that the average 16-year-old in Western society has seen about 13,000 violent murders on television, and it seems reasonable to assume that this must have some effect on their behaviour. There is, indeed, a positive relationship between the amount of television violence children have seen and the aggressiveness of their behaviour. However, it is hard to interpret such co relational evidence. It may be that watching violent programmes cause aggressive behaviour. On the other hand, it may be that naturally aggressive children choose to watch more violent programmes than non-aggressive children.

Lots of people also blame of having a bad influence on children and teenagers on violent computer games. There are two explanations of the effects of violence in video games:

The social learning theory suggesting that children will imitate what they have seen on the screen; and the catharsis theory that suggests that violent video games channel a child's aggression and stop them from being aggressive in real life. (Catharsis theory)

However observational studies (e.g. Irwin and Gross, 1995) have found that playing violent video games increases aggression in children in the short-term at least so supporting the social learning theory's view. Further Video game violence has more effect on young children, but far less effect on teenagers and no apparent effects on adults. There is, on the other hand, very little research into the long-term effects of violent video games and at the moment, it is entirely speculation of the effects.

The media have pro-social effects as well as anti-social ones; if the catharsis theory is correct then it can relieve aggressive feelings and prevent aggression in real life. The media cannot be completely blamed for aggression; there are other factors to be considered that could influence the person particularly a child. Research portrays children as helpless victims of the media's influence but it has been shown that children can critically talk about the media at age seven. The child's upbringing, background, culture and peers could all influence any possible aggressive behaviour. The media alone cannot be blamed for all aggression; other factors have to be taken into account.

What can parent do to protect their children?

We cannot fully protect children and teenagers from exaggerated violence on TV, video and PC games. But there are a few options for parents to protect their children. It's been suggested that parents should watch at least one episode of their children's programme so that they 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. Children also should be taught to differentiate clearly between fiction and real life. Furthermore parents should teach their children not to bully others and make sure that they do not get examples of violence at home or at school. Another option is just to motivate the children to activities such as sports, playing with friends, drawing, etc, instead of let them watching TV all the time.

Lots of experts argue that it is essential for parents and teachers to provide children with media education, to enable them to analyse the information around them. Children are bombarded with images and information, much more than they can absorb or understand. Strong influences from media take part in shaping people's values and views, and it is therefore important that people, from a young age, are taught how to think for themselves and to view the media critically, as well as to respect and tolerate others.

Parents should also learn, how to analyse films and to produce videos. They would achieve an insight in how images can be used as a form of expression. Many children and young people know more about computers and new technology than adults. Many adults are not aware what children watch on television and videos, or what images they can come across on the Internet. It is therefore important that both parents and teachers follow up with the new technology in order to be able to guide and protect the children. That simply means that we should be in control of the media rather than the media in control of us. Mass media and technology should be for our benefit, not for our destruction. To make this possible the mass media have to reflect the communication needs of all members of society, and at the same time be able to protect the individual as well as the society.

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